Samina Raja

Professor - Department of Urban and Regional Planning
sraja@buffalo.edu 233C Hayes Hall - (716) 829-5881

Samina Raja engaged in conversation with student and faculty.

Samina Raja, professor of urban planning, associate dean for research and inclusive excellence, principal investigator of the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab (the “Food Lab”), and co-director of UB's Community for Global Health Equity (CGHE), focuses on understanding the role of planning and policy in building sustainable food systems and healthy communities.

In addition to being a leading scholar in her field and active leader in shaping food systems policies for healthier communities in Western New York, Dr. Raja is also an invaluable mentor for students. As director of the master of urban planning Community Health and Food Systems specialization, Dr. Raja engages her students in the classroom and through graduate studio courses that have worked to develop food systems plans alongside community partners in Buffalo and Trivandrumpuram, India.

Through Dr. Raja's scholarship and teaching, she emphasizes the necessitiy for equitable and inclusive planning processes. “It is important that local governments exercise reflection about how policy and planning processes amplify, or dampen, marginalized voices in planning for community food systems.”

Consider the possibility of edible landscaping in every public right of way in the city of Buffalo and Erie County - Why not?

 - Samina Raja, TEDx Talks Buffalo, 2016

Recent News

4/27/20

Researchers in UB's Food Lab have created a map of food resources in Buffalo to help people locate and access food during the coronavirus pandemic

12/18/18

A city in flux is also one with potential—and, in the case of Buffalo, N.Y., fertile ground for university-city investigations in urbanism.

11/13/18
 A new report developed by UB urban planning students offers strategies for how Chautauqua County in New York can harness the food system for economic development and health.
10/18/18
Governments across the U.S. and Canada have made strides in their food systems planning efforts, with many recognizing within the past decade that the issue of food insecurity is just as important as maintaining other public infrastructure like roads and water systems.
8/15/18
A multidisciplinary group of students will receive funding for a pilot program that will bring farmers in rural India together to share and learn advanced techniques, have increased access to land, and connect with established support organizations.
5/15/18
Erin Sweeney, who will graduate this week with her Master of Urban Planning degree, has been awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholar Research Award to advance her research in food systems planning in support of small-scale farmers in Singapore.
3/13/18
Two scholars from Brazil and three scholars from the United States have been named recipients of the Best Paper Prize on Planning for Equitable Urban and Regional Food Systems. The Best Paper Prize acknowledges and provides recognition for innovative food systems scholarship by early career scholars across the Global South and Global North, and is tied to a recent issue of Built Environment.
10/12/17
BUFFALO, N.Y. — The University at Buffalo is helping drive the conversation within the planning community around how food systems can create broader social change.

Research

In her training as a civil engineer and urban planner, Dr. Raja uncovered a critical oversight: "Why do we plan places as if people don't eat?"

Samina Raja and a group of contributors posed in community youth garden project on Buffalo's West Side.

Dr. Raja’s research focuses on planning and design for sustainable food systems and healthy communities. She is the Principal Investigator of the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab (the “Food Lab”) where much of her research unfolds with the engagement and collaboration of an outstanding research team made up of post doctoral scholars and doctoral fellows, master's students, undergraduate students, and high school students.

In partnership with collaborators nationwide, Dr. Raja currently directs Growing Food Connections, a comprehensive five-year initiative funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to build capacity of local governments to strengthen food systems.  

Her additional research interests include the role of planning in communities experiencing conflict (she is especially interested in the region of Kashmir in South Asia), and the fiscal dimensions of urban and regional planning.

Dr. Raja’s research is published in leading planning and health journals. She is the lead author of the Planners Guide to Community and Regional Food Planning: Transforming Food Environments, Building Healthy Communities, one of the earliest guidance monographs on food systems planning published by the national American Planning Association. 

Additional Research Interests

  • The role of planning in communities experiencing conflict (she is especially interested in the region of Kashmir in South Asia)
  • Fiscal dimensions of urban and regional planning

