Bernadette Baird-Zars

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Urban Planning

Bernadette Baird-Zars is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Public Service of NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. She is also an urban planner and researcher specializing in land use and housing. As a partner at Alarife Urban Associates, she brings years of senior project management and research leadership to work on urban land development, affordable housing, and municipal governance. Through public and entrepreneurial efforts to make cities more equitable, she has brought grounded expertise to successful plans for low-income housing, finance, and public-private collaborations for innovative land assembly and development. Her recent clients include the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, Habitat for Humanity International, Infonavit and Harvard GSD and local governments on projects across the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and SE Asia. 

Her current work towards a doctorate in urban planning at Columbia University identifies patterns of zoning practice and new arenas for local land development interventions under conditions of high risk and uncertainty. Her dissertation will be three articles on how city governments use recently decentralized land management powers in Latin America and the Arab world. Bernadette deeply enjoys collaborations, and is co-authoring works on zoning and planning, zoning relief in New York City, institutional analysis for planning, language urbanism, and planning and violence. 

 Prior to Alarife, Bernadette designed financial and business models for housing microfinance companies in India, Colombia and Egypt and social impact bonds as a Senior Project Manager for the Affordable Housing Institute. During her work for the Aga Khan Development Network in Syria on urban planning projects between 2006 and 2009, she co-launched the socioeconomic development program in Aleppo. Bernadette is a former Fulbright Fellow and Lang Scholar, and holds an honors BA from Swarthmore College and a Master in City Planning from MIT. 

The course starts with the unique nature of land. How does land, a natural resource, come to be owned? How is ownership and use of land different from other forms of property?

What are the different modes of organizing land ownership? Since land is both a public and private good, who is entitled to the benefits that accrue from land? These readings will engage with key concepts - like externalities, transaction costs, land rent, public interest, rights and obligations, fairness and access to property - which we will keep returning to during the rest of the course. The next section is a comparative analysis of land-use planning. Against some key background readings that will prepare the stage for discussion, each session will interrogate a specific land-use instrument – eminent domain, land readjustment and zoning – through a set of comparative country cases. The course will engage with key planning challenges that arise in the context of rapid urbanization in developing countries. Some of these challenges are unprecedented, such as the rapid expansion of urban growth outside cities boundaries and the new challenges of peri-urban land use planning. Others are older debates that take on new meaning and urgency in the contemporary context, such as the new modes of functioning of informal real estate markets in a global era. We will ask if conventional land use planning tools are adequate to respond to these new urban conditions, and if light of these limits, we will discuss some of the new land-use innovations in dealing with these challenges.

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