A Visionary Urban Planner

As an urban planner, Dr. Malo André Hutson believes that harmony and collaboration between entities — be they on the local, state, national, or even global level — are needed if we are to tackle the broader issues of our time.

Such issues include food systems, water use, energy use, and land use, says Hutson, an expert in climate resilience, environmental justice, and urban health. But once agreements are reached, there lies opportunity.

“We need an articulated strategy that is really going to address these broader issues that we’re all dealing with,” suggests Hutson, dean and Edward E. Elson Professor at the University of Virginia’s (UVA) School of Architecture. “And so, if you go to the local level, absolutely there should be local control. ... But we can’t all be doing our own thing and not think about what is the broader strategy… So that to me is the big challenge and that’s also the big opportunity.”

Dr. Malo André HutsonDr. Malo André HutsonHutson says he views this discordance among parties as a stumbling block for progress.

“It’s really the tens of thousands of small to medium-sized cities around the world that need to do this. And unfortunately, they are not in harmony with one another,” Hutson says. “So, let’s take the U.S. for example. You’ll have major metropolitan areas where one region or county is expanding their highway system and another county literally next door is investing [in] their public transit. And what we need is an articulated strategy at the local level to think about how we go about our land use.”

Hutson — who says he’s been in this field for roughly 20 years — describes his work as being at the intersection of the built environment, health equity, and climate sustainability. He is in his second year as a UVA dean. Before UVA, he served at Columbia University, where he was a tenured professor in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation; a director of the urban planning Ph.D. program; a director of the Urban Community and Health Equity Lab; and an executive committee member of the Earth Institute.

Hutson formerly held roles at the University of California at Berkeley, where he was associate director of the Institute of Urban and Regional Planning (IURD) and chair of the urban studies program. He holds a Ph.D. in urban and regional planning from MIT, a Master of City Planning degree in regional and economic development from UC Berkeley, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology also from UC Berkeley.

There must be consideration for the environment around us when planning how a city grows, according to Hutson.

“If you think about the major metropolitan [areas] — whether we’re talking about Washington, D.C., the New York metropolitan area, Chicago, Los Angeles, you name it — these areas are extremely built up, there’s lot of gridlock and traffic, and what we need to do is think about how are we growing regionally,” Hutson says. “How are we tying into the natural environment?”

Now, at UVA’s architecture school, many cases of important, timely work are being done, Hutson says, adding that many of the school’s faculty, students, and alumni are engaged in work surrounding climate resilience and justice, such as natural coastal infrastructures, engagement with communities impacted by climate change, and biomaterials.

What’s more, Hutson says that higher education as a whole is unique in what it can offer the rest of society. For example, institutions in higher education can act as “conveners” who bring other parties to the table for collaborative discussion, and hubs of diverse talent and perspectives.

“When we think about the world right now, what is the role of the 21st-century university?” Hutson asks. “Many universities have billions of dollars in their endowment. Many universities have tremendous amounts of resources, in terms of the human capital — whether it be the students, faculty, staff, [alumni] ... But more importantly, universities and colleges have an opportunity to reach populations that other people may not be able to reach. ... Can we bring the private sector, government, non-profit sector, community to the table and say, ‘Let’s have a broader conversation around this?’

“When I think about being a dean and being at a public institution like UVA, to me I think about what the 21st-century university [looks] like,” he continues. “It should be about providing a high-quality education to the next generation of citizen leaders, but it should also be about doing first-rate innovative research that is relevant and has impact in society.”

And this view of Hutson’s is not limited to climate justice.

“If we’re going to go forward and think about some of the most complex issues in the world — whether we’re talking about climate change, climate resilience, racial and ethnic injustices, poverty and inequality, [health equity] — to me, institutions of higher education can play a pivotal role in that,” says Hutson. “We’re not the only ones, but we can play a pivotal role.”