Faculty Spotlight: Stephanie Wakefield, Ph.D.

Faculty Spotlight: Stephanie Wakefield, Ph.D.

Researcher Studies How Cities Can Adapt in the Face of Environmental Change

When Hurricane Sandy hit the U.S. October 2012, the storm brought 14-foot surges that poured water into the streets, submerged cars and filled underground subway tunnels with saltwater. More than 43 people died and Manhattan south of 39th street lost power for five days, impacting millions of people.

At that time, Stephanie Wakefield, Ph.D., was a graduate student studying Earth and environmental science at the City University of New York Graduate Center. Her fascination with the city’s resilience to destruction and the following new urban planning and design paradigm narrowed the focus of her career path. “It was clear that climate adaptation was opening the door for new planning and design approaches,” she said.

As an urban geographer, Wakefield, an assistant professor in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, explores the social, technical and environmental transformations of urban life. In particular, she examines how cities respond to challenges and opportunities, due to climate change. “I am especially interested in how planning and design can move beyond status quo resilience and toward transformative approaches that reinvent human-environment relations and regenerate urban life,” Wakefield said.

Wakefield’s current research explores design solutions that incorporate blue and green infrastructure and how that contributes to human health and wellness in urban environments. This includes living shorelines, which are protected, stabilized coastal edges made of natural materials such as plants, sand or rock, rather than concrete seawalls or other hard structures, that prevent the growth of plants and animals. She also studies southeastern cities’ use of biophilic designs, which incorporate natural objects like trees, waterways and plants in public spaces.

Prior to Florida Atlantic, from 2018 to 2021, Wakefield conducted research as an Urban Studies Foundation postdoctoral research fellow at Florida International University, on climate adaptation infrastructure in Miami, like problems caused by sea-level rise. She earned a doctorate in Earth and environmental science from the the City University of New York Graduate Center.

Wakefield joined Florida Atlantic in the fall of 2023 with familiarity of the social and environmental challenges of the region due to climate change. She said she believes that Florida Atlantic is well-positioned to be an innovator and leader in sea-level rise adaptation focused research.

“Climate change and the massive environmental problems of our time should be understood as an opportunity to rethink the meaning and horizon of design,” Wakefield said. “Perhaps, instead of designing just for survival amidst endless disaster, it is possible to reorient design toward fundamentally transforming how we live on Earth.”

If you would like more information, please contact us at dorcommunications@fau.edu.