“Even if students aren’t urbanists, they actually know a lot just from living in cities,” says Aseem Inam, associate professor of urbanism and program director of the MA in Theories of Urban Practice at Parsons’ School of Design Strategies. “There are boatloads of information out there. How you make sense of it all and turn it into strategic action—that’s what’s important.”
Inam knew from the time he was a middle school student in his native India that he wanted to be an architect. “I received a master’s degree in architecture from the former Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and practiced as an architect, but at every stage I had questions.” He went on to pursue a master’s degree in urban design from Washington University in St. Louis and a PhD in planning from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
“I hadn’t been planning on a career in academia, but I discovered I had a gift for teaching,” says Inam. He received the Excellence in Teaching Award at MIT and the Outstanding Faculty Award at the University of Michigan three times. Asked the reasons for his success, Inam responds, “I avoid lecturing down to students. They like that I’ve always practiced, even while working in academia; they like hearing real stories of how design actually happens. Students also seem to pick up on the fact that I’m passionate about what I do.”
Inam’s passion for uncovering how cities are transformed is reflected in his research and his work as a consultant. His book Planning for the Unplanned: Recovering from Crises in Megacities, is a comparative analysis of city rebuilding in Los Angeles, Mexico City, and New York. “The number one thing that I loved about doing research for the book was that I really felt like a detective.“
Inam recently participated in a team invited by the government of Haiti to develop a rebuilding strategy for the country. In another project, funded by a Rockefeller Foundation grant, he worked at MIT to help design a curriculum devoted entirely to cities for the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS). “It was exciting because it wasn’t just about India. The largest, fast-growing cities are in the developing regions: Asia, Africa, Latin America. The traditional Eurocentric way of thinking doesn’t work anymore. It’s a completely different ball game.”