Richard Funderburg, Urban and Regional Planning

Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

Variety captures Richard Funderburg’s whole perspective on life.

Funderburg, an assistant professor in the urban and regional planning graduate program, teaches courses involving economic development policy, planning livable cities, applied geographic information systems, and spatial analysis. Recently, he became certified to teach Inside-Out Exchange-sanctioned classes to be taught inside prison with half the students coming from the inside and half coming from the outside.

Funderburg shares with fyi his academic pursuits as well as his many interests outside the classroom.

What did you gain from completing training last June at the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program?

The University of Iowa awarded me a Presidential Fellowship to attend Inside-Out training and develop a similar experience for undergraduate students here. For one week, I went into the State Correctional Institution at Graterford outside Philadelphia and developed a class called Context of Human Development. I saw an incredible hunger for learning among people who lost that freedom to learn. It made me think about moments in my life when I have taken for granted my freedom to learn. I want to share that experience with undergrads. I want them to see how people learn from behind bars. I want people behind bars to learn what college is about. This is learning about diversity in the most extreme of environments.

How do you propose using your Inside-Out training to benefit students at Iowa?

I am proposing a class called Planning Sustainable Cities from the Inside Out for fall 2011. I would take 15 undergraduates who are interested in sustainability issues into a prison where they would be joined by 15 inside students. They would discuss what makes some cities desirable places to live, and why other places are ones we wish to avoid. Students would have an opportunity for some really engaging dialogue. In the meantime, I am teaching a class called Planning Livable Cities. We started an exchange with people at Hope House, a reintegration residential facility in Coralville. People coming out of the prison system encounter all kinds of barriers. How they get around, where they live, and access to employment and training opportunities are all related to decisions that planners are going to be involved in making.

Economic impact studies are a big part of your research. What is the major problem with these studies?

They tend to overestimate gains from the expenditure of public dollars with the purpose of economic development. A common flaw is shared by forecasts ranging from job growth that can be attributed to tax incentives to the increased spending attributable to construction of a new coliseum, stadium, or arena. Often forecasts with these purposes fail to account for the economic activity that would occur even if the public intervention, project, or expenditure does not occur. What I do is look for control groups that are as similar as possible in terms of some key features, except that one region got the intervention and the other did not. My research involves statistical matching and before and after tests on those regions.

A few of my favorite things…

Foods in his garden: peppers, tomatoes, carrots, waxed beans, pumpkin, cucumbers

How is this approach illustrated in your research paper, “New highways and land use change: Results from a quasi-experimental research design?”

The approach matches geographic regions where new highways were constructed to otherwise similar regions that did not receive a new highway, and models the simultaneous location decisions of businesses and people. The research resulted in new forecast models that are capable of accounting for differences in highway projects and geographic contexts. These techniques respond to a recent court ruling that requires different sets of growth projections under build and no-build scenarios to be included as part of the environmental review process for new highway construction.

Diversity exists in your academic interests as well as your food tastes. While you will try almost anything, what is one food you just cannot eat?

Eastern European (laughing). I’m thinking of different kinds of things you do with cabbage, like candied cabbage. I’ve often said it’s the only food I really don’t like. It was like sweet lettuce. It’s just not my thing.

Growing up in Orange County, Calif., you participated in extreme sports such as surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding. Do you still do these sports for fun?

I hadn’t skateboarded for about 10 years until last month, when I dislocated my elbow. I still snowboard but that’s about it. I’ve only ever broken my tibia. I broke that on the second of my scooter accidents.