Urban planning with science in mind

Clarence Mann, Master's degree candidate

Photo of Clarence Mann and Cliff Hiezer
Clarence Mann (right) worked closely with NCAR technician Cliff Hiezer and scientist Teresa Campos (not shown) on improving an instrument that measures carbon monoxide as part of Clarence's multi-year internship with UCAR's SOARS program. He is now a master’s degree candidate in environmental and land use planning. (©UCAR, photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Clarence Mann is a master's degree candidate in environmental and land use planning at the University of Michigan. Originally from an inner-city neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina, he entered Morehouse College in 2002, receiving a bachelors in engineering in 2007 from the University of Michigan. After a year in an engineering firm, he began his master's research: creating a framework to help urban planners pinpoint the parts of their cities with the poorest air quality because of urban heat islands. After receiving his M.S. degree in December 2010, he plans to go straight on toward a Ph.D., expanding on his current research.

What inspired you to study land use planning?

In Raleigh, you can tell the inner city from the suburbs by the air quality. It gets hotter in the city, and there's trash floating around the streets. I want to do my part in helping vulnerable populations have the same accessibility to the atmosphere that people do who are better off.

What are you working on?

I'm combining data on air pollution, demographics, type of ground cover, construction materials, vehicle miles traveled, and surface temperature in Los Angeles to create a step-by-step methodology that planners and decision makers can use to prioritize vulnerable residents. I hope to mathematically quantify neighborhoods, using linear regression models, to show correlations among these data points. I chose LA because the school has a lot of remote sensing data from there, but since all cities have the same data points, I presume the model can be transferred to other regions.

What was the biggest obstacle to getting where you are now?

All through my early life, athletics was what I was the most passionate about. By the time I got to high school I wanted to play professional basketball. In my high school the focus was on who was the best athlete, who was the most popular, who was going out with who, and when you hang around with a crowd like that you get engulfed. At the end of 10th grade, my GPA was 1.9. In 11th grade, I transferred to Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, specifically to play basketball. They looked hard at my transcript, but thankfully they let me in. In this new environment people went to school actually to learn. I'm a competitor, so now I wanted to compete with these people. By graduation, I got my GPA up to 3.2.

Who are your mentors?

My first mentor was my 11th grade philosophy teacher. There weren't many kids similar to me at that school, but he understood what kind of situation I was coming from and he took me under his wing. He gave me books about life and invited me to his chess club. I didn't know anything about chess and I still don't, but I was able to play chess at school.

Dr. Gregory Battle [now at Grambling State University] introduced me to the various fields of research. He also wrote the recommendation to get me into SOARS [UCAR's internship program] and that changed the direction of my life.

What do you like best about your work?

Knowing that you can actually make someone's life better.

What are the biggest challenges?

Finding a happy medium between policymaking and science. A lot of planners and decision makers don't know which scientist, which remote sensing data, which type of tool to rely on.

With regard to urban heat islands and climate, another challenge is that there's not a federal mandate to do the things necessary to help. I'm trying to prove to planners that even though there's not a mandate from the EPA, they should do the right thing. I try to put myself in their position: if I were working an 8-to-5 job I might not do anything that's not in my job requirements either. It comes down to moral values.

What qualities are most helpful in your field?

Having compassion for different groups of people, being hard working, and having a good professional knowledge of remote sensing.

What differentiates a good planner from a great planner is the ability to communicate effectively. It's about creating a level of trust so that people recognize that you're trying to help, not talking down or dictating to them.

Can you tell me about an early science experience?

In the 8th grade in woodshop class we had to design and race a wooden car [powered by] carbon dioxide fuel. Mine looked like a Formula One car. It was about 8 to 12 inches long, with big tires in back and little racing tires in front. I only got third or fourth place.

What would you be doing if you weren't in science?

Designing video games. But I wouldn't do it for free.

What's on your music player?

Thousands of things! Anita Baker, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Gucci Mane, Robin Thicke. . . .

March 2010

One-minute mentor

What advice would you offer to someone interested in a career like your own?

Don't worry about the pay.

I would advise a person to do what their passion says to do and not worry about how well it pays. When I was working at an engineering firm crunching numbers, I was making good money; but every day of my life became worse and worse. I had to leave the money and lifestyle behind for the delayed gratification of knowing that in 10 years I'd be happy doing something I was passionate about. If you would do it for free, that's the career you should go into.

Clarence Mann, Master's degree candidate

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