Bev Wilson, Ph.D., AICP is an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research is grounded in land use planning and informed by the use of geographic information systems (GIS) and other emerging technologies. He is interested in better understanding the spatial and temporal aspects of development, as well as its implications for the environment and society. Dr. Wilson's work spans the urban to rural continuum and ranges in scale from the individual housing unit to the metropolitan region. He is also interested in the livability of small towns and rural communities and believes that planners can play a significant role in successfully meeting the many issues these areas face. The use of tools like GIS, mobile phone apps, and video to inform better planning and decision-making is a key thread connecting his research and teaching.
In 2014, he was named a CyberGIS Fellow by the CyberGIS Center for Advanced Digital and Spatial Studies and has been working on integrating these tools and techniques into the urban planning curriculum at Illinois. He works closely with local and regional organizations like University of Illinois Extension to provide hands-on learning opportunities for planning students that also benefit the public in a meaningful way.
Dr. Wilson holds a Master's and Ph.D. in planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Bachelor's degree in Economics and Political Science from Duke University. Prior to beginning work as a planning researcher and planning educator, he worked as an independent planning consultant, a spatial analyst, and a computer programmer.
Q: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on?
A: Building the chicagoheatvulnerability.org website was really satisfying. It allowed me to bring my interest in mapping and data visualization to bear on an often overlooked impact of climate change with clear environmental, economic, and social dimensions.
Q: What future goals do you have in your field?
A: One of my main goals is to research and advocate for more transparent and democratic use of data and technology in urban planning and governance. The current dialogue surrounding big data and smart cities is best understood as an extension of much older conversations about the role of technology and expertise in planning. I prepare my students by teaching them hard skills, but also by encouraging them to critique existing practice and to propose solutions. Only by directly engaging with emerging technologies can we hope to make them responsive to the needs of communities and individuals.
Q: How has planning school changed your daily habits?
A: I always think about how stories I read in the newspaper or hear on the radio connect with what I am doing in the classroom or as part of my research.
Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A: It changed pretty frequently, but wanting to work outside was a consistent theme.
Q: How many different cities have you lived in and which was your favorite?
A: I grew up in Warren County, NC which is very rural. I’ve only lived in five cities and Chapel Hill, NC was the most enjoyable.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
A: Greenland to see the effects of climate change first-hand.
Q: What is the title of the last book you read? What did you learn from it?
A: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. It provided context for my first trip to India in late 2016.
Q: What’s your favorite color and how would you creatively incorporate it into a planning project?
A: I like earth tones, so my favorite color would probably be brown. Brown can be the color of soil or a skin tone. This would be one way to frame a project that focuses on making planning more relevant to and responsive to the needs of racial and ethnic minorities in rural communities.