News | An Interview with Recent Price PhD Grad Seva Rodnyansky

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An Interview with Recent Price PhD Grad Seva Rodnyansky

Saturday, November 24, 2018

by By Drew Quinn, MPL 2019

METRANS on the MOVE recently interviewed Seva Rodnyansky, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy within the Berkeley Institute for the Future of Young Americans (BIFYA) and recent Price doctoral graduate, about his academic experiences before, during, and after Price and the trajectory of his career.

Rodnyansky obtained a Bachelor’s degree, or three, from Northwestern University in 2009, with a triple-major of Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences, Economics, and Urban Studies. There he began a course of study related to transportation and mobility.

“My undergraduate thesis was on Predicting Gentrification near Transit Stations in Chicago,” Rodnyansky told MotM. After college, and a brief stint in Paris at Sciences Po - Rodnyansky did not fail to mention a French minor accompanied his three Evanston degrees - he worked as a strategy consultant for Booz & Company (later renamed Strategy& following acquisition by PwC) in their Engineered Products and Services division.

“I completed 25 projects in Strategic Due Diligence for Mergers & Acquisitions, Operating Model Redesign, and Cost Optimization across the Automotive, Transportation, Industrial, Aerospace, and Defense industries. This experience honed my rigorous analytical, project management, and communication skills.”

Rodnyansky’s path led him to USC Price where he ultimately began work on his PhD dissertation “Household Mobility and Neighborhood Impacts.” On his research interests he explained, “[they] are focused broadly on the interconnections between transportation, housing, and population mobility… at USC I have conducted research on affordable housing siting, multi-family housing provision and pricing, housing insecurity, transit-oriented developments, travel behavior, vehicle emissions, elderly mobility, and siting of assisted living facilities.”

In his dissertation, Rodnyansky, explored how public investments affect the neighborhoods around them through the lens of population mobility. Specifically, Rodnyansky looked at whether new rail transit stations, built over the past 30 years by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (L.A. Metro), have displaced low-income households, via local housing cost increases.

“I hypothesized that these new transportation amenities would drive up local rents and housing prices, leading low-income households, who tend to use transit more, to move out of these neighborhoods. To measure this, I was able to access an innovative administrative database of income tax filers in Los Angeles County that provided the relative location of where households filed taxes over a 21-year study period.”

Using statistical and GIS methods, Rodnyansky established how often households in Los Angeles County move by neighborhood, the impact of new rail stations on household move frequency and the probability a specific household would move, and whether an individual living near a rail station at any point in their lifetime could be predictive of that same individual living near a rail station in the future.

His findings suggested that “household move rates [were] high in Los Angeles County, averaging 21% per year from 1993-2013, move rates [were] even higher in dense, urban neighborhoods where L.A. Metro rail stations [tended] to be located, the opening of a rail station increased the probability of a household leaving a neighborhood by 3-7% - though the effect does not appear to be proportional for the lowest-income households, and [that] transit begets transit, that is, living near rail stations at some point is highly predictive of living near rail stations in the future.”

His new research at BIFYA focuses on the impact of population mobility on political participation across the age spectrum. “I hypothesize that young people turn out to vote less than older people due to frequent moves as part of high renter tenure,” said Rodnyansky. By this theory, the frequent moves of youth make the logistics of voter registration and voting more difficult. Concurrently these short stays diminish the ability of young people to connect with political issues that are important to their current place of residence and with state and local elected officials.

Rodnyansky has other projects in the works is well including research focusing on modeling the housing insecurity among young people, e.g. whether it has increased since in the 2000s amid the Great Recession and stagnating incomes against rising housing prices, and a San Francisco Bay Area-focused project that looks at how studying where households move may reveal changes in income segregation.

Other topics Rodnyansky discussed with MotM included long-term infrastructure capacity and sustainability, “In the Bay Area, there are six bridges and a set of tunnels that constrain the flow of auto and rail traffic for both passengers and freight throughout the region. These chokepoints require rethinking, replanning, and perhaps reconstruction given the demand on the infrastructure, and climatic and seismic risks. The inability of the infrastructure to withstand current demand affects productivity (through sitting in traffic / waiting for trains), produces longer commutes, increases housing costs, and further strains the infrastructure.”

On right-sizing he added, “At the same time, certain portions of the U.S. are experiencing the reverse: too much infrastructure, but not enough demand, and too expensive to upkeep. These require bold ideas for right-sizing infrastructure and for continued funding of maintenance.

Both of these issues require leadership and input from young people, policy makers, planners, researchers, and academics. I am excited to see this occurring.”

Lastly, Rodnyansky was considerate enough to offer much advice for current or prospective transportation planning students: “Make connections… there were many connections, short-lived and long-lived, across various departments which strongly propelled my career forward… [and] take advantage of the opportunities for fun and exploration at USC and in the Los Angeles area. LA provides so many unique opportunities for engaging with nature, the arts, the entertainment world, multi-ethnic experiences, the food scene, and the musical world. Definitely take advantage.”

For potential PhD students in particular he ended, “Before the PhD, think about your short and long term goals and assess whether a PhD, in all its facets, fits within them. Once in the PhD, have a clear set of things you would like to achieve and a clear path and timeline to achieve them. This will help focus your attention and efforts.”

About the Author:

Drew Quinn is a Master of Planning student at the University of Southern California with a concentration in Transportation. Originally from Atlantic City, New Jersey, Mr. Quinn received a B.A. in History from The George Washington University in Washington, DC and has previously lived in Philadelphia and Madrid. Mr. Quinn serves as the Lead Editor for METRANS on the Move and is also the President and Founder of Trees by Trojans, a service organization at USC dedicated to increasing the distribution of green infrastructure in South Central LA.