Doctoral student Camden Miller featured by national planning association

Camden Miller with other student volunteers.

Camden Miller (third from right) served as the Student Volunteer Coordinator at the ACSP conference in Buffalo last year. She is pictured here with other student volunteers.

Published May 20, 2019


Camden Miller is a PhD student in urban and regional planning with a focus on housing, community development, and neighborhood planning. Her research investigates housing market dynamics (its limitations and exclusion of people of color and low-income) and how we can work towards providing high-quality affordable housing for everyone within the housing market. Miller has received include the Best Thesis Award, Academic Excellence Award, New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH) Fellowship, Dean’s Award, and is a member of the Tau Sigma Delta National Honor Society.

An active student leader within the school, community and profession. Miller recently served as Student Volunteer Coordinator for the School of Architecture and Planning's role as local host of the 2018 Association for Collegiate Schools of Planning national conference in Buffalo. In this role, Miller served on the school’s conference planning committee and helped organize a range of the local host programs, from workshops to receptions. She recruited more than a dozen student volunteers and then led efforts to train and deploy them during the conference. In between her daily liaising and logistical support with ACSP staff during the conference, Miller presented her research and led a mobile workshop of the city’s grain elevators with Professor Kerry Traynor.

Miller is a 2016 graduate of UB's Master of Urban Planning program. She also holds an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Historic Preservation. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in conservation resource studies from the University of California, Berkeley, with minors in urban design and music.

The following was originally published on the Association for College Schools of Planning’s website and its Student Spotlight section. To view the original profile, click here.

Q: What specialty are you studying?
A: Housing, Community Development, and Neighborhood Planning 

Q: Why did you select your particular specialty?
A: I actually started out as a chemistry major at the University of California, Berkeley, but ended up switching into Conservation Resource Studies with a minor in Sustainable Design and a minor in music. After I graduated I began to think about what I wanted to do and how I could make the biggest difference with the knowledge I had. My pursuit for a career in urban planning, specifically neighborhood planning and community development, stems from my education in Conservation Resource Studies with a focus on sustainable development and resource management. My undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley taught me to care for best practices for the environment. The one thing I found missing from my degree was the lack of focus on people within the environment. While all the courses that I took emphasized the environment and sustainability, all of them looked at the environment in a vacuum and tended to take people out of the equation. As I was obtaining my Bachelor of Science degree I also received a minor in Sustainable Design through the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. This minor in conjunction with working for three years in the College of Environmental Design Dean's Office allowed me to combine my passion for the built environment and the natural environment with my love for expressing my creativity to help people live good lives in a good environment.

With the population growing at an alarming rate and resources dwindling, it's imperative that we plan and design our urban landscapes properly. This means using best practices with resource usage and providing livable designs available for people of all ages, races, ethnicities, genders, and income levels. However, we need to do this in a creative, unique way that allows people to be excited and engaged with the places we call home. We are taught in schools from a very young age how wonderful this country is because 'we the people' have constitution rights. We are also taught Maslow's hierarchy of needs and the basic necessities for human life: air, food water, and shelter. After traveling and living in several different states I have realized just how huge inequalities are in certain areas of the United States. If housing is a basic human necessity, why is it not a constitutional right? I have never been able to understand why inequities and injustices with housing, neighborhoods, and communities exist, but I know that this is a problem that I am committed to solving.

Q: Do you have a current job or internship in your specialty? 
A: Yes, I currently work as a graduate researcher in the Center for Urban Studies and as a research assistant for a historic preservation firm.

Q: Is there a particular class or professor that has made a great impact on you? How so? 
A: There have been so many classes and professors that have truly impacted my career and research trajectory. I believe that the courses that have been taught by professors that are passionate about the field of urban planning and the issues they address in their research are the ones that motivate me to push forward with my research and studies, despite whatever challenges arise. The professors that love what they do and who take the time to work with students so that they can succeed are the ones who motivate me every day to make a difference in the world and continue to pass on knowledge to the next generation of students.

