Bryce Lowery is an Assistant Professor of Regional and City Planning at the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture where he teaches geographic information systems, urban design theory, site planning, participatory planning methods, and food systems planning.
Dr. Lowery’s research focuses on social determinants of health and spatial inequalities of neighborhood effects, particularly the availability and accessibility to healthy food. Evidence suggests that conditions of the built environment are often chronic rather than acute, hindering rather than supporting, positive health outcomes, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Lowery is interested in developing concepts and testing measures that will more specifically show how context influences individual behavior – while researchers and practitioners acknowledge the role of proximity, there is still inadequate understanding about how, when, where, and for whom contextual factors affect access to nutritional resources. His research documents these inequalities and provides guidance to public health and planning professionals working toward making sure communities have an opportunity to lead a healthy life.
Lowery previously taught as a lecturer at the University of California at Irvine and before earning his doctorate he served as a member of the public health workforce of Los Angeles County. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degrees in economics and environmental studies from the University of Southern California, a Master of Science degree in environmental policy and behavior from the University of Michigan, and a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from California State Polytechnic University. He earned his PhD in planning from the University of Southern California Sol Price of Public Policy under the guidance of Dr. David Sloane, Dr. Tribid Banerjee, and Dr. Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo (sociology).
Here’s more from our conversation with Dr. Lowery …
Q: How long have you been a member of ACSP?
A: 1 - 3 Years
Q: Are you involved on the ACSP Board or an ACSP Committee?
A: Yes, I am a member of the Communications Committee, the Edward McClure Award Committee, and the Review and Appraisal Committee for President Weiping Wu.
Q: Have you won any awards?
A: I was a member of a research team that won the 2014 Breheny Prize for best article in Environment and Planning B. Collaborating on an article was a wonderful experience for me. As an early career scholar, it allowed me to learn about the review process and the value and fun of working with others to craft knowledge.
Q: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on?
A: I enjoy projects that get me out of my office to collect data or teach my students about the planning profession. I just completed a field survey of grocery stores in Oklahoma. I barely knew the state until I started the project, and now I think I’ve seen more of it than most native Oklahomans. I try to make time when I’m doing field work to see local culture, taste local food, and enjoy local life. In addition to documenting the incredible differences in food availability across the state I experienced some amazing places: Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, the Price Tower of Bartlesville, and a drive along OK-2 through the Ouachita Mountains in autumn.
I’ve also worked on several interesting community-based, service-learning projects as part of my studio course at the University of Oklahoma. My site planning students recently participated in a visioning process for developing a zoning code and community plan for a tribal village in northern Oklahoma. Residents wanted to enhance the culturally-rich setting into a multigenerational residential community with a robust local food system and vibrant location for local commerce. Most of my students will go on to work in local communities, for local agencies, or firms. Some of them had never been to the village or the Tribal Nation before, despite growing up in or around the state. I hope the experience enriched their understanding of planning with American Indian communities so they can be better planners and place makers.
Q: What future goals do you have in your field?
A: Food systems planning is a dynamic field. I’m amazed by all the momentum among planning, public health, and agricultural scholars and practitioners. Moving from California to Oklahoma proved to be an extremely valuable learning experience for me. A place like California that grows many of the fruits and vegetables eaten there contrasts starkly to a place like Oklahoma where everything is generally shipped in from somewhere else. The opportunities for agriculture to foster economic, social, and environmental improvements seems almost limitless in a place like this. New models of farming seem to suggest that, even in the tall grass prairie of the Great Plains, there may be opportunities to grow, harvest, and enjoy local produce. I hope to be part of the trajectory toward increasing local food security and food sovereignty.
Q: How has planning school changed your daily habits?
A: The world around me is forever altered through my training in landscape architecture and urban planning. My obsessions with tree trimming and sidewalk design are unhealthy. I am continually thinking up ways to better design space.
Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A: An astronaut. But, as I grew older and I realized I didn’t really have the constitution for the kinds of adventures that would entail, so I wanted to be a scientist. I was so sure of this that I attended an NSF summer program aimed at encouraging students into scientific careers. I spent weeks in the field extracting liquid from weeds across the campus to return to the laboratory to watch under a microscope as they slowly froze in a bath of alcohol. I timed the process and recorded the data. I hated the experience and lost interest in science, but found my way back when I discovered environmental studies in college.
Q: How many different cities have you lived in and which was your favorite?
A: I’ve lived in four places. I spent most of my adult life in Los Angeles, but I grew up in a small town in Michigan. For the past three years, I live just outside Oklahoma City and part time in Paris where my better-half lives. Each of these places is special to me but 22 years in Los Angeles provided some of the most important and memorable times of my life – thanks to friends, family, and the city.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
A: I’ve always wanted to visit Japan. My desire is informed by pop-culture and stereotypes, but the countryside and gardens appear to be awe inspiring and the city is a wonder of humanity.
Q: What is the title of the last book you read? What did you learn from it?
A: Hunger by Roxane Gay. Gay recounts how rape caused her to entangle body, food, and violence in ways that are both painful and numbing. For someone like me, who equates food to love and happiness, the book is an important reminder that this may not be the case for everyone. In a beautifully written passage about the Barefoot Contessa, Roxane explains how Ina Garten started her on a path toward healing by making it okay for her to enjoy buying, making, and eating food.
Q: What’s your favorite color and how would you creatively incorporate it into a planning project?
A: I love to garden and I’m particularly fond of blue flowers. My spirit plant is ceanothus. It’s endemic to California, striking in bloom, and delicately sweet-scented. Birds and butterflies love it. In Oklahoma, we have beautiful blue lilac, iris, and hydrangea.
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