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DUSP head a city kid


Professor Lawrence J. Vale, appointed head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) in June, describes his lifelong passion for the dynamic lives of cities as "almost pre-natally determined."

Vale, a Chicago native, lived with his family in a 21st-floor apartment in an iconic building designed by Mies van der Rohe.

"I could look out the window and see a planned waterfront," he recalled. "I knew about Chicago's dramatic recovery and rebirth after the Great Fire of 1871. I was nurtured in an environment where people had thought systematically about the public realm and its potential impact on future generations."

Vale, 43, attributes his long-standing interest in American public housing to another early childhood experience: "In 1962, I watched the high-rise towers of the Cabrini-Green public housing project take shape. From that point on, my family took detours to avoid driving past this increasingly notorious neighborhood."

Vale left Chicago to attend Amherst College, later settling in Boston. Once here, he noticed that "aversion to public housing had been architecturally encoded into the city. The Kennedy Library's public rooms faced every direction except that of the neighboring Columbia Point project. The observation deck of the John Hancock tower allowed views of the city's affluent neighborhoods, but blocked the sight of neighborhoods that tended to be poor and black."

Vale came to MIT as a graduate student, receiving the M.S. degree in Architecture Studies in 1988.

He began teaching here as a lecturer in architecture in 1988. He was promoted to assistant professor in the department of urban studies and planning in 1990; to associate professor in 1995; to associate professor with tenure in 1997 and to full professor in 2002. Vale served as associate head of DUSP from July 1999 to June 2002, when he became department head. He was named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow in 1999.

Coincidentally, Vale attended the same Chicago grade school as visionary urban designer Kevin Lynch (B.C.P. 1947). Lynch was the author of "The Image of the City," a seminal work on city planning. Lynch taught in the MIT City Planning Department for over 30 years.

"Lynch was the main intellectual force behind the department," Vale said. "I arrived at MIT shortly after Lynch's death, but his work and approach to the field continue to inspire me."


Likening DUSP to a "large optometrist's store, where students are presented with a vast selection of frames and lenses through which to see the world," Vale emphasized the necessity for courses at MIT to have "clear resonance in current events.

"By asking students to examine planning processes in wide-ranging locales such as Boston, Rotterdam, and Mexico City, we invite them to learn about societies or regimes that support or resist the very notion of planned intervention," he said.

"One central question underpinning the department's inquiry is, "Who benefits from development?" In the post-9/11 context this means asking about the global and local effects of modernization, industrialization, westernization, and North-South inequality. The question undergirds all large projects in the public realm," said Vale.


Vale outlined seven departmental priorities in a talk on September 3, 2002. These included nurturing the careers of tenure-track junior faculty; diversifying the department community; engaging in local development issues, and creating a "sustainable computing environment."

At that time, Vale announced a new student prize for work related to Cambridge, Mass., named in honor of O. Robert Simha (MCP 1957), director of MIT's planning for over 40 years, and a new fund to reward "exemplary second-year master's students who were initially admitted without financial aid."

Vale' explores the political, social and economic issues of public housing in South Boston, Brighton and Dorchester in his forthcoming book, "Reclaiming Public Housing: A Half Century of Struggle in Three Public Neighborhoods" (Harvard University Press, November, 2002).

Vale is also the author of four earlier books - "Imaging the City: Continuing Struggles and New Directions," ed., with Sam Bass Warner, Jr. (Rutgers, 2001); "From the Puritans to the Projects: Public Housing and Public Neighbors (Harvard University, 2000); "Architecture, Power and National Identity" (Yale University Press, 1992), and "The Limits of Civil Defence in the USA, Switzerland, Britain and the Soviet Union: The Evolution of Policies Since 1945" (St. Martin's, 1987).

"From the Puritan to the Projects" was awarded "Best Book in Urban Affairs" by the Urban Affairs Association (2001). "Architecture, Power, and National Identity" won the Spiro Kostof Book Award in Architecture and Urbanism (1994).

Vale has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors outside MIT, including a Rhodes Scholarship (1982-1985) and a Guggenheim fellowship for work on American public housing (1995-1996).

He received an MIT Provost's Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Grant (1999-2000) and was appointed to the Edward H. and Joyce Linde Career Development Chair (1990-1993). He received the MIT Architecture Studies Prize in 1988.

In addition to his MIT degree, Vale received the B.A. in American Studies, summa cum laude, from Amherst College in 1981 and the Ph.D. in International Relations from Oxford University in 1985.

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