PhD students’ scholarly impact spans breadth of policy, planning fields

August 25, 2017

By Matthew Kredell

In 2017, the USC Price School of Public Policy sent nine Ph.D. graduates into the world to become the next generation of scholars; several of whom have already secured tenure-track faculty positions at leading universities.

Through their academic work in both the Public Policy and Management (PPM) Ph.D. program and the Urban Planning and Development (UPD) Ph.D. program, these students addressed a wide variety of issues facing society, including: how technological innovations are implemented in local governments; why cities adopt local renewable energy policies; how fossil fuel markets respond to regulatory threats; frictions and demographic trends in housing markets; the changing way goods are moved through urban environments; and access to opportunities in segregated ethnic neighborhoods.

Arthur Acolin (UPD): Understanding how housing can shape access, opportunities

Whether one buys or rents, Arthur Acolin sees housing as a necessity, like health, food or clothing. But securing a home involves a complex transaction that will represent a large share of a household budget and will impact access to employment, schools and services that determine opportunity and quality of life, which Acolin sought to address in his dissertation “Three Essays on Frictions in Housing Markets.”

“By studying these frictions in my dissertation, I hoped to shed light on some of the mechanisms at play and provide insights that could be used in designing housing policies that improve access to opportunities,” Acolin said.

Acolin looks at discrimination, financial education and budget constraints as three frictions in housing markets.

He had multiple chapters of his dissertation published in leading journals and won the Jack Dyckman Dissertation Award for best dissertation written in planning and development.

“His work has certainly resonated with the field,” said Professor and Director of the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation Gary Painter, who was on Acolin’s dissertation committee. “His work looks at the importance of institutions in the international housing market, but he included work inside the U.S. to understand how housing affects consumption, and how policy levers impact the ability of people to stay in homes.”

In the fall, Acolin will be joining the University of Washington as an assistant professor of real estate. In that position, he hopes to continue doing research on frictions in housing markets that prevent optimal outcomes for families, as well as teaching urban economics.

Matt Young (PPM): How ‘disruptive’ technologies affect public service delivery

With public organizations under increasing pressure to implement new, innovative technologies in order to be more transparent, efficient, and improve service delivery, Matt Young sought to understand the challenges that public managers face in implementing such innovations in his dissertation titled “Technological Innovation in Public Organizations.”

Before coming to USC Price, Young had a career in software engineering and product management for hardware and software startup companies.

“New technology adoption and implementation has always been an interest to me, due in part to growing up in the heart of Silicon Valley during the first tech boom in the 1980s and ’90s,” Young said. “When I decided to change careers and study public policy and management, I was drawn to questions of how public organizations handle the challenges of implementing ‘disruptive’ technologies that upset established processes, whether they actually improved outcomes in practice, and in particular whether these impacts promote or inhibit social justice and equity.”

The research makes several contributions to the field of public management, detailing the potential benefits and risks that public managers face when implementing open data, creating a nationwide database of open data implementation in large U.S. cities, and using the data to identify how institutional and organizational characteristics promote or inhibit implementation in practice.

“Matt’s research seeks to unveil the organizational underpinnings of innovation, revealing the factors that foster successful use of technology to improve public service delivery,” said Associate Professor Juliet Musso, his dissertation chair. “It is deeply concerned with the impact of technology use at the street level, and the implications for both service costs as well as social equity in service delivery.”

Young is headed to Syracuse University in the fall to start as an assistant professor of public administration and international affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Eun Jin Shin (UPD): Studying the relationship between residential location, travel behavior

In her three essays, Eun Jin Shin conducts in-depth investigations of how where one live affects how one travels. She examines what it means for ethnic minorities to live in segregated ethnic neighborhoods, and how this meaning can vary based on racial/ethnic group.

“I chose this topic because I was inspired by various types of ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles and was wondering about its implications on people’s travel behavior and accessibility,” Shin said.

Each essay was part of the whole, looking at why residence in ethnic neighborhoods affects the travel behavior of ethnic minorities, comparing these effects across race/ethnicity and immigration status, and then examining physical access to various types of opportunities in segregated ethnic neighborhoods.

