Member of the Week: Stephanie Frank

Stephanie Frank location portrait at Film RowStephanie Frank

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning + Design

University of Missouri-Kansas City


Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

I am currently finishing up revisions to an article titled “Industrial Networks and Urban Development: Kansas City’s Film Row District and National Film Distribution” that will be published in the Spring 2020 issue of Buildings & Landscapes. (In the photograph above, taken by Brandon Parigo, you can see KC’s film row in the background.) I first learned about film rows during the interview for my current position. My colleagues sent me some information about the district and the pending demolition of one of the contributing buildings ahead of my visit. We then toured it together. I did some initial poking around and found that very little has been written about film rows and how they were instrumental to the distribution of film prints to movie theaters. Kansas City and Oklahoma City are the last two known surviving intact film row districts of the 32 that existed in North America. I just published an article that compares the two districts online ahead of print in the Journal of Urban Design. The research project was a progression from my dissertation on the role of film studios in the shaping of the urban development of metropolitan Los Angeles. I went from focusing on production sites to the distribution network of the film industry.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

This Fall semester I am teaching planning history at the undergraduate level and a freshman, large-lecture introductory course in urban studies that focuses on inequality and the city. During Fall semesters I usually teach an undergrad/grad introductory class in historic preservation planning, but we decided not to offer it this year. I am a planning historian and historic preservation planner in a PAB-accredited undergraduate planning program, where I do regularly discuss my research in my classes. All my courses center on social justice in planning, and increasingly I’ve found my research agenda lacking in that regard. I’m still working out how to better reconcile my scholarship and teaching.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I’m looking forward to reading several new books across my research and teaching interests in planning history, urban development, planned communities, and historic preservation: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, Iconic Planned Communities and the Challenge of Change edited by Mary Corbin Sies, Isabelle Gournay, and Robert Freestone, and the second edition of Giving Preservation a History: Histories of Historic Preservation in the United States edited by Randall F. Mason and Max Page. I’m also looking forward to Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and how I can incorporate the book into my teaching.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

Seek out supportive mentors. Not only should there be a good fit in broad research interests but you need people who will provide the kind of support you need to thrive and will give it to you straight. Whether it’s about the realities of the job market, your expectations for how things operate in your program or the academy at large, or if you’re full of it, mentors should equip you with what you need to navigate successfully through the unknown. You also need to prepare for the likelihood that you will not land that “traditional,” tenure-track job. Seek opportunities that develop your skills and experience beyond the academy and take advantage of workshops that train you to translate your skills for other careers. Even if you secure a tenure-track job, you might find that you’d rather do something else or at the very least that knowledge and experience will be useful in teaching and mentoring others. You should also invest as much, if not more, energy in networking with your peers rather than senior, prominent scholars. This is the peer group that will exist for your career. Go to grad receptions at conferences and make friends across the world and fields.

You have lived on both the East Coast and the West, but now live in Kansas City. What stands out to you that makes Kansas City unique? What commonalities do you see between Kansas City, Los Angeles, and other cities you’ve lived in? 

I’m not sure this makes Kansas City unique, but it does punch above its weight in terms of arts and cultural attractions. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is a world-class arts institution, and it’s free. I live across the street from the National World War I Museum and Memorial and have this fabulous view of its tower that is lit every night (I had a view of the Hollywood sign when I lived in Los Angeles). There is an expansive, historic parks and boulevards system. People in Kansas City have a hometown pride I have not experienced anywhere else. This is also the smallest place I have ever lived. I grew up in suburban Maryland just outside Washington, D.C. and then spent eight years in Los Angeles. I am still adjusting to the culture shock after six years. Wafting breezes from BBQ joints are reminiscent of brush fires in Los Angeles. The weather is similar to where I grew up, but it’s a lot windier in Kansas City.

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