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Power, Law and Plans | MIT News

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Think about almost anywhere people live. Why is it the way it is today? Why do people live there? There is no doubt that geographic and historical quirks have something to do with it. But places can also be shaped by money, politics, law, or power.

Researching these issues is the work of Justin Steil, an associate professor in the Department of Urban Research and Planning at MIT. Steil’s research focuses primarily on cities, revealing how politics and law sustain social divisions on the ground.

Or, as Steil puts it, “The biggest theme that runs through my work is how power is exercised through control of space and access to specific places. , what are the spatial, social and legal processes of inclusion and exclusion that can create or address inequalities?”

These mechanisms are ubiquitous. Wealthy suburbs with large minimum lot sizes limit growth and access to higher school districts. A gated community takes its process of segregation more literally. Also, many US metropolitan areas have island-like jurisdictions that are separate from the surrounding metropolises. The city’s residential geography often displays the legacy of the Red Line and even his century-old mob violence used to curb integration.

“I really like trying to figure out what the exact laws, ordinances, policies, and specific social processes are that continue to create inequalities,” says Steil. How can we change that to increase access to resources and opportunities?”

While exploring a wide range of issues spanning the subject of power and space, Steil has published many research articles and book chapters while helping to compile a volume on the subject. For his research and teaching, Steil was awarded lifetime employment at his MIT earlier this year.

Fusion of law and urban planning

Steil grew up in New York City. His environment helped him understand how important city policy and law are. He attended Harvard University as an undergraduate, majoring in African American Studies, and spent the summer in South Africa as a student in 1998, just as the country launched its new democracy.

“It had a big impact,” says Steil. “Looking at the power of grassroots organizing and social movements, not only to overthrow this white supremacist government, but also how the apartheid system worked, the role of law and space, the landscape and built environment, consciously To understand how it was designed to keep people separate and unequal.”

Between college and his PhD, Steil embarked on a multi-disciplinary alumni journey, working in the non-profit sector and touching on pressing social topics. Steil worked at City School in Boston, her Youth Leadership Program. She works for the Food Project, an agricultural program in Massachusetts. Her two nonprofits in Juarez, Mexico focus on domestic violence prevention and environmental justice. The New Economy Project in New York studying predatory lending. Meanwhile, Steil took the time to complete her MA in Urban Design and Social Sciences at her School of Economics in London.

“I learned a lot from studying urban design and really enjoyed it,” Steil says of the program. “But I also realized that my personal strength was not in design.

With that in mind, Steil was accepted into Columbia University’s joint PhD and Bachelor of Laws program, earning a law degree and a doctorate in urban planning.

“A lot of city planning is determined by laws, property laws and constitutions,” says Steil. “I felt that if I wanted to study and teach these things, I needed to understand the law.”

After completing law school and a PhD, Steil’s thesis, written under the direction of the late Peter Marcuth, examined policy responses to immigration in two paired towns in Nebraska and Pennsylvania. It’s a thing. In each state, some towns accepted immigrants far more than others. Steil concluded that towns accepting immigrants had more connections with community organizations and citizens across economic classes. They were more socially cohesive, rather than more fragmented, and were willing to create more economic opportunities for those willing to work for them.

Without such connections, people would “see things as a zero-sum game instead of seeing the potential for new residents to revitalize, enrich and contribute to the community,” Steil notes. increase.

By contrast, he adds: In some of these towns, people were proud to work hard and emphasized being a community that respects others who do. “

From PhD to EMT

After earning his PhD in 2015, Steil joined the MIT faculty to continue his research on a range of policy, legal, and inclusion issues. Some of her works are directly related to contemporary housing policy. With Nicholas Kelly PhD ’21, his Lawrence Vale, his Ford Professor of Urban Design and Planning at MIT, and Maia Woluchem MCP ’19, he co-authored the volume ‘Furthering Fair Housing’ (Temple University Press, 2021) Edited. Political clashes over federal fairground policy.

Some of Steil’s other works have a more historical orientation. He published multiple papers on race and housing in the early 20th century, when both violence against blacks and race-based laws segregated many cities. U.S. law is being rewritten so that it is no longer explicitly based on race. But, he says, “its legacy, anchored in the built environment, is very enduring.”

There is also a significant impact resulting from the US local property tax-based education funding system. This is another policy approach that is effectively keeping many Americans in very different areas of metropolitan areas.

“By fragmenting [funding] Redistributing resources at the local level and within these smaller jurisdictions creates powerful incentives for wealthy households and individuals to use land use and other laws to exclude people. ,” says Steil. “That’s part of why we’re facing a deep crisis in housing prices today and a deep inequality in educational opportunities.”

Since arriving at MIT, Steil has taught extensively on these topics as well. Undergraduate classes he teaches include an introduction to housing and community development, a course on land use and civil rights law, another course on land use and environmental law, and a course on environmental justice.

“What a privilege it is to be here at MIT and learn from students, undergraduates, graduates, and colleagues every day,” says Steil. “It’s fun to be here.”

As if his plate wasn’t enough, Steil is involved in another MIT-based effort. For the last few years he has been working as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in his MIT Volunteer Corps and since arriving on campus he has been an EMT student at MIT.

As Steil describes his volunteerism, it was a process of “starting at the bottom of the totem pole as a novice in EMT, being trained by other students, and progressing alongside his classmates.”

Working with students and thinking about “their dedication to this service, to MIT, to Cambridge and Boston, how hard they work, how talented they are, and what a strong community is formed through it.” “It’s amazing,” he adds.