Community Matters: Service-Learning in Engaged Design and Planning, ed. M. Bose, P. Horrigan, C. Doble, S. Shipp (Routledge, 2014), detail view of cover.

Sigmund Shipp

Ph.D. CRP '92

Community Matters: Service-Learning in Engaged Design and Planning, ed. M. Bose, P. Horrigan, C. Doble, S. Shipp (Routledge, 2014), detail view of cover.

Planning and Policies that Strengthen the Black Community

By Elisa Gallaro

Sigmund Shipp (Ph.D. CRP '92) has devoted his career to understanding and improving Black communities nationwide. 

Through his research — on worker-owned cooperatives and Black-owned businesses, Black economic development, white poverty, and other topics — Shipp has shaped U.S. approaches to urban renewal and community development. He has helped organizations assess reentry programs for adolescent offenders, evaluate school-community partnerships, and secure funding to prevent HIV/AIDS among people with substance-use disorders. 

As a longtime professor, mentor, and program head in the Urban Policy and Planning Department at Hunter College in New York City, Shipp also prepares and inspires future generations to carry on his work. Their accomplishments and impact on housing, education, small business, and neighborhood development are among his proudest achievements. 

"They are implementing and advancing good policy and planning, not just in New York but in cities and communities throughout the country," Shipp says.

Photo of a middle-aged man dressed in professional attire, speaking at a podium.

Sigmund Shipp, headshot (2011). photo / provided

Many graduates are tapping into experience gained in Shipp's Urban Development Workshop, which pairs groups of students with local organizations to identify community issues and drive policy changes. The course is one of many Urban Policy and Planning offerings added during Shipp's more than 30 years at Hunter, including 15 years as director of the undergraduate Urban Studies program. Under his leadership, the program has expanded from 24 credits to 30, and from 30 classes to 80. 

At the same time, Shipp has built an impressive track record of research, funded in part by grants from the Ford Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Foundation for the Mid South. Most recently, Shipp and Hunter colleague Laura Wolf-Powers received a three-year $353,000 grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to help develop a supplier diversity program in Brooklyn. The two will partner with minority entrepreneurs and the Brooklyn Communities Collaborative. 

Shipp also has taken on a leadership role in diversity and racial justice efforts. He serves on the Presidential Task Force on Anti-Racism for the national Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning and on the Presidential Taskforce to Advance Racial Equity at Hunter. In collaboration with Jeffrey Lowe, an associate professor at Texas Southern University, Shipp is writing a book on the first cadre of African Americans able to earn professional planning degrees.

Shipp joined the Hunter faculty in 1991, just months before his doctoral degree was conferred. He was meeting with Professor Barclay Jones when Jones received a phone call informing him that Hunter had an opening for a tenure-track professor in the Department of Urban Policy and Planning. A key figure in Cornell's planning department for decades, Jones was Shipp's mentor and chair of Shipp's dissertation committee.

"Barclay Jones thought I would be a good candidate, so I went down and interviewed, did a presentation, and they made an offer," Shipp says.

Hunter's urban location and diverse student body appealed to Shipp. He grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, received his bachelor's degree from Howard University in Washington, DC, and earned his master's degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. After studying at Cornell and living in Ithaca, Shipp looked forward to returning to city life.

Perhaps even more compelling was the opportunity to help others pursue careers in planning and policy and, ultimately, become agents of change. Over the years, Shipp has mentored hundreds of students, teaching lessons that extend far beyond the classroom. He encourages students to ask for help when they need it and be up-front about what they don't know.

"I always tell my students, 'That's the reason you're in school. You can make mistakes here. It is my job to help you figure it out,'" Shipp says.

Sometimes, Shipp creates customized solutions for individuals at Hunter, such as arranging for a student to audit a class to help strengthen their writing skills. Other challenges require a more structured response, such as developing the Department of Urban Policy and Planning's first class to focus on issues of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in urban areas.

"I am constantly seeking to improve the undergraduate program," he says. 

His Urban Development Workshop is an excellent example. In the five years since Shipp launched the program, students have helped community organizations tackle issues such as lead paint in public housing, the impact of nightlife saturation on crime and public health, and barriers to independent living for individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities. Shipp's students also have identified opportunities to improve workforce development for low-income people who are unemployed or underemployed.

The goal is not just for students to gain invaluable experience but also to translate their research and recommendations into practice. One recent workshop project is expected to do just that — and to make it easier for people on public assistance to realize their dream of a college education.

To maintain their welfare benefits, New Yorkers must spend at least 30 hours per week in work, education, or training programs. As a result of advocacy efforts of the Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI) at Hunter College, qualifying activities include time spent in classes at four-year colleges, work-study, internships, and externships. But for many students on public assistance, these requirements are yet another obstacle to earning a degree.

Working with WRI, a team from Shipp's workshop took on the challenge of reducing this burden. 

"My students did the research. They conducted interviews. They reviewed the literature," Shipp says, and they identified a previously overlooked activity — parent engagement — that could help college students on public assistance meet the state requirement.

Parent engagement, including helping children with homework and volunteering in classrooms, is widely regarded as critical to young students' academic success. As Shipp's workshop team discovered, it also is a frequent, time-intensive activity for parents who attend college while on public assistance.

"Parent engagement is so common that my students thought it should become an allowable activity," Shipp says. Because they made such a strong case, "the effort to make parental engagement an allowable work activity for the requirement is on its way to becoming public policy. My students are very pleased and very proud."

The same is true of their professor and mentor — and rightfully so.


Selected Writings

Cover of book Community Matters

Community Matters: Service-Learning in Engaged Design and Planning, ed. Mallika Bose, Paula Horrigan, Cheryl Doble, Sigmund C. Shipp (Routledge, 2014). Winner of the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) 2015 Book Award.

Community Matters

First page of book review of Cities and the Politics of Difference

S. Shipp, Review of Cities and the Politics of Difference: Multiculturalism and Diversity in Urban Planning, ed. by Michael A. Burayidi, Journal of Urban Affairs 40, no. 8 (2018): 1196–1197, 

Review of Cities and
the Politics of Difference

First page of book review The Folklore of the Freeway

S. Shipp, Review of The Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City, by Eric Avila, Journal of Planning Education and Research 37, no. 3 (2016): 364–365.

Review of The Folklore
of the Freeway

First page of book review Making the Invisible Visible

S. Shipp, Review of Making the Invisible Visible: A Multicultural Planning History, ed. by  Leonie Sandercock, Journal of Planning Education and Research 18, no. 3 (1999): 278–279.

Review of Making the
Invisible Visible

First page of op-ed article 'White Poverty Must Be Good Poverty'

S. Shipp, L. McCormick, M. Rocco, "Op-Ed: White Poverty Must Be Good Poverty," Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, August 8, 2013, 

"Op-Ed: White Poverty
Must Be Good Poverty"

First page of article 'Local Residents' Wishes and Black College/Black Church Community Development Corporations'

S. Shipp, C. Branch, "Local Residents' Wishes and Black College/Black Church Community Development Corporations," Journal of African American Studies 10, no. 3 (2006): 32–45.

"Local Residents' Wishes"

First page of article 'The Road Not Taken: alternative strategies for Black economic development in the United States'

S. Shipp, "The Road Not Taken: Alternative Strategies for Black Economic Development in the United States," Journal of Economic Issues 30, no. 1 (1996): 79–96.

"The Road Not Taken"

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