This past week I focused on converting my (essentially) finished thesis into presentation-ready media—a poster for my panel presentation next week at the Festival of Scholars and a PowerPoint for my thesis defense this morning. Distilling a 50 page paper into the minimal text (and fretting over aesthetics and positioning) was a surprisingly time-intensive task. Despite my intentions to create a somewhat minimalist design, I ended up including quite a bit of text in the poster. I included my two main graphics (edited to increase legibility on the poster and align with my chosen font), my methodology for obtaining those graphics, a brief description of what I found through the investigation of planning documents, a barebones background, and a schematic of the implications. While I toyed with the idea of a more thematic/topical poster, ala Gabby Henrie’s poster from a couple years ago, my presentation of quantitative results forced a design more reflective of hard science poster norms. Unlike in previous poster designs, I stayed away from explicitly labeling sections according to their rigid format (e.g. the background, results, implications), opting for more descriptive titles, which I think makes it a little more compelling and slightly easier to grasp the main thrust of my argument at a glance. I mostly hewed to the traditional 3-column poster design, with a relatively linear progression and organization (top-down flow within each column, moving through the columns left to right). I paid special attention to the balance between color and white space, attempting to subtly inject orange themes into a clean and readable design.
The other big part of this week was my thesis defense, the presentation to my thesis committee. My PowerPoint is posted below:
The thesis defense went quite well (after some starting mishaps around not knowing that the projector’s HDMI port was in the floor and running over to IT to chase down a cable to plug directly into the projector)—I got awarded honors! Reconfiguring my investigation into a 15-20 minute presentation involved some rethinking of how to concisely convey the background information. While I used an extensive history of urban planning to situate my arguments in the paper, sketching out the parallels and contrasts between modernism and contemporary urbanism to contextualize and explain the emergence of gentrification, I couldn’t exactly do this in the allotted time. Instead, I jumped right into neoliberalism as it pertains to cities, followed by a brief description of gentrification and gentrification theories and then moving into smart growth. Even this limited contextualization proved to be too long, as I ended up spending about 15 minutes on the background, forcing me to speed through the rest of the presentation and ultimately going over the given time. While this wasn’t a huge issue for the thesis defense, I will definitely need to tighten up the background for my panel presentation at the Festival of Scholars next week. Another issue to work through is the balance of planning context and my quantitative results—my sense is that the contextual information is more engaging than detailing the exact structure and findings of my regression analysis, though I also need to adequately explain my own original research.
After the presentation came questions from the committee members. Nate posed the question of how the contradiction in transit planning that I highlight might be better understood by incorporating the perspectives and motivations of homebuyers. He cited the paper’s somewhat lopsided examination of the contradictions of transit planning through the understandings and actions of planners as the only real flaw/gap within the research. While this was somewhat outside the scope of my research questions, his modest critique was that ethnographic research would create a fuller account of how transit planning functions within an actor-network—that homeownership is increasingly seen as a short-term speculative commodity in which proximity to transit may be valued purely for the exchange value purposes. I do address this briefly in my conclusion, discussing how transit functions as simply an amenity, conveying value via speculation about how market actors collectively value it. This discussion is, however, at a quite coarse scale. Jim and Liz then asked me to reflect on how I arrived at my thesis/my journey within Environmental Studies (in terms of developing theoretical sophistication and technical skills) and on who I would want to convey this research to. I explained that courses I’d taken within the Political Economy minor had given me a strong conceptual footing; that my technical skills (in terms of regression analysis and GIS) were mostly self-taught, via internet resources and academic writing; and that my experience with OPAL primed me for thinking about Portland’s transit investments as being in service of the local growth machine. I answered that I would hope to convey my research to local left-leaning political groups (like OPAL and the Community Alliance of Tenants, among others), to help disseminate the notion that activists should push for affordable housing wherever amenity investment strategies are deployed.