T. William Lester

Associate Professor,T. William Lester

Department of Urban and

Regional Planning


Growing up in Hyde Park on Chicago’s South Side, T. William Lester came to understand geography and concepts of urban planning almost innately.

“If you grow up in Hyde Park, you’re very quickly made aware of the boundaries of the neighborhood,” says Lester, who this year joined the Department of Urban & Regional Planning, as an associate professor of city and regional planning.

On the shore of Lake Michigan, Hyde Park was a racially integrated middle-class enclave surrounded by poverty in the 1990s.

“It was cloistered and I was always so aware of its boundaries,” says Lester. “I always wondered, why is it this way? That was my avenue into urban planning and urban issues.”

Lester received a B.A. in economics and urban studies from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s in urban planning from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from the University of California, Berkeley.

Prior to coming to SJSU, Lester was an associate professor at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

Lester’s research has looked at the impact of minimum wage and living wage policies on urban economic development, issues of neighborhood economic distress and the effects of green economy policies on employment. His papers have focused on urban neighborhoods, urban renewal policies and the history of why American urban neighborhoods look the way they do, segregated by economics and race.

“There’s this central tension in urban planning,” Lester says. “On the one hand, we have a lot of significant social problems that are really concentrated by place. But on the other hand, a lot of the policies to solve those problems have resulted in even more inequality by race and class. So how can we as a society address those wrongs while not making more wrongs?”

Lester is currently conducting research for a book on the long-term impacts of Urban Renewal policies on neighborhood economic development and racial inequality on Chicago’s South Side.