Student Q&A: Matthew Furman (MUP ’15)

Hometown: Southampton, Massachusetts

Undergraduate school/major: I studied political science and urban development at Clark University.

What was your work experience/background before coming to the GSD?

I came to the GSD directly after finishing my undergraduate degree. While I was an undergraduate, I worked for several organizations that are devoted to creating strong neighborhoods including a homelessness services provider, a national nonprofit that aims to prevent foreclosures, a regional planning agency, and a municipal planning department.

Why did you decide to pursue planning as a career?

I want to spend my career helping to create strong communities. My educational and work experience have suggested to me that the building blocks of strong communities—affordable housing, livable streets, thriving businesses—are often under the purview of urban planning.

What made you decide to come to the GSD?

One of the factors that led me to select the GSD is its relationship with Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, which provides students with unique opportunities to learn about and engage in research related to the U.S. housing sector. I was also excited about the fact that the GSD would offer me the chance to learn about planning within my home state of Massachusetts.

What are your main interests in planning and concentration area?

Housing and neighborhood development are my primary planning interests. Within these broad categories, I’m particularly interested in how zoning can be used to create strong communities and how mono-use, auto-centric areas in suburbia can be retrofitted into lively, multi-use neighborhoods.

Are you involved in any student groups? What have you gained from the experience?

I handle communications for the Harvard Urban Planning Organization. This club involvement, along with my part-time job writing news articles for the GSD’s website, has underlined the importance of effectively conveying ideas and data within the planning profession. Without effective communication, presentation, and outreach, even the best plans can languish unused on a shelf.

What has been the most surprising aspect of the GSD?

I was most surprised by the extent to which the GSD’s open plan and the studio space support learning. At first, I didn’t think that the building’s layout was particularly important, but the studio space proved to be essential to sharing ideas and collaborating with my peers.

What has been your favorite class or project? Why?

My favorite class has been Land Use and Environmental Law. The class does an excellent job of taking policy devices that often seem abstract, such as zoning, and revealing their impacts on the built environment. For instance, a class assignment asks students to examine how one provision of Cambridge’s zoning code has affected the way in which the city operates and to think about how that provision could be revised to create a “better” city.

What did you do over the summer? How did that add to your education and goals?

I worked as an Edward M. Gramlich Fellow in Economic and Community Development with Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and NeighborWorks America. As a Gramlich Fellow, I studied public and nonprofit programs that seek to upgrade substandard mobile homes. The fellowship was an excellent opportunity to learn new technical skills (STATA), expand my knowledge of housing policy, and engage with other policymakers.

What are your career ambitions?

I hope to someday lead a community development nonprofit that engages in housing and economic development.