Rachel Meltzer, “What We Miss When We Look at Everything: Global Shocks and Local Impacts”

Aerial image of New York City.

A recording of this event is available with audio description.

Event Description

Cities are not monoliths—they are made up of many, diverse neighborhoods. This neighborhood-scale often gets obscured by global or aggregate approaches to policy and economic analysis that wash over the wide range of localized responses. 
Scale matters; and space matters. 
In her GSD lecture, Rachel Meltzer, Plimpton Associate Professor of Planning and Urban Economics will draw on examples from her research to demonstrate how local impacts from broad-based events and interventions—what Meltzer characterizes as global shocks—can be quite uneven at the neighborhood scale. When this local variation is missed, policy and planning can be at best crude and at worst the source of persistent disparities across communities.

Samuel (Sam) Plimpton MBA ’77, MArch ’80 and Wendy Shattuck, provided a generous gift in 2019 to establish the Plimpton Professorship of Planning and Urban Economics. For Plimpton, a partner emeritus and senior advisor at the Baupost Group, LLC, and member of the GSD’s Dean’s Leadership Council, the gift was part of a long partnership with the GSD. He and Professor William Poorvu MBA ’58 previously established the Plimpton-Poorvu Design Prize, which honors and recognizes students whose work produced at the 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 founding member of the Harvard Real Estate Academic Initiative, a cross-faculty initiative from 2002 to 2015. Plimpton and Shattuck’s vision for the chair, informed by Plimpton’s extensive experience in urban real estate, was to position the GSD at the forefront of the emerging field of urban economics, which has transformed as cities move from industrial to service-based economies.



Headshot of Rachel Meltzer, who wears a black shirt.Rachel Meltzer is the Plimpton Associate Professor of Planning and Urban Economics at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Her research is broadly concerned with urban economies and how market and policy forces shape disparate outcomes across neighborhoods.  She focuses on issues related to economic development, housing, land use, and local public finance.  Dr. Meltzer’s current research explores how economic and institutional “shocks” impact retail and commercial activity and real estate markets in urban neighborhoods. Dr. Meltzer’s research has been supported by a range of public agencies and private foundations, including the National Science Foundation, Social Science Research Council, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  She sits on the board of the American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association.  

Prior to joining the GSD, Dr. Meltzer was Associate Professor of Urban Policy and Chair of the Public and Urban Policy M.S. Degree program at The New School.  She is the co-author of the textbook, Policy Analysis as Problem Solving (Routledge 2018), which provides an interdisciplinary and pragmatic approach to evidence-based decision making for addressing public problemsDr. Meltzer earned her doctorate in Public Policy and M.P.A. from New York University and a B.A. in Psychology and Mathematics from Dartmouth College. 

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