News & Press: In Memoriam

Remembering Dr. Susan Christopherson

Tuesday, January 3, 2017  
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Susan Christopherson, an economic geographer and professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University known for her scholarly work and expertise on regional economic development, died December 14, 2016 of cancer.

In December 2015, the American Association of Geographers announced Christopherson had received its Lifetime Achievement award stating, “The AAG Honors Committee chose to recognize Susan Christopherson for her considerable and long standing contributions to economic geography research, public engagement, teaching, and service. Her work on media, optics, agriculture, renewable energy, and manufacturing has included deep engagement with local economic development authorities to produce research that contributes to spatially and socially balanced economic growth.” In November 2016 Susan also received the Sir Peter Hall Contribution to the Field Award from the Regional Studies Association. In making the award, Professor Ron Martin of Cambridge University said, “Over the years Susan has been a leading beacon in regional development studies, contributing some of the landmark papers in the field, and exerting a formative influence on both the theory and practice of economic geography internationally.”

A pioneer in her field, Susan Christopherson's work as an economic geographer reflected her commitment to integrating scholarship and public engagement. Her research and teaching focused on economic development, labor markets, and location patterns in new media and film, advanced manufacturing, and resource extraction industries. She coauthored Remaking Regional Economies: Power, Labor, and Firm Strategies in the Knowledge Economy which won the 2009 Regional Studies Association Best Book Award. She published more than 100 articles and policy reports over the course of her career. Susan served as an editor and on the editorial boards of several leading journals (including Economic Geography, the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy, and Society, Regional Studies, and the Journal of Economic Geography). She was the editor-in-chief of the Regional Studies Association’s Regions and Cities Book Series.

In recent years, Christopherson conducted studies on advanced manufacturing in New York’s Southern Tier, the photonics industry in Rochester, the role of universities and colleges in revitalizing the upstate New York economy, and production trends affecting new media industries in New York City. She also focused on unconventional energy extraction and energy sources, analyzing the safety of crude oil transport by rail and the economic consequences of Marcellus shale natural gas drilling.

Susan Christopherson was born March 20, 1947, in St. Paul, Minnesota. She attended the University of Minnesota where she earned her bachelor's degree in urban studies in 1972 and a master's in geography in 1975. During her early career, Susan worked on such projects as the pioneering Cedar-Riverside "New Town in Town" development on the edge of the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. At 23, Susan was hired to write the Environmental Impact Statement for this nationally recognized project.

From Minnesota, Susan moved to California to continue her studies joining a cohort of graduate students in planning and geography that would shape theory in the field for the next 40 years. She received her doctorate in 1983 from the University of California–Berkeley, and won the AAG's Urban Specialty Group Annual Dissertation Award. During her early academic career Susan worked at the University of California, Los Angeles; the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California–San Diego; San Diego State University; and the University of Texas, El Paso. Susan was also a visiting scholar at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel in 1984 and the Wissenschaftzentrum Social Science Center in Berlin, Germany in 1991.

Susan joined the faculty at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1987. She was appointed Chair of Cornell’s Department of City and Regional Planning (CRP) in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP) in 2014. Susan was the first woman to be promoted to full professor in city and regional planning at Cornell, and the first woman to chair the department in its nearly 80-year history.

"Her loss will be felt keenly by the many colleagues, students, staff, and friends who knew Susan as a remarkable intellect, a master of so many fields, and a force for good," said Kent Kleinman, Dean of Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. "Her academic accomplishments were many, but they hardly sum up this remarkable person who was a whirlwind of creative ideas, hard work, fairness, and grace. She will be sorely missed."

In lieu of flowers, contributions in Susan's memory can be made out to The Community Foundation of Tompkins County, designating The Susan Christopherson Community Planning Fund. For further information on the fund contact: Jeffrey M. Chusid, 106 W. Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca NY 14853 USA. Expressions of condolence to Susan's family may be sent to her sister, Amy, at the following address: Amy Loomis, 6724 49th Avenue, Kenosha, WI 53142 USA.

A memorial service celebrating Susan's life and achievements will be held at Cornell University in the Spring of 2017. AAG’s Economic Geography Specialty Group is also organizing a panel at the AAG annual meeting in Boston in April 2017 in honor of Susan’s life and career, entitled: Celebrating Susan Christopherson: A Panel Honoring her Life, Work, and Leadership in Economic Geography. Details on both events are to follow. For those who would like to contribute memories or photos to share at these events, please send those to Jennifer Clark by email at Jennifer.clark@gatech.edu or by mail to School of Public Policy, DM Smith Building, 685 Cherry Street, Atlanta, GA 30332-0345 USA.


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