Congratulations to Xav Briggs

Champagne corks are flying (or more accurately, Diet Coke cans are being opened) here at OMB to congratulate Xavier de Souza Briggs for being awarded tenure by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology today.

Xav is not your regular academic. He has had an unusually rich and varied career, inside and outside of academia, which is one reason we asked him to re-enter public service when the President took office in January.  He has been: a planner in the South Bronx and other communities struggling to adapt to massive economic and demographic changes, an environmental consultant going building to building to assess the risk of contamination and help keep people safe, and a senior official at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In academia, he has been a deeply committed educator and researcher -- first at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and then at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

I’m very pleased that he’s now Associate Director for General Government Programs here at OMB, working on so many issues of concern to the public and to this President—creating jobs now and investing in long-term economic growth through infrastructure, small business, and more; advancing climate science and the protection of our oceans and coastal communities; rethinking the federal approach to disaster recovery; charting a new future for transportation, housing, and the sustainability of our urban and rural regions; improving immigration services and enforcement; and other key issues.
I first got to know Xav through his books. He has done award-winning work on economic opportunity and inequality in America’s changing cities and metropolitan regions, on the implications of rapidly growing ethnic diversity for our country, and on the character of democratic problem-solving—or what he calls ‘the civics of leading change’—at the local level.

Take his 2005 book The Geography of Opportunity (which won the highest book award in planning). It looks at the persistent challenge of segregation by race and class in our society and why the issue of housing choice became even more important after the 1960s, as America became more economically unequal and more racially diverse at the same time. This work has helped to shift thinking about how housing choices and policies contribute to outcomes in many other areas—school success or failure, health, employment, and so on.

Xav’s next book, Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty, will come out this summer. It looks at the effort to find real solutions for some of our society’s most intractable social problems—the violence, poverty, and stigma associated with life in high-risk, inner-city ghetto neighborhoods.

It helps, when you work where we do, to bring local knowledge to bear, and Xav’s work is all about that: what happens to neighborhoods, cities, regions. He’s looked at the very challenges that squarely confront us now: restructuring older regional economies—including those based in heavy industry, such as cars and steel—to compete in a new era, investing smarter in the next generation, tackling unsustainable growth patterns.

So we congratulate Xav and his family on being awarded tenure; it is a fitting recognition of his contributions to the academy and the country.

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