Dr Alex Schafran


My research focuses on the contemporary restructuring and retrofitting of urban regions, with a particular emphasis on the changing dynamics of race, class and segregation across space and place. If asked to boil it down to one word, I study urbanization, defined broadly and in as many ways as possible, but always with a political eye. My work is multi-scalar in nature, spanning from individual suburbs to regions and megaregions and more recently urbanization globally. I consider myself a writer and teacher first and foremost.

I spent a decade doing social work, immigrant rights support, tenant organizing, housing policy and community development work between my undergraduate degree and PhD. During this time I trained as an urban planner, and my work attempts to fuse critical, historically-rooted and place-based geography with a planner’s eye for policy, politics and the future. I hold a BA in History from Stanford University, an MA in Urban Planning from Hunter College, City University of New York, and a PhD in City & Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley.

Most of my work to date has focused on the US in general and California in particular, with new research horizons that are more global in nature.


  • I teach a lot of students
  • Widening Participation

Research interests

My research is generally not project-based, but rather a series of interrelated writing, editing, teaching and organizing projects with an interlocking cast of co-authors and collaborators.

My monograph for the University of California Press, entitled The Road to Resegregation: Northern California and the Failure of Politics, will be pubslihed in October 2018. The book brings together my work on the San Francisco Bay Area into a full length account of the restructuring of the greater Bay Area over the course of my lifetime, and subsequent production of the foreclosure crisis in California. While the book argues that the new geography of race and class in the region must be considered a new form of segregation, the focus on the book is a political explanation of how such a wealthy and supposedly progessive region could become an epicenter of resegregation in the United States.

I have a growing focus on housing policy in the United States, work that brings me back to my roots as a housing organizer in New York City. Together with two American colleagues, Deirdre Pfeiffer and Jake Wegmann,  we have developed two fresh angles for examing housing policy. The first works to rethink housing tenure, and we are developing a novel means of doing housing analysis based on tenure diversity, with an initial pilot poject funded by the School of Geography underway with the Oakland Community Land Trust. The second examines the understudied link between housing development and party politics, with the first paper forthcoming in 2019.

I have a long-standing interest in urban discourse, and in particular how and why and to what end we say mean things about places. I am thrilled to have published a recent article in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers led by Alice Butler, which examines what people in the UK mean when they call a place a "shithole". The work was featured in an article in The Conversation, and we are currently working with our colleague Lex Comber to see if machine learning can build on this research. I also recently published a collaborative piece (including Leeds' Giorgia Aiello) in the French bilingual journal Metropolitiques  which looks at race and visual representations of new housing developments in French cities. This work combines my interest in discourse with a growing collaboration with the French scholar Yohann Le Moigne, work that includes another recently published work (with sociologist Greg Smithsimon) on the Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis.

While most of my work focuses on urban politics in some way, I am a historically-minded political economist, and have recently moved to develop the economic side of my work more significantly. My first major contribution in this area focuses on challenging and replacing "three-sector theory", the World War II-era notion that gave us the idea of the services sector. The paper, "Replacing the services sector and three-sector theory: Urbanization and control as economic sectors", is the product of five years of writing and rewriting, and was co-authored with colleagues from across three different disciplines. I particularly welcome inquiries about this paper, as we are working to develop an empirical project to test and refine various ideas in the paper.

Along related lines, I am working on a new mongraph for the Foundational Economics series at Manchester University Press. Co-authored with the Leeds energy geographer Stephen Hall and the political philosopher Matthew Noah Smith, the book develops a framework for building a healthier political economy of foundational urban systems like water, energy, food, transportation and housing. A (very partial) working paper can be found on the foundational economy website, and the book should be out in late 2019 or early 2020.

Other recent work includes:

I am always actively looking for collaborators and enthusiastic students, and welcome inquiries from anyone curious about my work in any way.

Additional information about my work can be found on my personal website www.alexschafran.com*

*The University of Leeds is not responsible for the content of external websites.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://environment.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PHD City and Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley
  • MA Urban Planning, Hunter College, City University of New York
  • BA History, Stanford University

Student education

I teach widely throughout the undergraduate BA programme in Geography, and work as the Widening Participation officer in the School.

I currently supervise five PhD students:

  • Alice Butler, whose work focuses on the historical production of territorial stigma in Toxteth, Liverpool
  • Tim Joubert, who is researching the history of radical municipalism in Briatin
  • Andri Mardiah, who studies community-based disaster management in Indonesia
  • Maria Otero, who examines the relationship between disaster and identity in Valparaiso, Chile
  • Zac Taylor, whose project looks at the links between financialization, insurance, risk, real estate and climate change in Florida

Research groups and institutes

  • Social Justice, Cities, Citizenship

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>