Our Team

Josh Yates is the Founder, Director, and Principal Investigator of Thriving Cities and a Research Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia. Josh is a sociologist specializing in the study of culture and cultural change in the late modern world, with a special focus on the ways contemporary institutions and communities grapple with the crucial question: What does it mean and take to thrive?

Greg Thompson is the Executive Director of Thriving Cities. Greg holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Theology, Ethics, and Culture from the University of Virginia. In addition to his work with Thriving Cities, Greg serves as an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.

Asa Eslocker Director of Project Development. Asa Eslocker is a two-time National News Emmy Award winning investigative journalist, landscape architect, filmmaker, and urban systems researcher. Asa holds a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from UVA’s School of Architecture. Asa’s research there culminated in a feature length documentary film that premiered in the 2014 Virginia Film Festival and received recognitions from the American Society of Landscape Architects. The film, Landscapes of Longevity, examines the impact of place, culture, and communal landscapes on human longevity research within three international locations with extraordinarily high rates of life expectancy.

Stephen Assink is Director of Operations, where he oversees the management of Thriving Cities’ research, website, publications, blog, grants, as well as several Thriving Cities partnerships across the United States. For the past several years at Thriving Cities, he has also focused on neighborhood assessment, emerging trends in urbanism, and historical realities affecting the possibility of thriving in cities and communities. With a Masters in Religious Ethics from the University of Virginia, Stephen is interested in the modes of political, social, and moral life generated within and by the urban environment.

Megan Juelfs-Swanson is the data analyst for the Thriving Cities. She brings more than a decade of experience collecting, analyzing, and presenting data. Some of her previous projects include analyzing community indicator projects, alternative poverty measures, partisan news media, and contemporary childrearing. She has a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Virginia where her worked focused on politics and parenting.

Our Partners

Anna Marazuela Kim leads research on the Endowment of the Beautiful for the Thriving Cities. A PhD in art and architectural history, with training in philosophy, Anna is a member of several international research groups and brings wide-ranging experience in community activism and institution-building to the project. For 2015-16, she will be Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.

Brent Cebul is a principal investigator and an original founder of Thriving Cities. He is currently the Mellon Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Digital Humanities at the University of Richmond. He received his Ph.D. in U.S. History from the University of Virginia in 2014, where he was also a Miller Center Dissertation Fellow and continues to as an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

Stephen Macekura is a principal investigators and an original founder of Thriving Cities. Currently, he is Assistant Professor of International Studies at Indiana University. He is a historian interested in twentieth century U.S. and international history, with a particular focus on political economy, international development, U.S. foreign relations, and environmentalism. His first book, Of Limits and Growth: The Rise of Global ‘Sustainable Development’ in the Twentieth Century, has just been published by Cambridge University Press.

Nelson Reveley lives in Richmond, VA. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at the UVa. His research focuses on theological ethics and flourishing in relation to the economy as well as the environment. Nelson is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and through RVA Rapid Transit, along with the Clergy Committee for Rapid Transit, he is also helping organize support amongst churches, neighborhoods, businesses, and government agencies to push for a bus rapid transit system throughout Metro Richmond.

Phil Hissom lives in Orlando, FL. He has spent his career designing solutions to complex social problems. Initially focused on environmental issues related to the Chesapeake Bay, Phil has been more recently addressing concentrated poverty, homelessness, and other affronts to human dignity. After receiving a Master of Divinity degree in 2008, Phil founded the Polis Institute to improve quality of life in 100 distressed neighborhoods of Metro Orlando and has since added an office in Atlanta.

Tim Beatley is Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities and Chair of the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia. He is an internationally recognized sustainable city researcher and author and serves as Project Director of Biophilic Cities. His writings have focused on creative strategies cities can use to reduce their ecological footprints and become more livable and equitable places in the process. Beatley coined the term green urbanism and uses it frequently in his writings to describe the planning process used to create a sustainable city.

Nisha Botchwey is an expert in health and the built environment as well as community engagement and holds graduate degrees in both urban planning and public health. Dr. Botchwey has published and researched widely, and currently focuses on topics including health and the built environment, public engagement methodologies, faith-based and secular organizations, and health equity. She is co-author of Health Impact Assessment in the USA, convener of a national expert panel on interdisciplinary workforce training between the public health and community design fields, and author of numerous articles.

Greg Fairchild teaches strategy and entrepreneurship at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He specializes in examining firms that operate in places that would otherwise go overlooked. In recent years, he has been working to assist ex-offenders with their transitions back into society through an entrepreneurship training program.

Kristina Ford is Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Kristina Ford’s thoughtful, well-informed and articulate assessments – heard on CNN, BBC and National Public Radio – became the first, public voice of reason to mediate the great storm’s human and civic consequences to America and beyond. Starting in 1992 Ford was Director of City Planning in New Orleans; in 2000 she won the Award for Distinguished Leadership from Louisiana’s Chapter of the American Planning Association.

Milton Friesen is the Program Director of Social Cities and Senior Fellow at Cardus, a North American public policy think tank based in Hamilton, Ontario. In this capacity, he has initiated a new project area called City Soul, an effort to explore how faith-based organizations can contribute to the life of neighborhoods. He has served as a municipal councillor and is also working on a PhD at the School of Planning, University of Waterloo, that explores new ways of measuring the social conditions of cities.

Margaret O’Mara teaches US history at the University of Washington in Seattle. Author of numerous books and articles, she writes about Silicon Valley, national politics, economic globalization, postindustrial cities, and higher education. Her current research examines the technology industry’s impact on politics, culture, and place since 1970. In addition to her teaching and research, she works with government, business, and civic organizations on projects exploring how innovation drives growth and change.

William Sherman is the Founding Director of OpenGrounds, Associate Vice President for Research and Professor of Architecture at the University of Virginia, designing places and programs to develop new institutional partnerships and inspire cross-disciplinary collaboration. As an architect, he creates spaces that facilitate open communication, connections to the natural and urban context, and environmental responsibility. His teaching and research examine the interaction of cultural and environmental processes in architectural design, connecting across scales from human physiology to urban dynamics and global energy flows.

Noah Toly currently serves as Director of Urban Studies and Associate Professor of Politics & International Relations at Wheaton College. He has taught various courses in environmental politics and policy, urban politics, and ethics. His research and teaching interests are at the intersection of global urbanism, environmental politics, and ethics.

Nick Wolterstorff is Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University, and Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia. He is a former president of the American Philosophical Association and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among his recent books are Understanding Liberal Democracy (Oxford) and The Mighty and the Almighty (Cambridge).