After Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, government officials and urban planners started developing ideas on how to rebuild the city. The initial plans labeled the Lower Ninth Ward, along with other low-income, predominantly African American neighborhoods, as “not to be rebuilt.” Ken Reardon set out to challenge that idea.
Reardon, an accomplished academic and urban planner, surveyed people who had been displaced by the storm, and found that many Ninth Ward residents would return if the right infrastructure was in place. He coordinated the New Orleans Planning Initiative, which ultimately reversed those earlier plans, and pushed governmental agencies to start rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward, welcoming those displaced residents back into the city.
Reardon has a long history of partnering with communities to reinvigorate urban environments, and he expects to take on new partnerships and challenges now that he is in Boston.
“It’s exciting that this is taking place in the first few months of a brand new master planning process by the city of Boston – the first since 1965,” Reardon says.
Reardon expects that Boston will face several challenges in the near future, including transit, housing, land use, and economic investment. But the issue that he believes is most urgent is climate change.
The new master’s program grew out of a conference co-sponsored by UMass Boston on sea level rise. The late mayor Tom Menino suggested that Boston’s public research university ought to be involved in helping the city to take on this increasingly urgent problem. Planning programs are not typically paired with environmental studies, but Reardon sees it as a perfect match for this particular challenge.
“The fact that we’re in the School for the Environment makes it a great place for those policy and planning issues to be explored, where the latest research on urban ecosystems and global climate change can infuse the research, teaching, and outreach,” Reardon says.
Reardon started his career in academia at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he started the East St. Louis Action Research Project, considered the largest, most longstanding and impactful community-university partnership in the country. Most recently, he directed the graduate program for the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Memphis. There, he partnered with local communities to create the Memphis mobile market to combat urban food deserts, and stalled the demolition of the last public housing building in the city.
“Ken Reardon brings exceptional talents in building and sustaining urban planning programs. He brings not only deep experience but also a passion and commitment to supporting urban communities in addressing some of the most pressing issues of today,” says Robyn Hannigan, dean of the School for the Environment. “Under his leadership, I am confident students completing our MS in Urban Planning and Community Development will lead the nation in enabling resilient urban communities and spaces.”
Reardon is focused on growing this new academic program at UMass Boston. There are currently six full-time and five part-time students enrolled in Urban Planning and Community Development, but he says that there are three to five inquiries about the program every week. He expects the program to graduate 20-30 students per year.
Reardon looks forward to working with UMass Boston students on local and global problems.
“Young people are growing up in a more diverse city,” Reardon says. “We’re focused on people who will choose to stay, and bring those perspectives to the commonwealth and the city.”