Cities concentrate our most pressing social and environmental issues while also bringing about innovative responses to these challenges and numerous forms of experimentation.
The Urban Democracy Lab promotes critical, creative, just, and sustainable forms of urbanism primarily through novel forms of practice-based research. Our work focuses on new forms of urban democracy, whether in governance, activism, self-management, or creative production, and is fueled by a core set of beliefs:
- As a university-based initiative, we believe that universities can play a critical civic role in promoting social justice scholarship, curricular innovation, public engagement, and programming.
- Inspired by the idea of a social lab, we believe in experimentation, collaboration, and in reaching in the direction of systemic solutions.
- While we are based in New York City, we are globally engaged, as we believe each urban context offers a unique opportunity for research, learning, and collaboration.
In keeping with these values, we sponsor several fellowships for students each year, and maintain an active roster of visiting scholars from around the globe. We have a dedicated student advisory board and sponsor a number of working groups and ongoing projects. Central to our work are our community partners, and we maintain several active partnerships with groups and organizations that help give our work direction and to whom we remain accountable.
Dean's Scholar, 2020-2021
Dean's Scholar, 2019-2020
Director | Contact Gianpaolo Baiocchi
Gianpaolo Baiocchi is a sociologist and an ethnographer interested in questions of politics and culture, critical social theory, and cities. He has written about and continues to research instances of civic life both in his native Brazil and in the US. He is a leading social science expert on participatory democracy who has for the last decade engaged public officials, voluntary organizations, and policy makers on the practice and implementation of participatory processes. His books and academic articles on citizen engagement on budgetary matters (“participatory budgeting”) are among the most cited in the scholarly literature and have been published and translated in several languages. As one of the founders of the Participatory Budgeting Project, he has worked with city officials in several US cities, and has presented his work to the World Bank, to the UNDP, HUD, and to both the World and US Social Forums. His work has appeared in specialist and general-audience publications from The American Sociological Review and American Journal of Sociology to The Boston Review and Le Monde Diplomatique. His most recent ethnographic research, The Civic Imagination (Paradigm, 2014), which he co-authored with Elizabeth Bennett, Alissa Cordner, Stephanie Savell, and Peter Klein, examines the contours and limits of the democratic conversation in the US today and argues for a reparative, but critical, intervention in that discussion.
Da Shante Smith
Administrative Aide | Contact Da Shante Smith
Da’Shante Smith graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Loyola University Maryland. After graduating, she moved to Thailand to work at Assumption University as a lecturer for two years before returning to New York. In addition to working for the Urban Democracy Lab, she is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Education and Social Policy at NYU Steinhardt with a focus on race and class in higher education.
Affiliated Staff | Contact Mehmet Darakcioglu
Mehmet Darakcıoglu is Assistant Dean, Global Programs at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, and is currently working to support the work of the Urban Democracy Lab. He is a historian of the modern Middle East with a focus on the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century. He completed his PhD at Princeton University and his dissertation examined the employment of government translators and the establishment of the Translation Bureau, which became the forerunner of the Ottoman Foreign Ministry. Prior to his doctoral studies, he earned a joint master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied US foreign policymaking during the Johnson administration. At Princeton, he received the Ertegün Graduate Fellowship, and at the University of Texas, he was awarded the Iranian Studies Scholarship. Mehmet’s research and teaching interests include social and intellectual history, dissemination of information, imperial bureaucracies and institutions, and linguistic diversity in the Ottoman Empire. He is also interested in international relations and language policies across the world. Topics of courses he taught at Penn include diversity in the Ottoman Empire and Ottoman Turkish. He also taught language courses at Princeton and at New York University’s Hagop Kevorkian Center. Before joining Gallatin, Mehmet served as associate director of the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania. There, he played a leading role in the renewal of the US Department of Education’s Title VI grant, which provided funding for national resource center programming and Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships for the grant cycle 2014 through 2018. He also spearheaded collaborative programs in global education with schools of education and with minority-serving institutions, developed academic events and curricula, led outreach efforts, and managed other federal funds and fellowships.
Affiliated Staff | Contact Conor Brady
Conor Brady is Director, Global Programs at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, and is currently working to support the work of the Urban Democracy Lab. Conor holds an MPA in Public and Non-Profit Management and Policy from NYU Wagner, a Master’s in Teaching from Pace University, and a BA from Boston College. Originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York, Conor joined Gallatin in 2019 after more than ten years of service in the NYU Office of Global Programs where he served in positions of progressive leadership. Conor was inspired to work in international education after studying abroad for a year at the London School of Economics as an undergraduate, and later spending a year teaching at a secondary school in southern Malawi. Prior to Malawi, Conor taught for two years in NYC public schools as a NYC Teaching Fellow. Outside of the office, Conor is an activist and volunteer for multiple organizations in NYC working for criminal justice reform.
