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2008 Rieveschl Award for Creative and/or Scholarly Works: David Varady

David Varady’s research touches on complicated contemporary issues – real estate and housing, race and religion, aging and economics – and, sometimes, all of the above. Because his research literally touches people where they live, Varady is the winner of UC’s 2008 Rieveschl Award for Creative and Scholarly Works.

Date: 3/12/2008
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Dottie Stover
For nearly 40 years now, Professor David Varady has traveled the world from his home base in the University of Cincinnati’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning and its highly regarded School of Planning to focus on such hot-button issues as segregation, red-lining, urban homesteading, housing for the elderly and immigration, as well as public housing and voucher use.
David Varady
David Varady with his book, Desegregating the City.

He’s conducted his research not only here in Cincinnati but throughout the United States and Europe, and along the way, Varady has become an internationally respected researcher and author. He has authored six books and ten times as many journal articles (both American and European). It is this impressive record of accomplishment that led to his selection this year as the winner of UC’s George Rieveschl Jr. Award for Creative and/or Scholarly Works. (In fact, Varady is tied for 44th among all planning faculty in the North America with respect to having the greatest number of planning publications.)
For instance, Varady’s latest book, which he co-authored, is titled Neighborhood Choices and came out last year from the Center for Urban Policy Research Press, Rutgers University. Co-authored with Carole Walker of the CUPR, the book examines the use of Housing Choice Vouchers (sometimes called Section 8 vouchers) and the effectiveness of  voucher use in terms of encouraging moves to safer and better neighborhoods and upward social mobility – as well as the more straightforward goal of simply assuring low-income residents decent and affordable housing.
This book is the outcome of more than a decade spent studying housing-voucher use. It’s part of a larger body of work that has consistently focused on housing during which time he has set the gold standard for housing research. For example, Paul Niebanck, professor emeritus of human ecology at the University of California-Santa Cruz, who has known Varady since 1969, stated that Varady’s work “is as good as it gets.”
Daphne Spain, professor and chair of the University of Virginia’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning, agreed, saying, “…when I look at David’s C.V. now, I understand why he has had such a significant effect on my career…It’s fair to say that David has written circles around the rest of us.”
Varady began his research focus as a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania. There, in the late 1960s, he was hired as a research assistant to examine one of Philadelphia’s racially changing neighborhoods.
And from that point on, Varady never looked back. “The transition of a neighborhood – whether that change is racial, religious or economic – is rarely a smooth process. It’s often a painful process whether it entails racial succession, gentrification, eminent domain or some other form of transition. So, it’s research that does hit people where they live. How could that not be exciting?” he asked.
It’s an excitement he shares with his planning students. For instance, he’s been known to use detective novels in his classes to illustrate neighborhoods in transition. Said Varady, “I began that practice when I noticed that crime-fiction writers often capture what has or can happen to an area or a neighborhood better than any sociologist could. Within a well-told sentence or two, a crime whodunit can capture the effects of crime, gentrification or the influx of immigrants. It’s great for drawing cultural and sociological maps.”
This kind of creative energy will keep Varady in the classroom for years to come. He has no plans to retire. “I have no thought of retiring,” he asserted. “I’m at the top of my career. I have so much more to offer students today in terms of expertise and willingness to experiment and to ask questions in the classroom. As a researcher, I’m always asking questions. I am much more comfortable now with my students doing the same, in a way I might not have been 20 years ago. I think that means the best education possible for them.”
Varady himself lived in one of Cincinnati’s transitioning neighborhoods, Roselawn, before moving to North Avondale, one of the city’s premiere racially integrated communities. That personal experience plus his research has made him an expert sought out by community groups, local governments, cities, national agencies like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Association of Realtors, other academics as well as organizations and groups abroad.
David Varady

“I always keep the ordinary person, the ordinary resident in mind when doing my research. I want to assist communities that can benefit from the dynamism of an integrated population. Increasing the number of stably integrated neighborhoods can benefit the city and the entire region, and studying the forces that need to come together to foster better neighborhoods and reduce racial tensions, crime and substandard housing is the purpose of my work. That’s why it’s been easy to spend four decades on this work,” he stated.
And to become, as one-time fellow PhD student and professional colleague Leonard Heumann, professor emeritus of urban and regional planning and psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, described: “…a gifted, creative and productive researcher who has had a profound impact on our field.”
The David Varady Research Profile
David Varady’s 40 years’ worth of research regarding home and housing issues has encompassed many “hot-topic” issues, as outlined below. He said that his most important research achievement is demonstrating the link between housing issues and education issues and then encouraging housing and education officials to work together.
David Varady’s research interests have encompassed

  • Appalachian migration and settlement patterns in the Cincinnati region.
  • Cincinnati neighborhoods most likely to attract recipients of Section 8 Housing vouchers.
  • Comparing/contrasting public housing in the United States vs. Europe.
  • Converting housing renters into housing owners.
  • Jewish migration and settlement patterns in the Cincinnati region.
  • The future of public housing and housing authorities.
  • The link between the economy/wages and the age of first-time home buyers.
  • Muslim residential segregation and its impact on political radicalism.
  • National settlement patterns for recipients of Section 8 Housing vouchers.
  • Perception vs. reality regarding public housing in terms of safety and other issues.
  • Successfully designed housing for the elderly.
  • Tax abatements as a means to attract and hold middle-class families with children in cities.

Books by David Varady

  • Desegregating the City: Ghettos, Enclaves, and Inequality
  • Ethnic Minorities in Urban Areas: A Case Study of Racially Changing Communities
  • Neghborhood Choices: Section 8 Housing Vouchers and Residential Mobility
  • Neighborhood Upgrading: A Realistic Assessment
  • New Directions in Urban Public Housing
  • Selling Cities: Attracting Homebuyers Through Schools and Housing Programs