Shin finds that low-income ethnic neighborhoods in the Los Angeles region have higher access to opportunities by both car and transit than do wealthy neighborhoods — however, drivers have between 12 and 150 times greater accessibility to opportunities within 30 minutes than transit users, depending on the opportunity type. Considering the higher percentage of ethnic minorities who do not have vehicles in their households, they likely experience serious mobility issues even if they tend to live in neighborhoods with better access to opportunities.

“Eun Jin’s dissertation examines the relationship between residential location and travel behavior, with particular focus on ethnic and racial minorities,” said Professor and METRANS Director Genevieve Giuliano, her dissertation chair. “Through her very careful and rigorous analysis, she provides new insights on how residential location affects both travel patterns and access to jobs and services.”

Shin is heading to Singapore in the fall to be an assistant professor of urban studies at Yale-NUS College, a collaboration between Yale University and the National University of Singapore.

Jenneille Hsu (PPM): Examining why cities ‘go green’

Jenneille Hsu set out to answer the question of why some cities adopt sustainability policies, while others don’t, in her dissertation titled “Why Go Green: Cities’ Adoption of Local Renewable Energy Policies and Urban Sustainability Certifications.”

The paper had three chapters looking into renewable energy and solar goals, solar-approval processes, and why cities seek sustainability certifications.

“I found that capacity related to renewable energy planning is really important,” Hsu said.

If a city has public utility, that means the government has more control over its energy planning and can contribute additional financial and staff resources to sustainability efforts. Other characteristics for cities that go green include having a larger population and tax base, and being located in a state with renewable portfolio standards.

“Drawing on both quantitative data and in-depth case studies, Jenneille’s research examines how institutional and political factors affect the implementation of environmental and energy use policy at the local level,” said Professor Shui Yan Tang, her dissertation chair. “Her findings are especially significant in an era in which state and local actions overtake the national government as the main driver of environmental and climate policy.”

Hsu is currently doing research with professors at National Taiwan University about how public awareness on climate change differs in 25 countries around the world.

Xize Wang (UPD): Linking demographics and driving patterns

The common theory that millennials are driving less may not be as simple as many think, according to Xize Wang’s research. His dissertation, “The Impact of Demographic Shifts on Automobile Travel in the United States: Three Empirical Essays,” focused on major shifts in immigration assimilation, millennials entering adulthood, and aging.

“There is a global intellectual community in innovating the theories of travel demand and the technologies for the transportation industry,” Wang said. “The implementation of such innovations is most likely to be localized. How to combine the global knowledge and local practice is what intrigues me.”

Wang used detailed census data, over several decades, and data from national household travel surveys, to examine how driving differs across birth and immigration cohorts. Wang found no strong support for millennials commuting less by driving; however, he did find that when millennials move from central city locations to suburbs, they drive less – even in suburbs – than similar members of older generations. In addition, Wang did find that recent immigrants do drive less — but after about two decades, their driving tendencies correspond with the native born.

Understanding the link between demographics and automobile travel creates opportunities for policymakers to transform American cities to be more sustainable and to more effectively predict future travel patterns, based on demographic needs.

“Xize did a wonderful job with his dissertation,” said Professor Marlon Boarnet, Wang’s dissertation chair. “His research has important implications for travel modeling, particularly since these demographic factors are typically not incorporated into travel modeling.”

As a USC Provost’s Mentored Teaching Fellow, Wang also had the opportunity to teach an undergraduate course in sustainable communities, as well as to work on developing a course in exploring urban communities using geographic information system (GIS).

He also co-authored four papers published in professional journals, including one with Boarnet for the Journal of Regional Science that studied the impact of the Expo Line on household vehicle emission reductions.

Wang is starting a post-doctoral research position at the University of California, Berkeley, where he will work on a multi-year project studying transportation in Latin America.

Ryan Merrill (PPM): Exploring unforeseen consequences of environmental policy

Could the threat of U.S. environmental regulations actually lead to a higher production in fossil fuels? Ryan Merrill investigated how markets and fossil fuel owners respond to regulatory threats in his dissertation “Climate Change, Stewardship and the Green Paradox: Unforeseen Policy Consequences of Carbon Mitigation Policies.”

“I am fascinated by environmental policy design, the consequences of strategic diversification in oil and gas, and the importance of the energy lobby in shaping U.S. environmental politics,” Merrill said.