Q: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on, in class or in practice?
A: One of my favorite research projects that I have worked on is the Turning the Corner project. This project looked at piloting a research model through the Urban Institute's National Neighborhood Indicator Partnership (NNIP), the Funders' Network's Federal Reserve-Philanthropy Initiative, and the Kresge Foundation that monitors neighborhood change, drives informed government action, and supports displacement prevention and inclusive revitalization. One of my other favorite “projects” is my role as the lead teacher and coordinator for the University at Buffalo Academic Camp on Neighborhood Development. The program seeks to develop and strengthen students’ academic skills, including the motivation to learn and do well in school, by engaging them in neighborhood development activities. Since this is a free summer program, the target recruitment is low-income, minority, inner-city Buffalo kids ages 9 to 14. This group of students, mostly from the East Side of Buffalo, experiences the urban planning issues that are discussed in the classroom in their neighborhoods and their day-to-day lives. As their teacher, one of the most rewarding things to see is when kids begin to realize how much more they know than they think they know. I have the ability and the honor to equip these kids with the knowledge and information they need in order to piece together not just what problems exist, but why some of the problems (including but not limited to the lack of access to healthcare and services, poor housing quality, food deserts, gentrification, and a lack of transportation and walkability) exist in their neighborhoods and how they might begin to make changes and improvements. My role in this program has required me to be in charge of recruitment, curriculum and lesson planning, hiring and training teachers and interns, being a point contact for parents, overseeing evaluation and reporting, facilities planning, student transportation, and general day-to-day logistics.

In reflecting on the success of the ACSP national conference in Buffalo, Miller credits the efforts of the faculty and students, and the draw of the City of Buffalo:

"I believe the City of Buffalo played a big role in bringing planners from all over the country and world to attend the annual conference because of its ability to provide inspiration and teaching moments for everyone to bring back to their own cities. Our program uses its city and communities as a classroom to learn about past and current issues related to all planning disciplines. While Buffalo's urban resurgence has been in a lot of recent news, we understand that it has been due to persistent efforts to fix our mistakes of the past.  We also recognize that to keep this resurgence going, it will require looking at issues of equity and deliberate, continuous development." 

Read full coverage of the 2018 ACSP conference in Buffalo

Q: What future goals do you have in your field?
A: In the future I would like to teach at a university, while also working in a research center where I could conduct housing and neighborhood development research and work with communities to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives. I would like to find a way to utilize bottom-up approaches in order to encourage communities that I work in to fight for what they need and want. Even if we are able to solve the current issues, more will inevitably come up. Thus, if we can get people involved, engaged, and educated with the skills they need to create the neighborhoods they want to live in, then we can hopefully create a sustainable, just city that everyone deserves.

Q: How has planning school changed your daily habits?
A: Planning school has changed how I travel and explore new cities. The first thing I start to look at and think about is housing and how people interact with the spaces they call home.

Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up? 
A: Like any kid, my career choice when I was younger changed almost every month. As I got older, I gained a love for science and wanted to become a chemist, specifically a pharmacologist. I have always had a love for research. I grew up competing in science fairs, started working in a nano-chemistry lab in high school, and then in a biochemistry lab with the US Department of Energy in college. When I see a problem I have this pressing need to figure out the best solution and how to make that solution a reality. Now that I am in the field of urban planning the need to find solutions to problems is that much more real - we are trying to help real people whose lives are directly impacted by our ability to do so.

Q: How many different cities have you lived in and which was your favorite?
A: I've lived in three cities now: Dallas, Texas; Berkeley, California; and Buffalo, New York. I have loved living in Buffalo (minus the cold temperatures and the snow) because it truly is ‘the city of good neighbors’. Everyone is so friendly, down-to-earth, and always willing to help each other out. 

Q: What is your anticipated date of graduation?
A: May 2020