Leigh Graham

Leigh Graham

Leigh Graham, Assistant Professor, John Jay College headshot
Assistant Professor, Urban Policy & Planning
Phone number: 
Room number and address: 
Room 53338-T


PhD, Urban Studies & Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MBA, New York University

BA, Sociology with Minor in Journalism, Brandeis University


Leigh T. Graham, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and in Environmental Psychology at the CUNY Graduate Center.  Dr. Graham studies urban development conflicts in cities and regions transformed by climate change and income inequality. Her work focuses on racial and class inequalities in community recovery and resilience after disasters and in periods of crisis and transition.  Since Hurricane Sandy struck the NY region in 2012, Dr. Graham has been conducting longitudinal research on neighborhood reconstruction in Rockaway, Queens, a racially and socio-economically segregated barrier island on the far southeastern edge of the City.  Her findings on comparative exclusion in recovery politics for Rockaway residents, including public housing residents and their organizational networks, has been published in Urban Affairs Review and Global Environmental Change. Dr. Graham is a sought after speaker in NYC on community resilience, the intersection of climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction, and race and class inequalities in neighborhood redevelopment. 

Dr. Graham's post-Sandy work builds on prior in-depth research on community economic redevelopment in Lower Manhattan after September 11, 2001, where she previously worked as a small business technical assistance provider. It also extends research on struggles to preserve public housing in Black neighborhoods in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Her insights on 9/11 and post-Katrina recovery and redevelopment are published in Economic Development Quarterly, Journal of the American Planning Association, and Housing Policy Debate.

As a member of the Masters in Public Administration faculty, Dr. Graham trains, mentors and conducts research with the next generation of social change  leaders, especially concerning criminal justice reform via her role as Faculty Partner to the Tow Policy Advocacy Fellowship at the Prisoner Reentry Institute.  Dr. Graham advises and instructs early career women and men, mostly people of color, on the practice of policy advocacy and leadership for social change. She conducts research and co-publishes with Fellows to drive criminal justice policy change.  She also coordinates the Urban Affairs specialization for MPA Candidates.

Dr. Graham serves as a consultant to foundations, non-profits and the public sector on urban economic development, affordable housing, and urban resilience. She was the Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation in Boston, MA, prior to joining CUNY.

JJC Affiliations

MPA-PPA, Department of Public Management; Prisoner Reentry Institute

Professional Memberships

Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (2015-Present)

Urban Affairs Association (2007-Present)

Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management (2012-Present)

Course Taught

Governing the Just City (M.P.A. Urban Affairs, Spring 2019)

Policy Advocacy Practicum (Masters seminar, 2016-Present)

Policy Analysis (M.P.A. Seminar, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018)

Capstone Seminar (M.P.A. Seminar, 2012-2015)

Introduction to Environmental Social Sciences (PhD Seminar, 2017, 2018)

Shaping the Future of NYC (Undergraduate Honors Seminar, 2016)

Economic Development Policy (2012, Milano-The New School, M.S. in Urban Policy)

Community Recovery & Redevelopment in New Orleans (2012, Milano-The New School, M.S. in Urban Policy)

Scholarly Work

Recent Publications:

Graham, L. (2018). Public Housing Participation in Superstorm Sandy Recovery: Living in a Differentiated State in Rockaway, Queens. Urban Affairs Review, 1078087418776438.

Nguyen, M.T., Evans-Cowley, J., Graham, L., Tighe, R., Solitaire, L., and Van Zandt, S.* (In press). “When a joke represents so much more: The end of PLANET and the rise of Planners 2040.” Planning Theory & Practice.  *Authors alphabetical after first author. 

Graham, L., Debucquoy, W. & Anguelovski, I. (2016.) “The influence of urban development dynamics on community resilience practice in New York City after Superstorm Sandy: Experiences from the Lower East Side and the Rockaways.” Global Environmental Change.  

Graham, L. (2015.) Legitimizing and resisting neoliberalism in U.S. community development: The influential role of community development intermediaries.  In S.N. Haymes, M. Vidal de Haymes, and R.J. Miller (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook on Poverty in the United States (pp. 512-21). New York: Routledge.

Graham, L. (2012.) Razing Lafitte: Defending public housing from a hostile state.  Journal of the American Planning Association, 78(4), 466-480.

Graham, L. (2012.) Advancing the human right to housing in post-Katrina New Orleans: Discursive opportunity structures in housing and community development.  Housing Policy Debate, 22(1), 5-27.

Honors and Awards

Coasts and People (CoPe) Scoping Workshop, National Science Foundation, September 26-28, 2018, Chicago, IL. // “Designing Academic Success at Medgar Evers College.” With Dr. Christopher Boxe, Medgar Evers College, CUNY Interdisciplinary Research Grant, $39,810. Awarded August 2018. // Inaugural award, 2017, Scholarship on Teaching and Learning, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. // Hurricane Sandy Funding: $20,850 from PSC-CUNY Research Awards 2017, 2013; Marilyn Gittell Junior Faculty Grant, JJCCJ Office for the Advancement of Research

Research Summary

Current Research:

Urban Risk and Resilience

Racial Coastal Formation in Rockaway: Applies Hardy et al.'s theory of racial coastal formation (2017) to Rockaway to document historical, institutional and political exclusion of Black neighborhoods and households from climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction efforts. With Bryce DuBois, PhD, History, Philosophy, & the Social Sciences, Rhode Island School of Design.

