Marccus Hendricks, PhD — Professor of Urban & Regional Science
Marccus Hendricks, PhD
Marccus Hendricks is an assistant professor of Urban Studies and Planning in the School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and a Faculty Affiliate with the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health in the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland (UMD) in College Park, Maryland. At UMD he's also affiliated with the Clark School of Engineering’s Center for Disaster Resilience, the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, and the Environmental Finance Center.
He is in the second year of his first appointment as an academic planner. He also has experience as a practicing public safety planner from his time with the Brazos Valley, Texas, Council of Governments.
The path to my current role wasn’t a linear path, I sort of stumbled my way into planning. In fact, it was the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center located at Texas A&M University that initially drew my interest, and it just so happened to be located in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning.
Later I came to discover that my background in public health, interest in hazards, and planning have a rich interconnected history. Before that, I didn’t even know what urban planning was until I started a PhD in it.
I was a first-generation college kid born and raised in inner-city Dallas, Texas. I grew up about seven minutes outside of downtown in a neighborhood by the name of Oakcliff. The street that I grew up on specifically was a street named Stanley Smith Drive and the street perpendicular to mine was a street by the name of Prosperity Avenue. The ironic thing was that there was nothing prosperous about the neighborhood. It was a low-income Black and Latino community that was marginalized in terms of food, housing, infrastructure, economic opportunities, education, land use, you name it. A textbook example of what scholars today would deem an environmental justice community.
Growing up I didn’t know that, but I did notice however when I traveled across town to other communities, mostly white, that there was a stark difference in the quality of the built environment. I also noticed the ways in which my family was impacted particularly by the environmental conditions that plagued our community from the air quality and my sister’s acute and severe asthmatic episodes to poor drainage infrastructure and my family’s house flooding.
Those experiences and intuition led me here and have shaped my current planning research agenda. That research began in public health, but I realized once I started the PhD in planning that a lot of challenges that public health practitioners attempt to intervene on could have and should have been mitigated on the front end through good fundamental urban planning.
My primary research interests include stormwater infrastructure resilience, social vulnerability to disaster, environmental justice, sustainable development, public health, and the built environment, and participatory action.
I combine Social Vulnerability to Disaster and Environmental Justice frameworks to explore the provision of stormwater, green space, sewer, local streets and public right of ways, community facilities, public works, and utilities by municipalities to marginalized neighborhoods, which can modify environmental outcomes and experiences related to infrastructure.
Critical infrastructures play important roles in managing daily environmental conditions and environmental extremes, such as flooding. Increasing exposures to environmental hazards for communities around the country raise questions about the nature and condition of these infrastructures.
Further, variations in planning and management of critical infrastructure at the neighborhood level present concerns for equity, social vulnerability, and environmental justice, since public decisions regarding the distribution of infrastructure affect people’s exposure to risk.
Planning research, policies, and programs that address infrastructural justice and fairness in sustainable development are needed.
As a part of my research agenda and broader service, I’m also extremely involved with the William Averette Anderson Fund (also known as the Bill Anderson Fund, or BAF), the first national interdisciplinary organization working to increase the number of underrepresented persons of color in the field of hazard and disaster mitigation research, practice, and pedagogy. I’m a founding fellow of the fund, a past student council chairperson, and currently a board member.
The fund was created in honor of Bill Anderson, whom many in the hazards community will remember for a career spent working to understand and address the extent to which marginalized groups suffer disproportionately when disasters strike. He also fought vehemently to ensure that women and people of color were recruited into all hazards professions — from the frontlines of hazards management to critical hazards research. More diversity in the hazard and disaster field has been widely acknowledged as necessary for better understanding of and more inclusive planning for marginalized populations.
Over the course of my academic career I’ve acquired a number of methodological skills, both quantitative and qualitative, that include human and non-human subjects, such as linear and multivariate regression, spatial regression, hierarchical linear modeling, participant observation, in-depth interviewing, spatial mapping, housing damage and rebuilding assessment, and participatory action and citizen science.
As a practicing public safety planner, I gained skills of adaptiveness and how to learn on the fly. I also got the chance to put my foundational skills of critical thinking and problem solving to use in a variety of practical scenarios. Ultimately, as a practicing planner is when I learned the physical plan-making process.
