Xavier Briggs

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Xavier de Souza Briggs
Born 1968
Miami, Florida
Residence Brooklyn, NY, USA
Nationality U.S.
Institutions Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Alma mater Stanford University
Harvard University
Columbia University
Doctoral advisor Robert Crain
Other academic advisors Herbert Gans
Influences Herbert Gans Georg Simmel David Ellwood Mark Granovetter Alice Amsden Joseph Stiglitz George Galster John Dewey William Apgar W.E.B. DuBois Douglas Massey
Spouse Cynthia

Xavier de Souza Briggs (born 1968) is an American sociologist and planner, known for his work on social capital, civic capacity, and community building, as well as the concept of the "geography of opportunity," which addresses the consequences of housing segregation, along racial and economic lines, for the well-being and life prospects of the disadvantaged. He is a member of the MIT faculty and is currently on leave, serving as vice president of the Ford Foundation.

In January 2009, Briggs went on a public service leave from MIT, appointed by President Barack Obama to become Associate Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. At OMB, he oversaw policy and budget for six cabinet agencies (Housing and Urban Development, Treasury, Commerce, Transportation, Justice, and Homeland Security) as well as the Small Business Administration, General Services Administration, and other agencies.[1] He returned to the MIT faculty in August 2011. In January 2014, he went on leave anew, to join the Ford Foundation.

He is Professor of Sociology and Urban Planning in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).[2] He is also a former faculty member of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He was a presidential appointee in the Clinton Administration, serving as a senior policy official at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Professional life[edit]

In New York City, Briggs helped develop the now widely emulated "quality-of-life" planning approach to neighborhood revitalization, and in 1996 his work with the Comprehensive Community Revitalization Program in the South Bronx won the President's Award of the American Planning Association. He began his teaching career at Harvard, took a leave to work in the Clinton Administration from 1998 to 2000, returned to Harvard and, in 2005, moved to MIT. He was also a faculty affiliate of The Urban Institute, a leading nonpartisan policy research organization in Washington, DC.

Briggs' research centers on economic opportunity, racial and ethnic diversity, and democratic problem-solving in cities worldwide. His dissertation, focused on the social networks of poor young people, examined the controversial desegregation of public housing following a major civil rights lawsuit in Yonkers, New York. In 2002, he was a Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Scholar at MIT. His edited book, The Geography of Opportunity (Brookings, 2005), analyzed the singular role of segregation as America has become more racially and ethnically diverse and at the same time more economically unequal. It won the top book award in planning in 2007 (the Paul Davidoff Award). A second book, "Democracy as Problem Solving: Civic Capacity in Communities across the Globe" (MIT Press, 2009) was a finalist for the C. Wright Mills book award. The book offers an account of transformative change and the politics of reform in the U.S., Brazil, India and South Africa. It also offers an alternative theory of the functions and forms of democracy, grounded in core concepts of learning and bargaining, accountability, and participation.

He is the founder of two online tools for self-directed learning in the field of civic leadership and local problem-solving: The Community Problem-Solving Project @ MIT, sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Working Smarter in Community Development, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation. In March 2010, he and co-authors Susan Popkin and John Goering published "Moving to Opportunity: The Story of An American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty" (Oxford University Press). The culmination of more than a decade of work on housing opportunity and the effects of high-risk neighborhoods on poor children and their families, and focused on "surprising" results of one of America's most ambitious housing experiments, the book won the Louis Brownlow award from the National Academy of Public Administration. "MTO" underscores the alarming inpacts of a "quiet crisis" of unaffordable housing, particularly in America's most economically successful urban regions.

Briggs has been an adviser to the Rockefeller Foundation, the World Bank, and other leading organizations and was a member of the Aspen Institute's Roundtable on Community Change. Briggs has served as an expert witness for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in civil rights litigation. His views and research have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Salon.com, National Public Radio, and other major media.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Born in Miami, Florida, Briggs spent the early part of his life in Nassau, Bahamas, where his family - with roots in the Black Seminole nation, Brazil, and Europe - has lived since the early 19th century. His mother, Angela (1933-2015), was the daughter of Bill Aranha, Nassau's crown lands officer during the 1940s, and his father was an out island doctor.[4]

Raised by his mother, Briggs moved back to the U.S. in 1976, several years after The Bahamas secured independence from Britain. In Miami he attended Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, a Catholic high school with strong ties to Cuba and the Cuban-American community. He later received a BS in engineering from Stanford University, worked with the innovative planning firm of Moore Iacofano Goltsman in Berkeley, CA, and won a Rotary Scholarship to study education and community development in Brazil, living in Salvador, Bahia. In 1993 he earned a Master in Public Administration (MPA) from Harvard University. In 1996 he earned a PhD in sociology and education from Columbia University, where he studied under Robert Crain, Herbert Gans, Charles Kadushin, and other scholars. While a student at Stanford, Briggs designed and taught the second version of the Unseen America course, a pioneering approach in democratic experiential education, and joined with David Lempert and others to publish a book on this alternative approach to education.

Key publications[edit]


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