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Recent Doctoral Graduates Maria Atuesta Ortiz and Longfeng Wu Honored with ACSP2021 Awards

Deserted landscape with part of a single story building in the frame.

Atuesta's winning dissertation examines how internally displaced persons from the Colombian civil conflict access housing and create new neighborhoods in urban centers, and how this process shapes their claims on the city.

The Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Maria Atuesta Ortiz (PhD ’21) and Longfeng Wu (MDes ’16, DDes ’20) are among this year’s five recipients of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning’s ACSP2021 Student Awards. Atuesta and Wu will each receive a formal award from ACSP and be invited to present their award-winning papers at the association’s annual conference.

Atuesta earned the ACSP/GPEIG Gill-Chin Lim Award for the Best Dissertation on International Planning for her dissertation Forced Migration and Neighborhood Formation: How Communities of Internally Displaced Persons Find Residential Stability in an Unstable World. In the paper, Atuesta observes that the issue of residential stability—central to urban studies and planning—is especially urgent for groups who have experienced turmoil and displacement in their immediate past. In nation-states around the world, civil conflicts or climate change have increasingly displaced families to urban centers.

In particular, Atuesta examines the recent history of Colombia, where, she writes, a decades-long civil conflict has produced more than six million internally displaced persons who have migrated from rural areas to urban centers. Her study focused on Granada, a city of about 80,000 inhabitants that has absorbed tens of thousands of internally displaced persons over the last three decades. Ortiz examined different processes of neighborhood creation among migrants, concluding that these experiences affected the means available for displaced residents to make claims on the city.

Atuesta recently completed her PhD in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning at the GSD. Her dissertation committee comprised Diane E. Davis, Charles Dyer Norton Professor of Regional Planning and Urbanism, alongside Mario Small, Sai Balakrishnan, and Lawrence Vale.

Wu was awarded the Karen R. Polenske Award for Outstanding Student Paper on a China-Related Topic for his paper Pattern and Process: Exploring Socio-spatial (In)equality of Access to Urban Green Space in Beijing. As Wu observes in his paper’s abstract, green space is a vital component of urban systems, yet studies have confirmed that such spaces are not equally accessible among different socioeconomic groups, fueling social segregation, dislocation, and gentrification.

His paper focused on how the spatial distribution and formation of urban-rural green space have affected its ecological as well as socioeconomic contributions during rapid urban expansion in the Beijing metropolitan area. Relying on data construction and consumption from various sources with the support of GIS techniques and quantitative analysis tools, Wu targeted a planning approach that aims to improve the performance of the future urban-rural green spaces. The paper was supervised by his doctoral dissertation advisor, Peter Rowe, Raymond Garbe Professor of Architecture and Urban Design and Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor.

Four circular diagrams showing how the old city expanded and how it added more green space from 1949 to 2020.
Conceptual diagram from Wu's paper showing the distribution process of green space in Beijing.

Wu’s research during his time at the GSD has been supported by the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, the Harvard Asia Center, the Penny White Fund, the Geological Society of America, and the Harvard Center for Geographical Analysis. Beyond his studies, he has been involved in various scales of landscape design and planning projects, closely working with a number of renowned landscape architects in China.