Urban Praxis: Action research to improve policy

Designing Academic Success at Medgar Evers College: Carrying out an environmental design intervention to improve mentoring of underrepresented students in STEM education at a predominantly Black campus.  Research Team: Co-PI Christopher Blaszczak-Boxe, PhD, Department of Chemistry, Medgar Evers College, and User Design Information Group, Center for Human Environments, The CUNY Graduate Center.

On-going research from my Tow Fellowship Policy Advocacy Practicum course:

- With Serena Maszak, M.A. in Forensic Psychology, Decoupling Restrictive Housing and Serious Mental Illness in Prisons.

- With Daun Jung, M.A. in Forensic Psychology, VAWA Work Authorization for Immigrant Survivors of Domestic Violence.


Area of Expertise

Most requested topics by media

Disaster & Emergency Response
Environmental Policy & Protections
Public Housing
Racial & Social Justice
Urban Development & Gentrification

Faculty Expertise: topics/keywords

My expertise is in urban politics, policy, and planning.  I am committed to public engagement in NYC and wherever my research and practice can foster urban equity and resilience.  Please see my Bio and Research for more information on specific projects. Broad areas of expertise include:

  • The politics of NYC development, especially during the Bloomberg and de Blasio Administrations
  • Racial and socioeconomic inequalities in coastal community resilience
  • The politics of disaster recovery
  • Community economic development
  • Urban public housing
  • Class and racial inequality


Recent public engagement

Invited Speaker, Civil Society Workshop, The Center on Philanthropy & Civil Society, CUNY Graduate Center, October 11, 2018.

Panelist, Preparing for Natural Disasters from the Ground Up: Community-based Resiliency and Superstorm Sandy. The New School, New York, NY. April 2017.

Community resilience factors: Learning from the Rockaways and Lower East Side after Superstorm Sandy. Talk + Q&A, NYC Office of Emergency Management, Brooklyn, NY. January 2017.

Roundtable Panelist, Increasing Housing Opportunities for the Justice-Involved: County Policies and Programs for Success. National Association of Counties (NACo) and the John Jay College Prisoner Reentry Institute. Roundtable in advance of the Large Urban County Caucus (LUCC) Innovation Symposium, New York, NY. November 2016.

“Learning from Post-Katrina New Orleans: Lessons for Rebuilding the Rockaways after Sandy.” Rockaway Waterfront Alliance Resiliency Speaker Series. February 2013.

In The Media


Guest Panelist, “On the Rocks,” Independent Sources, CUNY-TV. Air date: October 27, 2017; Link: http://www.cuny.tv/show/independentsources/PR2006361

Guest Panelist, “Building Back After Superstorm Sandy,” Independent Sources, CUNY-TV. Air date: November 2, 2016; Link: http://www.cuny.tv/show/independentsources/PR2005652



Garcia, E., Saffran, G., and L. Graham. (2018.) “Mayor’s Commission Must Probe the Link Between Over-Policing and Low Turnout.” City Limits, November 14. URL: https://citylimits.org/2018/11/14/cityviews-mayors-commission-must-probe-the-link-between-over-policing-and-low-turnout/.

“NYCHA Decree an Opportunity to Awaken Potent Political Force,” Gotham Gazette, June 21, 2018. URL: http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7754-nycha-decree-an-opportunity-to-awaken-potent-political-force.

“Public Housing Participation in Superstorm Sandy Recovery.” Urban Affairs Forum, June 5, 2018. Available at: https://urbanaffairsreview.com/2018/06/05/public-housing-participation-in-superstorm-sandy-recovery/.

“Columnist Leigh Graham: Must Commit to Supporting High Needs Students.” Daily Hampshire Gazette, February 12, 2018. URL: http://www.gazettenet.com/Columnist-Leigh-Graham-explains-why-Northampton-community-must-make-commitment-to-supporting-high-needs-students-15503813.

Media coverage

Erdos, E. (2018, October 5.) “Hurricane Sandy and the Inequalities of Resilience in New York.” The American Prospect: http://prospect.org/article/hurricane-sandy-and-inequalities-resilience-new-york.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice. (2017, December.) “Five Years after Sandy, Professor Leigh Graham Shares Lessons from Research on Disaster Recovery.” Republished on PreventionWeb: The Knowledge Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, a service of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, December 13, 2017. Available at https://www.preventionweb.net/news/view/56316.

Stein, Sam. (2017, November 7.) “Why Local Reporting Really is the First Draft of History.” Villagevoice.com. Retrieved from https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/11/07/how-local-reporting-really-is-the-first-draft-of-history/.

Bossone, Andrew. (2017, November 1.) “New York City’s Search for Resilience Continues Five Years after Sandy.” PBS.org. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/new-york-citys-search-for-resilience-continues-five-years-after-sandy.

Zimmer, A. (2016, October 24.) “Anti-gentrification work helped LES bounce back fast after Sandy: A study,” DNA Info. Retrieved from https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20161024/lower-east-side/sandy-lower-east-side-rockaways-resiliance/.  

Online Presence

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