Above and beyond the aforementioned research, plan-making, and technical skills, I have learned how to ethically and meaningfully engage communities.
My mentors and major professors at Texas A&M, John T. Cooper Jr. specifically, played a huge role in polishing my skills as a facilitator, community liaison, and relationship broker. I was also trained as an interdisciplinary scholar, under the supervision of Phil Berke, with mentors from planning, civil engineering, and public health.
The skills that I’ve gained as a planner come together and allow me to be a well-rounded, interdisciplinary, and mixed-methods planning scholar. I am able to bring together a variety of methods to get after some of the most critical and complex issues of the day and effectively include communities in that process the entire way through.
Dr. Cornel West once said, “In order to lead the people, you have to love the people. In order to save the people, you have to serve the people.” I think as a planner this is a fitting mantra. Whether as an academic planner or a practicing planner you have to have a love for people and places and willing to serve them in the ways that they most need your support.
The specific skills and personality traits that I’ve found to be useful as a planner in working with communities and as a scholar are to be compassionate, humble, creative, open-minded, imaginative, thoughtful, self-motivated, resourceful, critically thinking, responsible, committed, independent yet a team player, unentitled (in a positive way), and diligent.
I’m usually up by 7 a.m. having a cup of tea and breakfast while watching the news. I then quickly look at my calendar and review my day. If I teach or have a meeting first thing in the morning, I usually spend the next two hours prepping for class or my meeting.
If I don’t have class or a meeting, I usually spend that hour checking in on Twitter and responding to emails. After teaching or between classes, my day usually consists of more emails, scheduling/planning, writing, doing research (i.e., reading, writing, collecting and cleaning data, modeling and analyses, etc.) meeting with students, meeting with other faculty, or other academic services (i.e., serving on committees, strategic planning, etc.).
I try to remember to eat again at some point throughout the day. I try to leave campus between 5 p.m.–7 p.m. Once I’m home I usually go for a run, shower, eat dinner, watch some TV, sleep, and repeat. I also spend a lot of time traveling to other off-campus meetings, workshops, conferences, and speaking engagements.
The best surprise of my career is how easy our job is as planners if we simply listen to community folk.
Particularly in my experience in working with marginalized communities, community members are brilliant in their own right and they intuitively understand the issues and have pretty robust and pragmatic ideas for addressing the issues that they face. From the complexity of climate change to the distribution of basic resources, I think that particularly vulnerable people have already been employing some adaptive techniques and the planning literature and science has yet to capture. They know the history of places, political climates, institutional legacies, the feasibility of approaches, and other local dynamics.
Involving them in planning research from question formulation through findings implementation makes my job the easy part. They are the ones that live through these things day to day, have a number of competing demands for their time and energy, make so many sacrifices, and frankly, are already mobilized and active on a number of fronts.
In fact, I owe my career to a group of amazing black and brown community students on the east end of inner city Houston who I had the privilege of working with during my time as a doctoral student.
They shared invaluable knowledge and perspective that has made my career what is. They are truly the ambassadors and vanguard of the environmental justice movement, and I am forever indebted to them.
Looking back there’s not much I’d do differently, however, I would have been more patient and gentle with myself upon starting my career. I would have also more consistently reminded myself that I don’t have to accomplish everything immediately and that this is my career and a long game, not a short one.
What I enjoy most is the opportunity to collaborate on research projects with colleagues, work with and mentor doctoral students, and influence planning practice, policy, and implementation from local communities to Capitol Hill.
This past summer, I had the privilege of participating in a congressional panel briefing, entitled “Addressing the Impact of Climate Change on Public Health and Natural Disasters” on Capitol Hill at the request of Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security.
Even more amazing, that same week I was asked to join a conversation with a group of community members in North Brentwood, Maryland about potential solutions to some chronic flooding issues they’ve been facing. North Brentwood is the first incorporated African American town in Prince Georges County, Maryland, and the second in the state. North Brentwood was land that was set aside specifically for returning Civil War soldiers of color who could not purchase property elsewhere in Prince Georges County. The land is the bottomland of the North Branch of the Anacostia River and is prone to flooding.
