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About me: Stefan


I am currently a PhD Candidate in Urban Planning at Columbia University (degree expected: 2024). During the 2023–2024 academic year, I will be based in Cambridge, MA, as a Visiting Democracy Fellow with Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and a scholar-in-residence at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Using institutional analysis, I study how planning schemes are implemented, how residents contest and repurpose formal built sites and plans, and the resultant socio-spatial composition of planned spaces. I believe that it is in this resident-driven repurposing and its local differentiation that possibilities for grassroots popular democracy can be cultivated. 

My dissertation examines planning, implementation, contestation, and repurposing in the South African city of Mahikeng (a former "Bantustan" capital city during apartheid and today the capital city of South Africa's North West Province). My broader research interests include planning history and theory; local government and planning law; political economy and world systems; urban governance and democracy; and African urbanism with a focus on South Africa.

In my free time I enjoy hiking, backpacking, and traveling to new and unfamiliar places.


I hold a Master's in Public Policy degree from the Harvard Kennedy School, where I served as Managing Editor for the Kennedy School Review (KSR), Teaching Fellow for Professors Roberto Unger and Cornel West at Harvard Law School, and Course Assistant for Quinton Mayne's "Urban Politics" class. While at HKS, I worked on developing negotiation analytic teaching cases with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative (BHCLI) in 2019, and in 2018 supported the OECD's Champion Mayors Team, developing program strategy, research, execution, and implementation in Paris, France. 


In 2015 I graduated from Stanford University (Major: Public Policy and Urban Studies). My honor’s thesis centered on South Africa’s youth population and its potential to change social and political structures. This thesis built on study-abroad experience with Stanford in Cape Town and my work with the U.S. Department of State’s South Africa desk. I served as Chair of Stanford in Government (SIG) to explore the roles of government and public service in envisioning and operationalizing social justice.



Prior to my PhD at Columbia, I worked as a Negotiation Research Fellow with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. Previously, from 2016 to 2017, I served as an NYC Urban Fellow with the New York City Department of Transportation, working on public space planning and design with the DOT Urban Design, Art, and Wayfinding teams. From 2015 to 2016, I worked on the Ford Foundation's Equitable Development team, focusing on housing insecurity, access to opportunity, and equitable urban infrastructure and decision-making in both domestic and global contexts.

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