DDC Urban Planning

Welcome to Our Urban Planning Course Webpage

What is DDC Urban Planning?

Urban planners are “jacks and jills” of all trades. We work as designers, lawyers, officials, and analysts. We serve government, nonprofits, and businesses—small and large alike. We work on housing, transit, tree planting, and historic preservation. We analyze data, we march streets, we write policy memos, and we even wear hard hats. We deliver the everyday services that make our cities function. We seek to ensure that the choices we make today have positive impacts on the future. We fight for democracy, sustainability, equity, and justice.

The famous theorist and planner Leonie Sandercock calls urban planning a hybrid profession because it touches countless disciplines and offers so many opportunities.  She also writes about the activists who transformed the profession to undo policies that have unfairly targeted communities of color and other people of vulnerable economic classes including urban renewal, highway planning, and segregated housing.

Today, students who live and learn in New York City are likely to see evidence of urban planning decisions all around them. They also have opportunities to learn from and engage with communities who are working from the grassroots to address unfair policies; to make our city just for everyone. 

Urban planning’s disciplinary, cultural, and social hybridity makes for flexible, rewarding, and career-rich paths—ones that high schoolers from all backgrounds can and should be excited to pursue. Yet its ambiguity leaves it under-represented in primary education.

High schoolers have a sense of what lawyers and doctors do. But urban planning…isn’t that for weddings?

This DDC course puts urban planning “on the map” so to speak, as not one but as many rewarding career paths. This is a city focused program that combines field trips, social science, and collaboration. Over six weeks we expose students to a set of fascinating  professional and academic opportunities and introduce them to the skills, knowledge, and networks they can pursue to access them.  

We uncover planning through two intersecting and parallel activities. First, we work in small teams on an urban planning RFP –“Big Ideas for Small Lots” — described below. Second, we introduce students to five interconnected urban planning topics through readings, discussions, and site visits in order to build students’ knowledge of what urban planners do and how their work impacts residents, businesses, communities and the built environment.

The group project as well as every topic is built on and framed within the broader themes of the course: the depth and and diversity of urban planning and planners; the myriad of careers and career opportunities that it incorporates; and the discipline’s unique role in shaping outcomes around democracy, sustainability, equity, and justice.

Good urban planning— as we hope to teach—has always benefitted from collaboration, a diversity of ideas and backgrounds. Our biographies are below and we draw on our unique urban planning experiences and perspectives at every turn. But it is the knowledge and experiences of our students that guide the course. You are the next generation of urban planners fighting for a just city.

-Jenna Dublin and Michael Snidal


Jenna Dublin

Jenna Dublin is a fourth year doctoral candidate at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation. Her research examines how and why community-based groups utilize historic district designation as a means to affect neighborhood trends of socioeconomic change and gentrification. Currently, she is a Research Manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation Research and Policy Lab, and has been a Columbia University Teaching Fellow of urban economics the past two years. In 2016, Jenna participated in the US-ICOMOS International Exchange program where she lived in Delhi, India and contributed to the heritage-based infrastructure upgrading plan for the city of Amritsar, located in northwestern Punjab. Jenna graduated with dual Master’s degrees in Urban Planning and Historic Preservation from the University of Maryland, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Cooper Union School of Art.

Michael Snidal

Michael Snidal is a third year doctoral candidate at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation and is currently writing his dissertation on the intellectual history of place-based development policy. He is also the Principal of Snidal Real Estate, a Baltimore housing rehabilitation company that he founded in 2013. He was formerly the director of neighborhood development for West Baltimore at the Baltimore Development Corporation, worked as a community organizing director for a community development non-profit, and staffed President Obama’s field campaign in Northern Virginia. His work has been featured in academic and popular news sources such as the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, and the Financial Times. Michael holds a Master’s in Urban Planning from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan.

The Double Discovery Center

This course was established and supported through the Double Discovery Center (DDC). DDC works with low-income, first-generation college-bound youth from Harlem and Washington Heights to help ensure their success to, through, and beyond college. Learn more about the Double Discovery Center here.

Class Project: “Big Ideas for Small Lots”

This past year New York City government announced a design competition for envisioning new affordable housing on 23 vacant lots located around the city. Check out the official website for the project here: Big Ideas for Small Lots.

The problem is that these lots are very small and irregularly shaped, making them undesirable to developers. So, a group of architects studied the sites and came up with their own designs for new affordable housing to be built on these lots.

This summer, we’re going to come up with our own proposals, as Urban Planners, for what should be built on some of Harlem’s vacant lots by studying the sites and learning from NYC urban planners and residents who live and work nearby these lots.

This Summer You’ll Talk with Urban Planners.

You’ll be meeting with urban planners from NYC and Oakland to learn about key issues of our cities and what solutions are being created by professionals and residents.


  • Home for All: Gentrification and Affordable Housing
  • Working with Communities for Urban Development
  • Neighborhood Not for Sale: Community Land Trusts
  • Fighting Food Deserts: Planning and Food Access

Then you’ll be a planner.

You’ll draw upon their insights and work in small groups to come up with your own proposals for what should be built on vacant lots in Harlem.

We’ll hit the streets to talk to residents about the lots

and share your vision by storytelling and design.

In small groups, we’ll work together to create written and visual proposals of what should be built in a selection of Harlem’s small lots. Students will have the option to create a ESRI Storymap by learning skills in Geographic Information Systems or to write a student opinion piece that builds upon their persuasive writing skills.

Harlem Study Lots.

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