I’d say never make a decision out of desperation, cast a wide net, be open-minded, believe in yourself and your work, do your homework and ask a lot of questions about prospective appointments and positions, stay true to yourself, make sure your motivation is your own and not that of others, stay diligent, and most importantly have fun.
I think as academic planners and scientists in general, we like to think that we do important and serious work and the process for getting a job and keeping a job is also very serious and can be incredibly stressful. All of this can be true, therefore find ways to laugh, smile, keep calm, and enjoy and trust the process.
PhD in Urban and Regional Sciences, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, Texas A&M University
MPH in Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences, School of Public Health, Texas A&M University
First Planning Job
Public Safety Planner, Public Safety Planning Department, Brazos Valley Texas Council of Governments (First Practicing Planner Job)
Assistant Professor, Urban Studies and Planning Program, University of Maryland (First Academic Planning Job)
When it comes to influences, there are far too many to name and recall, but when I think of influence my immediate thoughts go to the literature, music, and movements that have shaped me as a human, scholar, and planner. So here is a brief selection of my favorites:
W.E.B. DuBois (#CareerGoals, scholar, and advocate), Martin Luther King Jr. (vision, sacrifice, and responsibility), Benjamin Banneker (mathematician, scientist, and land surveyor), Barbara Jordan (southern politician and educator), Paul Davidoff (advocacy planner) Cornel West (educator, public speaker, and philosopher), Walt Peacock (scholar and mentor), John Cooper (scholar and mentor), Shannon Van Zandt (scholar and mentor), Phil Berke (scholar and mentor), Michelle Meyer (scholar), Lori Peek (scholar and mentor), Tobi Fuller (educator and mentor), Bill and Norma Anderson, Mother and Grandmother (strength and wisdom), Father (hustle and work ethic), Step-Father (humility and character).
W.E B. Dubois’s The Philadelphia Negro, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, Cornel West’s Race Matters, Wes Moore’s The Other Wes Moore, Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, Robert Bullard’s Dumping the Dixie, Dorceta Taylor’s Toxic Communities, Agyeman, Bullard, Evans Just Sustainabilities, Peacock, Morrow, and Gladwin Hurricane Andrew: Ethnicity, Gender, and the Sociology of Disasters, Thomas, Phillips, Lovekamp, and Fothergill Social Vulnerability to Disasters, Dennis Mileti’s Disaster by Design, Timothy Beatley’s Equity and Distributional Issues in Infrastructure Planning, Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Don Mitchell’s The Right to the City, Ian McHarg’s Design With Nature, Mitchell Duneier’s Sidewalk, and Paul Davidoff’s Advocacy and Pluralism in Planning.
Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Donny Hathaway’s “A Donny Hathaway Collection,” Bill Withers’s “The Essential Bill Withers,” John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things,” Duke Ellington’s “The Best of Duke Ellington,” Thelonius Monk’s “ Monk’s Dream,” The Stylistics’ “Greatest Hits,” Aretha Franklin’s “Greatest Hits,” Sam Cooke’s “Portrait of a Legend,” Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Nas’s “Illmatic,” Stevie Wonder’s “Original Musiquarium 1,” Isaac Hayes’s “Greatest Hit Singles,” Sade’s “Stronger Than Pride,” Outkast’s “Stankonia,” Jay Z’s “The Hits Collection Volume One,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid m.A.A.D City,” Nina Simone’s “Baltimore,” Seals & Crofts’s “Summer Breeze,” Kanye West’s “College Dropout,” Solange’s “A Seat at the Table,” and J. Cole’s “2014 Forest Hills Drive.”
The Civil Rights Movement, The Environmental Justice Movement, The Impressionism Movement, The Harlem Renaissance, The Black Lives Matter Movement.
Google Drive (cloud-based storage drive), Evernote (notetaking), ArcMap & R (GIS), STATA (statistical software), Twitter (networking and information dissemination), Google Calendar, Kitchen Timer (writing timer), and Stat Transfer (data transfer platform).
Outside of work I read news on current events and leisure books (mostly memoirs and history). Reading keeps me informed, connected, inspired, and envisioned.
I run for both mental and physical health. Running for me is therapeutic, peaceful, freeing and one of the most straightforward ways to maintain my cardiovascular health.
I also try and spend quality time with friends and family. They keep me grounded, balanced, and motivated.
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