Speculative Futures with Jennifer Wolch

Jennifer Wolch is the William W. Wurster Dean and Professor of City and Regional Planning in the College of Environmental Design at University of California, Berkeley. Jennifer holds a BA in Anthropology and an MA in Geography from California State University Hayward, and a PhD in Urban Planning from Princeton.

Jennifer is a scholar of urban analysis and planning, and her past work focused on, among many things, urban homelessness, urban environmental justice and political ecology, and the delivery of affordable housing and human services.

She shares with me her experiences in academia and as Dean, and then we get into an in-depth discussion on the housing crisis and homelessness issue in Los Angeles and San Francisco.


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LIGHTNING ROUND Q&A

WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE JUST STARTING OUT IN THEIR CAREER?

My advice would be to understand what you really care about, try to find a professional situation that allows you to pursue the things that you are passionate about, to follow your commitments and to be bold and be willing to take some risks. It’s easy to slot into a big firm or a big bureaucracy, but whether its inside your job or outside your job, keep your passions alive and work toward them.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU FEEL UNFOCUSED OR OVERWHELMED?

One of the things that I do is physical activity. I am married to an academic so it’s both work and home - talking about the University and what’s happening on campus. So it’s doubly important for me to clear my head. When I do exercise and interact with people who have nothing to do with the University or campus it’s vital, because it really clears your head.

WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU FIND REALLY INSPIRING?

One of the things that I find inspiring is that students that I teach - this past semester I’ve been participating in a course for freshmen - are arriving at university with so much knowledge already of environmental and social challenges, and also passions and commitments, that we have to make sure as a teaching team we’re not telling them things they already know. They’re very interested and concerned about big issues like sea level rise, climate change gentrification, poverty, and globalization, so that really gives me hope on a regular basis.

WHAT'S A FUNNY OR INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOURSELF?

I walk really fast and I’m kind of loud when I walk so everybody can hear me coming - click click click click click! - and they always get out of my way and flatten themselves against the corridor, so I can get by. I think it reflects my desire to make things happen and my impatience with things as they are, so in some ways that encapsulates part of my personality.

MENTOR SHOUT OUT! WHO IS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN A GREAT MENTOR TO YOU?

I’ve had a lot of really great mentors. I had a faculty member when I was an undergraduate who was a geologist who was a great mentor. I had a mentor as a master’s student who was a statistician and she was a great mentor as well. I then had a doctoral supervisor who treated me very much like a peer, almost so much that it was scary because I wasn’t really ready. But I’ve also had many colleagues who’ve also served as mentors. Some of them have been more senior and some of them have been peers. And that’s been really rewarding and super helpful to have those mentors and it’s also very rewarding to serve as a mentor.