I am a PhD Candidate within the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley. My dissertation explores the political economy of warehouse development across California, focusing on two case studies - the Inland Empire and North San Joaquin Valley. I am also a Graduate Student Researcher within the Labor Management Partnerships team at the UC Berkeley Labor Center. In 2021, I led the development of a database of minority-owned businesses across the Bay Area as part of a study by the Urban Displacement Project which mapped the vulnerability of minority-owned businesses in the wake of Covid-19. Prior to commencing my PhD, I worked as an urban planner for eight years in an economics and planning consulting firm in Australia. In that role, I managed a wide range of projects for local, state and federal governments including economic development strategies, housing studies and integrated transport and land use strategies. I hold a Bachelor of Planning (Honours Class 1) and Master of Philosophy (Planning and Urban Development) both from the University of New South Wales. My Masters research explored empirical evidence of knowledge spillovers and its role in driving firm location within two creative industry clusters in Sydney.


Can we “Claim” the Workforce? A Labor-Focused Agenda for Economic Development in the Face of an Uncertain Future

Karen Chapple and Laura Schmahmann

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated three trends that were already transforming economic development theory and practice. A backlash to economic restructuring and inequality, driven by globalization and technology, is now manifesting in reshoring and union movements. The resurgence of small and midsized cities, originally driven by increasing housing costs in coastal cities, has been reinforced by a rise in remote work. The uncertainty of today's complex economy is exacerbating long-term challenges of tracking economic change, making “shoot anything that flies” more important than ever. These trends highlight the need to focus economic development on building and supporting the workforce.

Pandemic polycentricity? Mobility and migration patterns across New York over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic

Laura Schmahmann, Ate Poorthuis and Karen Chapple

The expectation of a mass movement out of cities due to the rise of remote work associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, is counter to longstanding theories of the benefits of agglomeration economies. It suggests centrifugal shifts of economic activity which could boost neighbourhood economies at the expense of the downtown core. Using mobile phone data from SafeGraph, we track migration and daily mobility patterns throughout the New York metropolitan area between July 2019 and June 2021. We find that diverse suburban centres and exurban areas have bounced back more quickly than the dense specialised commercial districts in and around Manhattan.

Economic competitiveness, planning and productivity

Marcus Spiller and Laura Schmahmann

The notion that cities ‘drive’ innovation and productivity has become something of a truism in economic policy-making. Cultivating the benefits of urban agglomeration is de rigueur in any community envisaging a prosperous, knowledge-based, future. National and state governments of all persuasions in Australia profess an interest in building competitiveness through globally competitive, more liveable cities. But what difference does the model of metropolitan governance make to the realisation of this much sought-after advantage? This chapter argues that while strong central governments proved effective in promoting productivity during the ascendancy of post-war Fordism, reliant as it was on economies of scale, vertical integration and suburban production, the new economy is likely to demand more devolved forms of governance, both to elevate innovation potential and to ensure a more equitable distribution of the economic dividend.

Research projects

Death of Downtown?

UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project

In this research, we examine visits over time to 62 downtown areas using mobile phone data, comparing the most recent activity (as of June 6, 2022) to pre-pandemic levels (in 2019). We find wide variation in the extent of recovery, with activity ranging from a low of 31% of pre-pandemic levels in San Francisco to a high of 155% in Salt Lake City. The key factors influencing recovery rates for downtowns are population and business densities, commuter mode shares particularly high car use, along with presence of industry sectors that are continuing to support remote work (such as tech and finance). To survive in the new era of remote work, downtowns will need to diversify their economic activity and land uses.

Minority-Owned Business Vulnerability

UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project

Given the ongoing challenges in obtaining data on minority-owned business vulnerability, the Urban Displacement Project conducted a multi-stage process that culminated in the creation of an online mapping tool which highlights vulnerable minority owned-businesses in the Bay Area and a set of explore the feasibility of a permanent infrastructure for collecting data, monitoring business health, and recommending policies to support BIPOC-owned businesses.


A copy of my current CV can be downloaded here.