Shifting Landscapes of Power and Privilege: School Closures and Uneven Development in Philadelphia
Ariel H. Bierbaum

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Berkeley

Primary Discipline

Over the past fifteen years, many urban school districts have deployed school closure as part of their market-based education policies. School closures highlight the multidimensional nature of public education – as educational, social, and physical infrastructure – and reveal particular configurations of institutions, politics, and social relationships. This dissertation project aims to understand urban public school closures not only as an education reform strategy, but also as an urban policy that is mutually constitutive with uneven and racialized distribution of risks and resources across cities. Specifically, Ariel’s dissertation asks two interrelated research questions: (1) how do school closures align and conflict with the broader set of policies designed to promote neighborhood revitalization and foster opportunity? and (2) how do residents experience and understand the relationships between school closures and changes in their neighborhoods and city? Her study uses qualitative methods including spatial analysis, semi-structured in-depth interviews, participant observation, and document analysis to interrogate the extent to which policies and resident experiences relate to patterns of residential segregation and inequality in educational outcomes. Scholarship in urban studies has failed to consider public schools as a central actor in urban change; the school closure literature has failed to see how school closures are embedded in these changes. By bringing these approaches together, my research will address the deeper systemic issues and contribute to broader conversations about power, privilege, and racial disparities in the current political and policy context of urban planning and education reform.
About Ariel H. Bierbaum
Ariel H. Bierbaum, MCP is a resident of Oakland, CA and a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California-Berkeley. Ariel’s research interests include urban policy, racial inequality, and public education. Her dissertation examines the relationships between Philadelphia’s public school closures, neighborhood change, and broader patterns of metropolitan inequality. She is currently an Adjunct Faculty member in the Architecture and Community Design Program at the University of San Francisco, a Visiting Scholar in the Urban Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, and a consultant with the Social Impact of the Arts Project at the University of Pennsylvania. She also serves on the Oakland Unified School District School Facilities Bond Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee. Originally from New Jersey, Ariel has worked across the country over the past 15 years in the fields of community art, community development, and public policy, and served as Program Director at the UC-Berkeley Center for Cities + Schools from 2006 through 2011. Ariel has a Master in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. You can follow Ariel on Twitter at @arielabd.

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