Sarah Miller Davenport
Visiting Scholar | Contact Sarah Miller Davenport
Sarah Miller Davenport Sarah is a lecturer at in US history at the University of Sheffield. Her most recent book, Gateway State: Hawai’i and the Cultural Transformation of American Empire explores how Hawai’i became an emblem of multiculturalism during its journey to statehood in the mid-twentieth century. Her current research examines the reinvention of New York City as a global city after the 1975 fiscal crisis, with a focus on the contingencies, politics, and policies behind the city’s efforts to attract massive foreign capital and investment. She is particularly interested in how local and national conditions shaped the city’s approach to globalization, and seek to provincialize globalization by centering New Yorkers as both producers and subjects of the worldwide economic changes of the late-20th century.
Visiting Scholar | Contact Eric Goldfischer
Eric Goldfischer’s work focuses on the role of anti-homelessness in urban political economy, urban political ecology, design, and urban planning, with a particular interest in how people experiencing homelessness have reimagined and reframed urban environments as sites of belonging rather than dispossession. Eric comes from a background in community organizing and popular education. He co-founded a collaboration called Power at the Margins, which brings together scholars, activists, and practitioners in housing justice work biannually for a big gathering and conversation. He currently serves as Research Manager at WIN NYC.
Visiting Scholar | Contact Vicente Rubio-Pueyo
Vicente Rubio-Pueyo, originally from Spain, has been living in the US since 2006. An adjunct instructor at Fordham University, he writes on Spanish and US politics. His research is in the field of contemporary Spanish cultural studies with strong interdisciplinary ties to urban studies, political theory, media studies, and other fields. He is currently working a book on political cultures, the State, and movements in contemporary Spain from the 70’s Transition to the post-15M present context.
Doctoral Fellow | Contact Khaled Malas
Khaled Malas is an architect and art historian from Damascus. He is a PhD candidate at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts where he is writing a dissertation on a class of medieval magico-medicinal bowls that feature the Kaaba in their cavetto. His project utilizes these bowls as a lens towards researching the intersections between pilgrimage, illness, and architectural representation in the medieval Islamic world.
Khaled is also a co-founder of Sigil, an architecture-design collective based in Beirut and New York City. Sigil’s projects, collectively titled ‘monuments of the everyday’, are committed inquiries on the relations between radical built gestures, the role of narrative in design, and attempts to challenge ongoing violence by evoking transmutational hope. This work has been widely exhibited, published, and collected. Recent commissions include the 2019 Milano Design Triennale and the 2019 Biennale d’Architecture d’Orléans.
Khaled is a member of the Arab Image Foundation, the Lewis Carrol Society of North America, and the Syrian Studies Association. The latter awarded Sigil’s publication ‘birdsong’ (Beirut, 2019) an honorable citation in their annual book prize. As a doctoral fellow with UDL Khaled is investigating the architectures and material cultures of American Islams in New York City.
Sara Dima Abi Saab
Doctoral Fellow | Contact Sara Dima Abi Saab
Sara Dima Abi Saab is an NYC and Lebanon based activist, and a PhD Candidate at New York University in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies on the Cultural Studies track. Dima’s research focuses on municipal politics and municipalism in Lebanon, looking to the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990 to frame and understand the trajectory of municipalities. Through assessing the legal and political infrastructures of municipal governance, Dima’s dissertation looks at how sectarianism, space, and access to resources inform governmentality in the country. Dima’s activism and academic work looks to municipalism as that which allows for alternative political formations—particularly in looking at the organizing of migrant workers, refugees, and feminist groups as exemplars of counteracting hegemonic municipal politics through municipalism.
Dean's Scholar, 2020-2021 | Contact Aran Chang
Aran Chang graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a BA degree in Medicine, Science, and Humanities, focusing on history of science and Korean history. At the beginning of his undergraduate journey, Aran was actually a Biochemistry major, but after taking the class “Moral and Social Programs in Healthcare” at Northeastern University, he reflected on his own childhood experiences and how it often felt like the healthcare system failed to address the needs of his community. Along with what he learned in the classroom from his mentor, the late Susan Setta, Aran wanted to learn more about history and the medical humanities. He transferred to Johns Hopkins for his sophomore year to pursue his interests in medical humanities alongside his premed workload and working in a VCA transplant laboratory. Aran wanted to learn more about public health and continue expanding his interest in the medical humanities before applying to medical school. In Gallatin, he found a program that allows him the flexibility to take STEM courses to prepare him for medical school, but also allows him to pursue his interests on how to help marginalized communities gain better access to healthcare.
