Thanks for taking the time to learn a bit more about me and my work.
Born and raised in California, I spent a decade working in social services, immigrant rights advocacy, tenant organizing, housing policy and community development in both Northern California and New York City. During this time I trained as an urban planner, and my writing works to combine the critical eye of an academic with the needs of practitioners, policymakers and activists to take important steps forward. I hold a BA in History from Stanford University, an MA in Urban Planning from Hunter College, City University of New York, and a PhD in City & Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley.
I became a writer slowly, with bits of work starting in the late 1990s. I started writing in earnest once I started my PhD in 2006, and I’ve worked to write in diverse fashion across a range of subjects with different co-authors. The fact I am more proud of is that I have published with 28 different co-authors since 1999 (and I am not a scientist). My output over the years now includes 2 books and a heady mix of peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, journalism, reports, OpEds, book reviews, and more than 50,000 words in Polis blog posts between 2009 and 2012.
I lived in Europe between 2011 and 2020, both in France and the UK. Since 2013, I have been based at the School of Geography at the University of Leeds as a Lecturer in Urban Geography. I have also taught or held adjoint or affiliate roles at Sciences Po Paris, Sciences Po Bordeaux, the Université de Cergy Pointoise and the University of Colorado Denver.
I am currently back in Northern California, working on the issues in the Road to Resegregation. I am taking a (non-COVID-related) hiatus from teaching and public speaking, which is why you don’t see a list of speaking engagements.
Primary Research and Writing Interests
My primary focus is the past, present and future of the State of California. My book The Road to Resegregation: Northern California and the Failure of Politics, was published in October 2018. The book brings together almost a decade of writing on the San Francisco Bay Area into a full length account of how one of the wealthiest and most progressive regions in the world resegregated over the course over the course of my lifetime. I am spending as much time in California as possible these days talking about the book, and you can find more information about talks here and the book itself here. An interview in Metropolitics about the book is available here. For a complete list of essays, articles and papers about California and elsewhere, visit my academic website at the University of Leeds.
My other main focus is on developing better housing policy in the United States, work that brings me back to my roots as a housing organizer in New York City. Over the past two years I have led a project developing a novel means of doing housing analysis based on tenure diversity and vulnerability. Vulnerability analysis enables any jurisdiction to understand the many ways in which people are vulnerable to losing their homes, which varies far more than most people realize. Click here to read more about Housing Vulnerability Analysis.
Additional Writing Projects
Along with colleagues Jake Wegmann and Deirdre Pfeiffer, with whom I collaborated on the housing tenure work, I am continuing to produce academic work focused on housing. One new area which is just beginning to see the light of day is a project examining the generally unexplored relationship between housing policy and electoral politics. The first paper in that series was featured in CityLab.
I have a long-standing interest in urban discourse, and in particular how and why and to what end we say mean things about places. I am thrilled to have published a recent article in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers led by Alice Butler, which examines what people in the UK mean when they call a place a “shithole”. The work was featured in an article in The Conversation, and we are currently working with our colleague Lex Comber to see if machine learning can build on this research. I also recently published a collaborative piece (including Leeds’ Giorgia Aiello) in the French bilingual journal Metropolitiques which looks at race and visual representations of new housing developments in French cities. This work combines my interest in discourse with a growing collaboration with the French scholar Yohann Le Moigne, work that includes another recently published work (with sociologist Greg Smithsimon) on the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis.
While most of my work focuses on urban politics in some way, I am a historically-minded political economist, and have recently moved to develop the economic side of my work more significantly. My first major contribution in this area focuses on challenging and replacing “three-sector theory”, the World War II-era notion that gave us the idea of the services sector. The paper, “Replacing the services sector and three-sector theory: Urbanization and control as economic sectors“, is the product of five years of writing and rewriting, and was co-authored with colleagues from across three different disciplines. I particularly welcome inquiries about this paper, as we are working to develop an empirical project to test and refine various ideas in the paper.
Along related lines, I have recently published a new book entitled The Spatial Contract for Manchester University Press. Co-authored with the Leeds energy geographer Stephen Hall and the political philosopher Matthew Noah Smith, the book develops a framework for building a healthier political economy of foundational urban systems like water, energy, food, transportation and housing. A (very partial) working paper can be found on the foundational economy website. The introduction to the book can be found here..
I welcome inquiries from anyone curious about my work in any way. Schafran @ gmail is best, or @alexschafran on Twitter.