DCRP faculty member Nikhil Kaza

Associate Professor

Specialization: Land Use and Environmental Planning
nkaza [at] unc {dot} edu
314 New East
919-962-4767

Accepting PhD students


Dr. Kaza works at the intersection of urbanization patterns, local energy policy and equity. He takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying how institutional innovations help or hinder cities and organisations achieve their energy and environmental goals and how these innovations might have a differential impact on different groups.  Lately, he has been wrangling large spatial and non-spatial datasets to better understand how urban systems and institutions co-evolve in different parts of the world.

His larger intellectual project is to strengthen the foundational justifications of planning. Understanding how, when and why multiple agents endowed with distributed authority, capabilities and limited foresight plan challenges the conventional wisdom that plans are blueprints of the future made by governments. In urban settings, these agents are governments, private firms, organizations, coalitions and ephemeral groups. We can only understand the efficacy of planning in the networks of mutual commitments of these agents.

Other hallmarks of his research program is the use of large datasets and cheap computational power to explore salient questions associated with urban systems. For example, he has developed a urban growth pattern monitoring program for all of the conterminous United States using LandSat satellite imagery. Using high resolution employment and transportation datasets, he also examines the relationship between economic opportunity, travel accessibility and environmental impacts. He is also currently developing machine learning algorithms to identify and characterise irregular settlements in India using high-resolution satellite imagery. A recent collaboration with private sector partners and colleagues at other universities examines how to create water conservation programs using high-resolution (temporal) data from smart meters. These projects directly feed into critical examination the ‘smart city’ concept.

His interdisciplinary training in architecture, mathematics and planning allows him to enjoy fruitful collaborations with researchers from different fields including economics, computer science, civil engineering, geography and political science. His research is supported by National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, Institute for Market Transformation, World Bank, Urban Institute and Omidiyar Network, among others.

He joined UNC-Chapel Hill’s Department of City and Regional Planning in 2009 after post-doctoral training at University of Maryland and a Ph.D. from University of Illinois.

In addition to his work, he enjoys rock climbing, squash, skiing and mountain biking. Triangle region provides excellent opportunities to pursue most of these interests.

To schedule an appointment with him, please use his calendar. 

LinkedIn | Website | Google Scholar
Affiliations: Carolina Transportation Program, Center for Community Capital, Center for Urban and Regional Studies, Institue for the Environment