The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was Todd BenDor’s first job choice back in 2007 after finishing graduate school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a Ph.D. in regional planning. Fast forward more than a decade and he is a full professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UNC, director of the Odum Institute for Research in Social Science and now he is adding the title of Distinguished Chair of Sustainable Community Design with the Institute for the Environment.
The position is funded by a trust made possible by the generosity of an anonymous donor and will provide BenDor research funds to make more research opportunities accessible. This funding also will help him hire student help, travel or buy research materials.
“The blessing of a position like this is that it is both practical and motivating for a faculty member like myself ,” BenDor said. “It gives me tools to do better research, but it also is a constant reminder that my work has helped others and that I should keep pushing it forward.”
Institute for the Environment Director Mike Piehler said he is excited to see the quantitative analyses BenDor creates with his work in built systems and the function of the environment. Piehler said this distinguished chair position is a great example of the engagement the Institute aims to have with all of those who are interested in the environment. This position can help foster research partnerships that later get funding to continue more research.
The Institute’s Center for Resilient Communities and Environment, which BenDor will help to lead, convenes multidisciplinary experts and stakeholders in examining the complex planning and design problems facing communities with the goal of ensuring environmental protection, economic development and social justice.
Piehler looks forward to the value BenDor will bring.
“The idea of a distinguished chair is to identify people doing remarkable work and to fuel them to do more of the same,” Piehler said. “Todd is the perfect fit for this newly reconstituted center with a long record of excellent research, teaching and service.”
BenDor’s research will significantly elevate the Center. He studies the urban context for environmental change and studies many things including carbon trading, wetland markets and floodplain buyouts. Recently he has been looking heavily into coastal resilience in North Carolina and floodplain areas that are repeatedly impacted by storms. One way to mitigate the issue of constant damage and rebuilding is to pay to move these people to safer areas. With funding from the UNC Policy Collaboratory, BenDor is working with others at the Institute on how to improve these buyout processes.
BenDor also brings energy and commitment to translating research to Carolina’s classrooms.
“I love trying to combine my research into teaching, trying to create good research experiences for students is really important,” BenDor said.
Story by Ava Eucker ’21
Ava Eucker is an undergraduate student within the Hussman School of Journalism and Media concentrating on reporting. She is minoring in Spanish and plans to center her career path around travel, storytelling and focusing on environmental work. Eucker will be taking a semester to work on an organic farm in Hawaii and will study abroad in Quito, Ecuador before finishing her degree by December 2021.