Award-winning educator John C. Harris recently was named director of the Regional and City Planning (RCPL) Division at the University of Oklahoma Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture. 

“Gibbs College is grateful to out-going Director Charles ‘Charlie’ Warnken for his steadying leadership. The historically significant program saw important enrollment growth and a nationally recognized faculty emerge during his tenure as director,” said Gibbs College Dean Hans E. Butzer. “John is taking the reins at a time when exciting opportunities in the discipline and college are emerging, and the program’s future looks bright.” 

Dean Butzer continued, “John’s appointment is the result of a transparent listening process involving faculty, students, and alumni. His track record of successful collaborations both within and outside of the Gibbs College can be leveraged as RCPL faculty plan their next strategic steps. The Planning discipline is more important than ever as communities seek to create more inclusive and equitable infrastructures. John is the right leader at the right time to grow the program’s impact.” 

Harris is an established scholar in the field of informal urbanization in Sub Saharan Africa, and has published his research in top journals in the field, including World DevelopmentJournal of Planning Education and Research, and Gender, Place and Culture. Recently, he was awarded the “Best Journal Article Award” by the Global Planning Educators Interest Group for his article “Vulnerable Youth’s Perspectives and Priorities for Informal Settlements: Photovoice Evidence from Lusaka, Zambia” in the Journal of Planning Education and Research

Harris has been recognized as a leader in facilitating cutting edge, community-embedded scholarship and engagement at the University of Oklahoma and beyond. As founding codirector of the OU Center for Peace and Development, Harris is actively developing unique partnerships that allow for mutual learning between academic communities and local communities in post-conflict zones. The Center for Peace and Development engages collaborators in northern Uganda—including St. Monica’s Vocational School for Girls, Gulu University, the Women’s Advocacy Network, and Pros for Africa—to support grassroots peacebuilding efforts. 

Reflecting on the impact of Harris’ work, Sr. Rosemary Nyirumbe, Director of the St. Monica Girls’ Tailoring Centres, said, “He is truly leading the way for University of Oklahoma students to develop and improve our way of life here in Uganda.” 

Dr. Harris has also received numerous awards and fellowships during his time at University of Oklahoma, including the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Planning Association’s 2017 “Outstanding Project—Community Outreach” Award, the American Institute of Architects—Oklahoma “Community Service Award,” an OU Humanities Forum Fellowship, two OU Junior Faculty Fellowships, and the David L. Boren Award for Outstanding Global Engagement, which recognizes scholars for “outstanding commitment to and support for the university’s international mission.” 

In support of this collaborative research and community engagement work, Harris has been awarded over $400,000 by external funding agencies. Recently, the Carnegie Foundation announced funding for an ambitious project, “Peace, Conflict, and International Political Economy,” which will allow Harris, along with Dr. Firat Demir from the OU Economics Department, and Dr. Sally Beach, from the OU Instructional Leadership Department, to explore how transnational processes, such as militarism, capital accumulation and financialization, affect conflict and post-conflict in the global South. 

“Dr. Harris had been a collaborative leader in interdisciplinary, community engaged research with colleagues around the university and beyond around understanding the role of women in post conflict peacebuilding efforts,” said Dr. Beach. “He reminds all of us to look at development in the global south as human development.” 

In addition to leading service-learning courses abroad, Harris and his students regularly engage the local community. For example, he and his students worked with community members to carry out the Northeast Oklahoma City Photovoice Project. This project brought together 26 women from NE Oklahoma City to document their neighborhood experiences through photography and reflections on their neighborhood conditions. It culminated in a travelling exhibition that has raised awareness of these conditions and experiences among policymakers.  

Reflecting on his new appointment, Harris said, “I’ve been honored to be a part of the RCPL faculty since 2013. I am excited to continue working alongside my colleagues in this new role as we train the next generation of urban planners and help communities tackle the challenges they face today and tomorrow.”  

Harris holds Doctorate and Master’s degrees in Urban and Regional Planning from Florida State University. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, as well as the American Planning Association.