Rachel Meltzer appointed inaugural Plimpton Associate Professor of Planning and Urban Economics

Photo of Rachel MeltzerHarvard Graduate School of Design is pleased to announce the appointment of Rachel Meltzer as the inaugural Plimpton Associate Professor of Planning and Urban Economics, a role established in 2019 and made possible by a gift from Samuel Plimpton (MBA ’77, MArch ’80) and his wife, Wendy Shattuck. The position will focus and enable the study of a wide range of urban issues and data, including development, evolving land use patterns and property values, affordability, market and regulatory interactions, open space, consumer behaviors and outcomes, and climate change, and will help inform the decisions of future architects and planners.

Meltzer’s appointment is effective July 1, 2021. The Plimpton Associate Professorship of Planning and Urban Economics resides within the GSD’s Department of Urban Planning and Design.

As the Plimpton Associate Professor of Planning and Urban Economics, Meltzer will teach courses in the core areas of urban economics and quantitative methods, as well as more broadly in housing, climate change, private governance structures, and real estate. She will also be a resource for PhD and Doctor of Design (DDes) candidates working to understand how quantitative approaches can be employed as methods for their dissertations.

“Using the tools of urban economics research to evaluate and measure the societal impacts of development should inform design and planning decisions,” Plimpton observed in 2019 upon the professorship’s establishment. “As the world’s top design school, Harvard and the GSD are the best places for exploring these issues and advancing both urban economics and excellence in design.”

Currently Associate Professor of Urban Policy and Chair of the Public and Urban Policy Master of Science (MS) degree at The New School’s Milano School of Policy, Management, and Environment, Meltzer’s research is broadly concerned with urban economies and how market and policy forces can shape disparate outcomes across neighborhoods. She focuses on issues related to housing, land use, economic development and local public finance. Current projects look at how market-based, natural disaster and policy “shocks” impact retail and commercial activity in urban neighborhoods. These “shocks” range from gentrification to the introduction of broadband to Superstorm Sandy. Meltzer is also interested in the private provision of public goods, and she has explored a number of questions related to Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and Homeowners Associations (HOAs).

Meltzer is also a Research Affiliate at the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University. She teaches in the core policy analysis curriculum at Milano and is the author of the textbook Policy Analysis as Problem Solving (Routledge, 2018), with Milano colleague, Alex Schwartz. She also teaches classes on quantitative methods, urban economic development, and public finance. Prior to her academic career, Meltzer worked as a mortgage officer and project manager for the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, where she managed the financing and rehabilitation of affordable housing. She has also conducted research on inclusionary zoning, an alternative to traditional methods of providing affordable housing, including its impact on local housing markets and the political economy behind the adoption of such policies. Her work has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, Social Science Research Council, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Meltzer earned her doctorate in Public Policy and MPA from the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University and her BA in psychology and mathematics from Dartmouth College.

For Plimpton, Partner Emeritus and Senior Advisor at the Baupost Group, L.L.C, the gift supporting the Plimpton Associate Professorship is the latest chapter in a long partnership with Harvard GSD. In December 2015, Plimpton and Professor William Poorvu (MBA ’58) established the Plimpton-Poorvu Design Prize, which honors and recognizes students whose work produced at Harvard GSD exemplifies both feasibility and excellence in design. Plimpton received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and worked as an independent advisor, developer, and investor in real estate ventures. He held a research appointment in real estate at Harvard Business School from 1978 to 1980, and was an early supporter and a founding member of the Harvard Real Estate Academic Initiative, a cross-faculty initiative, from 2002 to 2015.