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Preaching what he practices

Adjunct professor Peter H. Brown brings his professional experience into the classroom

Peter H. Brown got his first bike in 1965. He got his second bike last year for Father's Day.

"[My wife] made the case that it was inconsistent for a self-proclaimed urbanist like me not to take advantage of Minneapolis's system of bike trails, which is one of the best in the country," he says. "Now, in good weather, we ride around together in search of good pastries, cheap Vietnamese food, and ice cream."

As he himself proclaims, Brown is an urbanist--a complete and passionate urbanist. After earning a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University and practicing architecture in Rochester, New York, and Philadelphia, Brown went to work for the City of Philadelphia managing capital projects. While with the city, he earned a master's degree in government administration.

"I really liked being a 'mature' student," he says [He was 37 when he completed his degree.] "Because I had worked as an architect and in city government, I brought a lot to it."

Brown went on to earn a Ph.D. in city and regional planning and, in 2009, the University of Pennsylvania Press published his book, America's Waterfront Revival. Since moving to the Twin cities seven years ago, he has worked in real estate development, and now he "brings a lot" to the classroom as an adjunct professor in the Institute's urban and regional planning program.

"Teaching is a way of learning," Brown says, "and I always want to be learning. My professional background has informed my view of urban development, and I try to share that perspective with my students."

Brown has taught a course on private sector development at the Institute for the past three years. Brown says that, initially, some students look askance at private-sector development, considering developers opportunistic or solely focused on the bottom line. By taking a market perspective and using case studies and other real-world examples, Brown tries to convey a more nuanced view of real estate developers and their role in the urban landscape.

"Some students come into class wanting to learn 'how the other guy thinks' because they assume that they will be in a government role, sitting across the table from developers," says Brown. "By the end of the semester, some of those same students have gone from wondering 'how the other guy thinks' to thinking like the other guy."

Brown has done considerable thinking about how developers think. In fact, he is under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press to write a book on the subject.

"Developers think like entrepreneurs," he says. "They have a different attitude toward risk and opportunity. But once you understand the economics and finance of their business, you find that they are very sensible and rational."

Adjunct professors, such as Brown, are essential to the Institute's academic programs, says Associate Dean Greg Lindsey.

"We're happy Peter teaches for us. His contributions to our program exemplify what is best about professional education at the Humphrey School. Our students get to learn from some of the world's best theoreticians as well as from successful practitioners, like Peter, whose understanding of urban theory and economics enable him to work successfully in private enterprise and government."

Talking about urban development and redevelopment, Brown says, "I like to do it. I like to think about it. I like to write about it. And I like to teach it."

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