Jeremy's research explores gentrification as an urban disaster through an interdisciplinary approach. Drawing on his background in disaster recovery at Recovery and Relief Services, Inc. (, Jeremy is collaborating with organizations in New Orleans, Louisiana to increase the resilience of their neighborhoods to displacement and catastrophic change. 

Research Description

Gentrification and natural disasters share a great deal in common: the displacement of communities, breakdown in social capital networks, the loss of core livelihood services, and various forms of trauma. However, as community development practitioners we treat the two very differently. Disasters receive national attention and considerable investment, while gentrification is oftentimes accepted as an unavoidable market process. This research seeks to understand how inner-city residents experience the disaster of gentrification, and how municipalities can increase the resilience of low income neighborhoods in the face of urban change. Using a participatory action approach, the researcher and partner organizations in New Orleans, Louisiana will use interviews, Photovoice, and walk-alongs to understand community assets, losses, and needs in a gentrifying context. A policy-ready study will be produced and will provide the foundation for coalition building between affected neighborhood stakeholders, municipal actors, philanthropic foundations, and even gentrifiers themselves.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

Being a Public Scholar involves living in the service of social justice. Social justice requires a foundation of learning in order to guide transformation, which means that social action and critical scholarship are necessarily intertwined. I believe that public scholars serve as translators, or connectors of knowledge to action so that their partners and society can better actualize the futures they desire.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

The Public Scholar Initiative is important because it emphasizes that knowledge and action are constructed in multiple ways outside of the traditional dissertation approach. Atypical PhD projects can empower unheard voices, while new forms of dissertation production can communicate learning in exciting new ways. Moreover, encouraging scholars to participate in community development rather than simply observing from afar evolves the PhD experience into an act of social change itself.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

For me the PhD experience is less about accessing new job opportunities, and more about improving the quality of my ongoing work. Taking this experience into my consulting and non-profit work will both change the way I approach relevant issues and help me to better engage with my clients and partners in their own empowerment.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

As a participatory research project, I am working closely with my neighborhood-based partners to co-design a research approach that answers their questions and meets their needs. One of the deliverables from this work will be a policy study that will encourage planners, municipal leaders, and philanthropists to invest in and support low-income communities. This study will also be used to initiate cross-community dialogues between partners and other affected neighborhoods, as well and between low-income residents and gentrifiers, in order to preserve space for all urban residents.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

I hope that by challenging the categories which separate natural disasters from urban problems like gentrification, we can establish that the core threat to human flourishing is vulnerability itself. Low-income communities are exposed to a variety of threats and they lack the resources that other classes and enclaves have to protect themselves. I think the public good will be served if we can move "resilience" and "hazard mitigation" out of the realm of extreme events, and more centrally into the routine (but no less catastrophic) threats that challenge many of our peers on a daily basis.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

After 12 years of working in community economic development, I wanted an opportunity to analyze my experiences in an academic context. The PhD experience has given me the chance to reflect on my successes and failures thus far, and ask deeper questions about how to effect social change.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

UBC is one of the best schools in Canada, so it was a natural choice. The School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) is also an incredibly progressive department, which is extremely attractive. There are few planning faculties that critically challenge the dominant socioeconomic order while also promoting the idea that basic human values like love and respect should be the cornerstone of our professional work. It's refreshing.


As a participatory research project, I am working closely with my neighborhood-based partners to co-design a research approach that answers their questions and meets their needs.