His dissertation examines impacts of environmental regulations on investment behavior among U.S. oil and gas firms by reconciling a tension between organization theories of strategic self-regulation and Green Paradox hypotheses of policy-induced extraction of fossil fuels.

“With his broad interests in corporate strategy, international politics, climate change and environmental protection together with an engaging intellect, it is no surprise that Ryan chose to examine the fascinating counter-intuitive Green Paradox Theory on the unintended consequences of national-level greenhouse emissions policies adopted by leading climate change nations today,” said Professor Dan Mazmanian, his dissertation chair.

While pursuing his Ph.D., Merrill co-authored two papers for professional publications and taught a popular undergraduate class on sustainability, which 2017 USC Price valedictorian Griffin Kantz called the most impactful course he took at the Price School.

Merrill is spending a year in South East Asia working on a post-doc in sustainable innovation and natural resource management with the Singapore Management University.

“His ability to engage undergraduate students in the vexing challenges of sustainability and climate change is equally impressive,” Mazmanian said. “Ryan’s career as an effective teacher and imaginative scholar is well on its way.”

Hyojung Lee (UPD): Analyzing millennial housing behavior

Many millennials have a unique approach to deciding where to live. In his dissertation “Three Essays on Housing and Urban Demography,” one of the issues Hyojung Lee tackles is the geographic distribution and factors of residential location choice among young adults.

His other two topics are the long-term legacy of Hurricane Katrina on housing, labor and schooling outcomes of hurricane victims; and the strategic response of depository institutions to a mismatch between Community Reinvestment Act regulatory rules and neighborhood change.

“Hyojung demonstrates remarkable mastery of multiple data sets, using them to explore different demographic forces that are shaping urban changes,” said Professor Dowell Myers, Lee’s dissertation co-chair, with Professor Gary Painter. “The portion of his dissertation on millennials does an excellent job of comprehensively analyzing how their locational behavior has shifted from that of the preceding generation, separating changes in their behavioral propensity from impacts created by their larger numbers. This helps to put current debates in much better context.”

Lee is transitioning to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, where he will be a postdoctoral research fellow.

Sanggyun Kang (UPD): Critical importance of urban freight movement

Over the past decade, the logistics industry has revamped how goods are transported at the global, regional and local levels. Sanggyun Kang examines the resulting changes in the location of warehousing and distribution centers in his dissertation “Unraveling Decentralization of Warehousing and Distribution Centers: Three Essays.”

Through three independent yet interrelated empirical studies, Kang investigates how the restructuring of the logistics industry has reshaped the spatial distribution of warehousing facilities at the sub-metropolitan level.

“Urban freight movement is one of the least-studied areas in urban planning,” Kang said. “The size of its impact on society is tremendous, whereas data scarcity has constrained researchers from conducting exhaustive research. With direct freight movement data not available, I examined land-use patterns of major freight trip generators — warehouses.”

Findings suggest that freight demand and land prices are the two main factors for decentralization. To transport large volumes of freight, the logistics industry has built large-scale warehousing facilities on the outskirts where land is available at relatively lower costs.

“Sanggyun is the first USC urban planning student to do a dissertation on urban goods movement,” said Professor Giuliano, his dissertation chair. “Urban planning has paid little attention to freight, yet it affects the structure of cities, travel demand and environmental quality.”

Kang will continue working with Giuliano as a postdoctoral research associate at the METRANS Transportation Center.

“I look forward to making a significant contribution to urban freight research,” Kang said.

Thomas Malone (UPD): Examining the economics of cities

Thomas Malone’s dissertation explored three separate issues related to the economics of cities.

The first chapter looks at how the relationship between housing and business cycles is different from city to city. The second focuses on the internal structure of cities and which ones have stability. The final chapter shows how city-level housing price indexes can be misleading if they do not properly account for asymmetries within the city’s submarkets.

“There is a common thread in the chapters in that they each help us further understand that cities can be better understood by focusing on the variation within them rather than the variation between them,” Malone said.

Next year, Malone will serve as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

“Thom has been an outstanding doctoral student,” said Chris Redfearn, the Borstein Family Endowed Professor of Real Estate at USC Price and Malone’s dissertation chair. “From the beginning, he had an independent view of things matched with a broad curiosity about how cities and housing markets work. As he starts his postdoc at Harvard, I expect him to be an active part of the conversation about how neighborhoods and housing markets change.”