Laura Wolf-Powers

Assistant Professor
City & Regional Planning


B.A., Yale University
Masters of Public Affairs, Princeton University
Ph.D, Urban Planning and Policy, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy, Rutgers University

Faculty Fellow, Penn Institute for Urban Research

Participant, Promoting College Access and Democracy seminar (Moorman-Simon Program for Education and Schooling for Democracy and Citizenship) -    co-sponsored by the Netter Center for Community Partnerships and the Penn Institute for Urban Research

Professor Wolf-Powers has taught at PennDesign since 2008. Before that, she served as a faculty member and as Chairperson of the Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment (now Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development) at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. At PennPlanning, Professor Wolf-Powers anchors the Community and Economic Development curriculum concentration, teaching the core course in community development and neighborhood revitalization, the core course on economic development policy and finance, and an elective on workforce development and metropolitan labor markets. Her research is centered on jobs and employment policy, urban political economy, and the role of community-based organizations in urban politics and governance. Recently, she has begun to explore the connections between education policy, local and regional economic development, and employment opportunity; for example, she is working with colleagues in the Graduate School of Education and at the Philadelphia-based non-profit Graduate!Philadelphia on a project to better understand the role of financial counseling in helping college "stop-outs" return and complete their degrees. Her work also emphasizes the importance of proactive policy on the demand side of the labor market (see http://www.21cforall.org/content/economic-development-addressing-paralle...).

Professor Wolf-Powers was the 2011 winner of the G. Holmes Award for Distinguished Teaching in the School of Design. Her publications are viewable at: http://works.bepress.com/laura_wolf_powers/


Professor Wolf-Powers' research is based on a practical interest in how economic development planning can reduce economic and social inequality. She has written about linkage policies that embed employment and career development goals in the planning of urban megaprojects, about policy to stabilize and build cities' manufacturing job bases, and about options for fusing K-12 and post-secondary education policy more directly to the labor market. Several of her publications are drawn from or inspired by her experience in the classroom, addressing such questions as "How should planners balance deliberation and negotiation when forging publicly subsidized real estate deals?" and "Why, after so many decades of well-intentioned community development practice, are economic conditions in many neighborhoods still so bleak?" Current projects include:

The Effects of Financial Counseling and Facilitated Peer Financial Mentoring on the Re‐enrollment and Persistence of Adults Returning to College

Amidst a broad national focus on increasing the number of college graduates, statistics underscore the need for policies that support college access and persistence for a rarely studied population: adults who have some college but no degree. This project, a randomized controlled experiment, will investigate the effects of two interventions - one-on-one financial counseling and facilitated peer mentoring centered on education planning and finance - on returning adults' re-enrollment and persistence. Dr. Wolf-Powers is working with Professors Laura Perna and Michael Rovine in Penn's Graduate School of Education and with Graduate!Philadelphia, an innovative non-profit whose staff successfully counsels and advises "stop-outs," guiding them toward college re-enrollment and completion.

Wage deserts and barriers to employment

The concept of food deserts - areas with little access to stores selling fresh, healthy foods at affordable prices - has become a familiar concept in community development. But the absence of food access often coincides with high un- and under-employment, raising questions about how food deserts and "wage deserts" - areas where high proportions of working households fall below an accepted standard of economic self-sufficiency - overlap and interact. Dr. Wolf-Powers is assembling a research team to survey residents of "wage deserts" in Philadelphia, possibly recruiting participants from Pennsylvania CareerLink Centers who are actively seeking employment and skills. The goal of this exploratory research is to assess the factors that are posing barriers to adequately paid work among residents of these areas of concentrated un- and underemployment, and to conceive of policy and planning interventions at multiple scales that could begin to alleviate this problem.

Community Development and Neighborhood Revitalization: Theories of action and strategies on the ground

This project responds to a need for a practical resource in the community development field, suitable as both an introduction for students and a reference tool for practitioners. It first tackles the questions "What is community development?" and "What is the professional identity and skillset of community development practitioners?" - addressing the big-picture questions that motivate leaders, professionals and funders in the field and tracing the multiple definitions and meanings of neighborhood revitalization to their origins in history and politics. Through a series of exercises and case studies, it then conveys the skills and knowledge that community development practitioners use in their day to day work. These include asset inventorying and SWOT analysis, housing and retail market assessment, basic "pencil out" methods for determining the developability of individual sites, participatory action research, public engagement and power mapping. The book will also contain basic information about the federal policies and programs that bear on community development practice (for example, the Low Income Housing and New Markets tax credits, the Community Reinvestment Act, and the Workforce Investment Act) as well as examples of state- and city-level innovations and developments in social entrepreneurship that have been equally influential on the field (state and local housing trust funds, community credit unions, inclusionary zoning, labor market intermediaries). Part political history, part contemporary reflection and part "how-to" and resource guide, the book will be targeted at planning and policy students and at active practitioners in the field.


Recent and forthcoming solo-authored publications by Dr. Wolf-Powers include:

"Teaching planners to deal: the pedagogical value of a (simulated) economic development negotiation." Forthcoming in Fall 2013 issue of Journal of Planning Education and Research.

"National manufacturing policy meets local real estate markets." In J. Bryson, J. Clark and V. Vanchan eds., The Handbook of Manufacturing in the World Economy. Edward Elgar Forthcoming, Fall 2013.

"Human-capital-centred Regionalism in Economic Development: A Case of Analytics Outpacing Institutions?" Urban Studies 49(15): 3427-3446. 2012.

"Community Benefits Agreements and Local Government: A Review of Recent Evidence." Journal of the American Planning Association. 76(2): 141-159. 2010.

"Keeping Counterpublics Alive in Planning" In Peter Marcuse, James Connolly, Johannes Novy, Ingrid Olivo, Cuz Potter and Justin Steil eds., Searching for the Just City, Routledge. 2009.