Student Spotlight: Magda Maaoui
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"The urban planning department keeps showing me how to constantly challenge the conventions of learning and citizenship and reunite the culture of scholarship with the culture of change-making."

Magda Maaoui is a PhD student in Urban Planning at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP). Her research interests lie at the confluence of housing policy, real estate development, neighborhood change and spatial justice. She is currently investigating methods to evaluate recent affordable housing policy programs in American and French metropolitan areas, in how they miss the boat and perpetuate genealogies of inequality and segregation.

With an academic and professional experience acquired in Europe (France, Denmark), Africa (Algeria, Senegal) and the Americas (United States, Costa Rica), projects she has worked on range from sustainable policy to education, community planning and neighborhood revitalization.

Magda is registered in France as a civil servant (2010) with research and teaching credentials. She is also a Fulbright Fellow (2016). She received a Bachelor in Geography and Planning from the Université Lyon II Lumière, and a Masters in Geography and Planning from the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon. She held a Visiting position at UC Berkeley during her Masters training.

Q : Which ACSP member school do you attend?
A: Columbia University GSAPP

Q: What specialty are you studying?
A: Housing Policy and Community Development

Q: Why did you select your particular specialty?
A: I hope to find ways to evaluate recent affordable housing policy programs in American and French metropolitan areas, in how they miss the boat and perpetuate genealogies of inequality and segregation. My past experiences have all triggered a passion for comparative approaches. I think they renew perspectives on local contexts at a time when the processes shaping cities are transnational and linked to globalization trends. It is not only about comparing cities or neighborhoods in terms of facts, figures and numbers, it is also about setting a dialogue between intellectual and practice traditions. And, one has to acknowledge the impact of advisors and mentors, past and present. They have been a blessing and a repeated source of energy and inspiration. They have been a landmark as I was trying to tame the unknown of a new set of intellectual, social, and practical parameters that this new chapter of my career represents.

Q: Do you have a current job or internship in your specialty?
A: Not at the moment, but I'm open to opportunities. This year, I was a teaching assistant for the Economics and History/Theory core Masters courses in our department. I'm grateful for everything I'm learning, on a daily basis, from the instructors, the other assistants, and the students.

Q: Is there a particular class or professor that has made a great impact on you? How so?
A: The methods classes in my doctoral training are pretty amazing. From qualitative to quantitative methods and GIS, all these classes really help in building the perfect toolbox for us junior researchers. And, then there is every little detail about our program. For instance, I'm really into planning books, and, under the leadership of fellow doctoral students, we recently revamped our PhD office room with an amazingly generous donation from Peter Marcuse's personal book collection, which comes as an addition to the books other faculty members have been regularly donating.

Q: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on, in class or in practice?
A: When I think of the projects I’ve worked on, I see the city of Paris as one of the click-cities where I was able to to learn the ropes of the field. It is and will always be the witness of my continued efforts to be a better researcher, a better cartographer of city life.

Q: What future goals do you have in your field?
A: As a GSAPP doctoral student and an alumni of the Fulbright foundation, I hope to carry on being an active member of a milieu which encourages us to address complex real-world problems and blend critical theory with hands-on practice, with constant commitment to social justice. The urban planning department keeps showing me how to constantly challenge the conventions of learning and citizenship and reunite the culture of scholarship with the culture of change-making.

Q: How has planning school changed your daily habits?
A: I am interested in doing French-American comparative work on housing policy, neighborhood planning and the construction of socially just cities, and the UP department is the best place to work towards that goal. I am also able to devote more of my time to promoting the initial results of my doctoral training, engaging more in extracurricular activities related to civic engagement, and learning more about how to navigate the many networks that make up my academic and professional field, in New York City and in the larger East Coast. For instance, I was recently able to present papers at conferences in the United States and in France. Last year, I had the opportunity to learn more about the functioning of housing policy institutions and nonprofits in Washington, D.C., thanks to the Arthur King Peters Award I was granted, as a way to help me get more expertise in my area of study.

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