Dr. Vanessa Léon is Assistant Clinical Professor of Urban Planning and Public Service and Director of the Urban Planning program at NYU Wagner. Dr. Léon’s research and practice centers on the political economy of disasters, primarily in small island developing states. For about a decade, she undertook an in-depth analysis of Haiti's institutional development over the past 30 years in order to evaluate the country's post-earthquake capacity for improved local governance and public service delivery.
In light of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Léon is conducting a comparative analysis of the institutional, economic, and social arrangements pre- and post-disaster that contribute to increased risks as well as to the resulting state-level responses in their aftermath. Additionally, in the face of rising instances of natural hazards - coupled with the long-term economic challenges resulting from this pandemic - her work endeavors to explore how Caribbean nations might better position themselves to maintain the wellbeing of their citizens, economies and their physical landscapes in order to mitigate current and imminent disaster threats. She received a Quick Response Research Grant from the Natural Hazards Center, with the support of the National Science Foundation, to engage in this work.
Dr. Léon received the 2020 "Professor of the Year" award in just her first year as a full-time faculty member. Other accolades include the 2018 “Impact Award – Young Women Rising” by the American Women for International Understanding as well as being inducted into the Haitian Roundtable’s 1804 List as one of the “Top 5 to Watch” among Haitian-Americans in 2015. Dr. Léon was also named one of “40 Urban Leaders Under 40” by Next City in 2014.
She obtained her Ph.D. in Public and Urban Policy from The New School and her Master of Urban Planning from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with her Bachelor of Arts in African and African American Studies and in American Studies, with double minors in Education Studies and in Social Justice and Social Policy. Dr. Léon is also the Chief Executive Officer of Pinchina, an international urban planning and public policy firm she founded in 2010.
This course examines historic and contemporary patterns of racial and ethnic stratification often found at the center of disputes concerning urban development, the allocation of city resources and unequal distributions of power. Also embedded throughout the course are ongoing analyses of the ways in which structural inequalities often function in class and gender-specific ways. Using New York City as a laboratory, an interdisciplinary approach is implored - within and outside of the classroom - to make explicit the impacts of this complex legacy of racial formation on planning processes, decisions and outcomes for historically disenfranchised people and communities. The racialized experiences of select immigrant populations, which includes patterns of incorporation into American society as well as enduring transnational links to countries of origin, are also explored within this context.
The consequences of disastrous events are escalating across the world, for example, in terms of lives lost, injuries, adverse social conditions, economic costs, and environmental destruction. Furthermore, the rapidity of action required when an emergency arises poses unique challenges to traditional planning and the provision of public services. This course provides students with the capacity to develop planning and public service approaches to understanding, diagnosing and addressing causes, consequences, mitigation and adaptation measures particularly for natural disasters using U.S.-based and global disaster and recovery instances as sites for analyses. The course also includes knowledge of social and individual behaviors that serve as a foundation for understanding how people act in disasters, how behavioral changes may save lives and property, and how risks are or should be communicated at every stage.
The last three decades have witnessed a global proliferation of public sector restructuring, decentralization, and democratization in developing countries. Traditional development planning has adapted (unevenly) to these trends as they have unfolded. This course presents an overview of the evolution of the theory and practice of planning in developing countries with a particular focus on subnational governments. A central theme is that there are certain universal norms and processes in development planning, but the structure and performance of a planning system depend heavily on the economic, political, institutional and cultural context of a particular country. The course outlines and assesses planning models and systems, reviews approaches used by developing countries and international development agencies to support decentralization and local planning, and introduces a range of practices and tools used by local planners in developing countries. The overall focus is on how local planning systems, techniques and processes can be strategically designed and implemented to work effectively in different contexts. Detailed case studies and exercises based on them are an integral part of the course.
Management and Leadership is designed to empower you with the skills you will need to make change in the world; whether you care about bike lanes, criminal justice, prenatal care, community development, urban planning, social investment or something else. Whatever your passion, you can only have an impact by leading and managing organizational processes. Organizations are the way work gets coordinated and accomplished so knowing how they work -- and how to work within them – are perhaps the most powerful set of tools you can have.
In this course, you will enhance the technical, interpersonal, conceptual, and political skills needed to run effective and efficient organizations embedded in diverse communities, policy arenas, sectors, and industries. In class, we will engage in a collective analysis of specific problems that leaders and managers face—first, diagnosing them and then, identifying solutions—to explore how organizations can meet and exceed their performance objectives. As part of that process, you’ll encounter a variety of practical and essential topics and tools – from goals, structure, strategy and teams to diversity and inclusion, motivation, and negotiation.
"Barbados, a U.S. City, and the Political Economy of a Pandemic"
This study explores the political economy of disasters in order to better understand the institutional arrangements, pre- and post-disaster, that contribute to ongoing risks as well as the resulting state-level response in its aftermath. For example, consider that Barbados has only had about 170 confirmed COVID-19 cases and seven deaths as of August 31st, 2020 while Orlando, a U.S. city of comparable population size, has had approximately 35,900 cases along with almost 380 deaths by that time. The study therefore assesses the factors that might be contributing to Barbados' demonstrated ability to manage the pandemic as compared to Orlando, despite the latter’s standing within a country that has greater geopolitical influence globally.