Dean's Scholar, 2019-2020 | Contact Beryl Liu
Beryl Liu is an aspiring actor, producer, and filmmaker. She completed an undergraduate degree at McGill University where she co-produced and directed her first narrative short film, Rêverie 11:12. A Chinese-born Canadian, Beryl is passionate about bridging cultures and differences through creative mediums. She believes that the dramatic arts of film and theater are at the heart of bringing stories to life, and offers insight into the human experience. At Gallatin, she is pursuing an artistic thesis on the study of actor-character relationships, the technical variances—psychological, intellectual, and emotional—between stage and camera acting, and the exploration of how this craft serves in the process of storytelling.
Beryl has worked with several film-related organizations to explore international collaboration in film co-production and distribution, with involvement in festivals such as Sundance and Festival de Cannes. She believes that creative story weaving in cinema and theater is essential for sharing unvoiced narratives, and necessary to foster understanding and compassion.
Past Visiting Scholars
Leigh Campoamor holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Duke University. Her work connects global political-economic processes with subjective experiences by ethnographically exploring the everyday spatial politics of Latin America’s expanding cities in a time when macroeconomic growth has produced new networks of communication and new forms of precarity. The book she currently writing, Public Childhoods: Urban Labor, Family, and Futurity in Peru takes child street labor in Lima as a node for assessing gender and generationality, transnational development, urban social movements, and everyday experiences of poverty. She is also working on a parallel project that examines the relationship between corporate social responsibility and urban consumer-citizenship through a case study of a transnational telecom giant that presents digital technologies as tools of democratization and children’s rights activism.
Simone Gatti is a Brazilian urbanist, architect, and guest professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the University of São Paulo – FAUUSP. She is a postdoctoral researcher in a cooperation agreement between the University of São Paulo and the Public Ministry of the State of São Paulo in the areas of Housing and Urbanism, where she develops research on social housing and participatory processes. She is a collaborating researcher at LabCidade and NAPPLAC of FAUUSP and acts as a representative of civil society in participatory councils of the municipal government of São Paulo. In New York she conducted research on three different forms of rent existing in American housing policy (Public Housings, the Housing Choice Voucher Program and Rent-Controlled Housing) and their social and economic conflicts.
Paula Freire Santoro
Paula Freire Santoro is a Brazilian urbanist, architect, and professor of Urban Planning at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the University of São Paulo – FAUUSP. She currently coordinates observSP research with LabCidade | FAUUSP and is conducting a survey on Inclusive Housing Policies: a dialogue between São Paulo / Brazil and New York / USA. She holds a specialization in Land Policy in Latin America by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Panama (2007) and was Technical Assistant of the Public Ministry of the State of São Paulo in the areas of Housing, Urbanism and Environment (2011-2013). She has also been a researcher at the Instituto Pólis (2001-2011), Instituto Socioambiental – ISA (2007-2008) and the Laboratory of Urbanism of the Metropolis – LUME FAUUSP (2001). In New York, she conducted further research related to her comparative study of inclusionary zoning policies in New York and São Paulo.
Jose Manuel Robles Morales
José Manuel Robles Morales is currently an assistant professor in the department of Sociology III at the Complutense University of Madrid (Spain). He is the director of the Masters program in Official Statistics and Social and Economic Indicators which is part of the EMOS (European Masters in Official Statistics) network of EuroStat. He is also editor of the Spanish Journal of Sociological Research (JCR journal) and member of the research group “Data Science and Soft Computing for Social Analytics and Decision Aid.” His research focuses on the political uses of the Internet and the social consequences of technological development. He works with quantitative data based on surveys and “Big Data.” José Manuel has published more than forty papers in different academic journals and is currently preparing a book for Palgrave Macmillan.
Semiha F Turgut
Semiha F. Turgut is a PhD candidate in urban and regional planning at Istanbul Technical University. During her Master and PhD studies she worked in several research projects on local development, economic development and youth participation. In her last project she worked as a research coordinator in Istanbul Urban Resilience Project of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. She is granted as a Fulbright Visiting Researcher and in New York she is focused on her PhD research on Smart Cities. Within this topic, she investigates Smart Cities from the perspective of philosophy of science; from the perspective of Thomas Kuhn. Her research includes evaluating the concept within planning theories.