RJ Koscielniak

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Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning

Geology and Geography

140FF Strong Hall


[email protected]

Office Hours

  • On-Campus: Tuesday, 2:00 - 4:00pm; Wednesday, 12:45 – 1:45pm
  • Zoom: Friday, 1:00 – 3:00pm
  • Email for appointment


  • Ph.D., Urban and Regional Planning, University of Michigan (2020)
  • MSW, Individualized: Urban Policy, Washington University in St Louis (2011)
  • BA, Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, University of Missouri (2008)


Dr. RJ Koscielniak is a scholar, teacher, and activist specializing in the study of urban decline. His research critically examines the capitalist and racist determinants of contemporary urbanization. He focuses on the policies, pathways, and pipelines that undermine neighborhoods and the built environment. By concentrating on logistical and environmental processes, and how markets and institutions mobilize both to extract value, he has contributed to reinvigorated theoretical and empirical approaches to shrinking cities, depopulation, and disinvestment.

He completed his dissertation – Ground Forces: Dirt, Demolition, and the Geography of Decline in Detroit, MI – at the University of Michigan. Employing mapping, qualitative, and quantitative methods, he investigated the Detroit Demolition Program and its relationship to regional environments, property regimes, and public policy. The project studied the 10 million cubic yards of dirt needed to fill empty holes after demolishing abandoned houses, with special attention to the markets, supply chains, and speculative suburban development patterns benefitting from the city’s destruction. His research has appeared prominently in The Detroit News on the demolition program and he has contributed to ongoing federal investigations into demolition contractors and city regulatory practices. He is now developing a Detroit Backfill Atlas that will collaborate with neighborhood inhabitants to reconceptualize land and value in the aftermath of demolishing Detroit. He has publications from this research and papers in progress.

Future research projects will extend and expand his work on land, environments, and logistics in declining cities. He will investigate national antique supply chains flowing from St. Louis, MO, where a medley of interests and actors export millions of bricks per year from a city that has lost over 67% of its population since 1950. This research project is available here: STL Bricks Project. He is also developing a project in New Orleans, LA that scrutinizes and interprets the city’s lawn mowing economy and its consequences for neighborhoods and housing security in the prolonged aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His research models how a strong focus on empirics can deepen planning and geography approaches to urban decline, allowing for improved practice and more dynamic theory.

RJ grew up all over the American Midwest, but now calls Detroit home. Over the last fifteen years, he has worked in St. Louis, Portland, OR, and Baltimore, MD as a planner and community development practitioner. He has experience working within the public, private, and philanthropic sectors, whether in public housing or housing demolition. He holds a strong belief that critical and radical approaches to urban planning have an important place in the stabilization and revitalization of the cities he has called home. Black Lives Matter. 

Must-Read Books: Fitzgerald: Geography of a Revolution by William Bunge; Development Arrested by Clyde Woods; Golden Gulag by Ruth Wilson Gilmore

Research Website: Supplying Decline

Interests and Expertise

  • Urban-environmental transformation
  • Urban decline
  • Urban political ecology
  • Demolition
  • Racial capitalism, extraction, and American regions
  • Radical planning
  • Supply chains


  • URP 115 | The American City
  • URP 216 | Readings in Planning
  • URP 306/555 | Comprehensive Planning
  • URP 415W | Methods of Planning Analysis
  • URP 553 | Intro to Urban & Regional Planning
  • ENVI 105 | Environment and Society
  • ENVI 305W | Current Topics in Environmental Science and Society