Media Mentions

11/20/19
The Buffalo News reports on how Buffalo organizations plan to use food to empower people and build a new economy that benefits working-class residents. It mentions the groups are working with UB’s Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab, which is led by Samina Raja, professor of urban and regional planning.
6/4/19
An article on Civil Eats interviews Samina Raja, professor of urban and regional planning in the UB School of Architecture and Planning, about her work on food access, trends in the field and potential solutions. “We have one neighborhood in Buffalo that by federal guidelines is described as a food desert, but it had a thriving mom-and-pop grocery store in it. So if you went to look for grant funding, it would bring in a competitive supermarket that wouldn’t hire local people,” she said. “So defining a neighborhood as a food desert would thwart an existing, functioning grocery store because it didn’t fit the idea of a supermarket. I’m much more in favor of letting residents decide how they want to define their neighborhood and getting to the precision of the issue whether it’s a problem or an asset.”
1/7/19
An article on Reuters about a farm located on the roof of a mall in Singapore that uses vertical racks and hydroponics to grow leafy greens and herbs such as basil and mint that it sells to nearby bars, restaurants and stores interviews Samina Raja, professor of urban and regional planning in the UB School of Architecture and Planning. Agriculture makes up only about 1 percent of Singapore’s land area, so better use of space is key, she said. "Urban agriculture is increasingly being recognized as a legitimate land use in cities," she added. "It offers a multitude of benefits, from increased food security and improved nutrition to greening of spaces. But food is seldom a part of urban planning." The article appeared in news outlets around the world, including South China Morning Post, Asia & Japan Watch, England’s Daily Mail, Reuters Africa, Free Malaysia Today, Malay Mail, New Straits Times and The Borneo Post.
9/22/18
An article on PhysOrg reports Samina Raja, professor of urban and regional planning in the UB School of Architecture and Planning, is co-editor of a special issue of the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development that focuses on food systems planning efforts. "Engagement in food systems planning is no longer a new concern for local governments," the co-editors wrote in their accompanying editorial. "Local governments across North America have developed, enacted and, indeed, implemented policies that are ostensibly designed to strengthen food systems."
6/6/15
A widely published opinion piece by Samina Raja, associate professor of urban planning, argues that local governments need to pay more attention to providing residents with healthy food. Cities and counties have departments for water, education, transportation, parks and social services, but not for food. This neglect contributes to problems such as a lack of fresh food in low-income neighborhoods and high rates of diet-related disease.
5/15/15
A story on WIVB-TV reports on a new study that shows agriculture is one of the best fields for recent college graduates, and interviews Samina Raja, associate professor of urban and regional planning. “We in Western New York have the advantage of having water and land available to us so I can only imagine we’ll be one of those regions where the growth would be even higher,” she said. “We’re already seeing a great interest in farming.”

Courses

6/26/18
This graduate seminar focuses on the interactions between the built environment and human health including physical health, mental health, and social well-being. First shaped by socioeconomic, cultural, and political forces, the built environment then contributes to shaping the way people carry on activities related to everyday life, work, and play. 
6/26/18
By 2050, the world’s urban population will likely double. As urbanization proceeds rapidly, how do cities across the globe ensure the wellbeing of inhabitants? This course explores the many ways in which planning and design processes promote (or, hinder) food and health equity in urban settings.
6/26/18
A studio-workshop is a required experience in the Master of Urban Planning curriculum. Engages students in community planning and urban development or regeneration projects in Western New York with an emphasis on fieldwork and action-based learning. Under an instructor's supervision, students work collaboratively with clients, community organizations, and neighborhood groups to understand complex community planning and environmental issues, research best practices, and develop plans, comprehensive designs, and proposals. Involves lectures, discussions, fieldwork, analysis, and communication. 

Feature Project

Cover of the Planners Guide to Community and Regional Food Planning: Transforming Food Environments, Building Health Communities.

Lead author of the Planners Guide to Community and Regional Food Planning: Transforming Food Environments, Building Healthy Communities, one of the earliest guidance monographs on food systems planning published by the national American Planning Association. 

Publications

  • Raja, Samina. 2020. Planning and Pandemics COVID 19 Illuminates Why Urban Planners Should Have listened to Food Advocates all Along. Invited article for a Special Collection on Agriculture, Food, & COVID-19. Agriculture and Human Values. In Press. 
  • Frimpong Boamah, E., James Sumberg, and Samina Raja. 2020. Farming within a dual legal land system: An argument for emancipatory food systems planning in Accra, Ghana. Land Use Policy, 92, 104391. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2019.104391
  • Judelsohn, A., Orom, H., Daniela Leon, and Samina Raja. 2020. Refuge in new food environments? The role of urban planning in facilitating food equity for new Americans. Journal of Urban Affairs, 1–18.
  • Raja, Samina and Jennifer (Jenny) Whittaker.  “Community Food Infrastructure: A Vital Consideration for Planning Healthy Communities.” In Beatley, Timothy, Reuben Rainey, and Carla Jones. Healthy Environments, Healing Spaces: Current Practice and Future Directions in Health and Design. University of Virginia Press. In Press.
  • Raja, SaminaJennifer WhittakerEnjoli Hall, Kimberley Hodgson, Maryam Khojasteh, and Jeanne Leccese. Growing Food Connections through Planning: Lessons from the United States. In Integrating Food into Urban Planning. United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). In Press.
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  • Raja, Samina, Kevin Morgan, and Enjoli Hall. 2017. “Planning for Equitable Urban and Regional Food Systems.” Editorial, Special Issue on Planning and Design for Urban and Regional Food Systems: Equity, Justice and Power. Built Environment. 43 (3): 309-314.
  • Judelsohn, Alexandra, H Orom, I Kim, A Sa, H Khan, R DeVito, and Samina Raja. 2017. “Planning the City of Good (and New) Neighbors: Refugees’ Food Experiences in Buffalo, New York.” Built Environment. 43 (3): 402-416.
  • Clark, Jill, J. Freedgood, A. Irish, K Hodgson, and Samina Raja. 2017. “Fail to Include, Plan to Exclude: Reflections on Local Governments Readiness for Building Equitable Food Systems.” Built Environment. 43 (3): 315-327.
  • Whittaker, Jennifer, Jill K. Clark, Sarah SanGiovannni, and Samina Raja. 2017. Planning for Food Systems: Community-University Partnerships for Food-Systems Transformation. Metro Universities Journal. 28 (1): 7-26.
  • Raja, Samina and Chunyuan Diao. 2016. Community-Led Urban Agriculture Policy: A View from the United States. Urban Agriculture Magazine, 31:18-24.
  • Raja, Samina, Femke Hoekstra, Cecilia Delgado, Rene van Veenhuizen. 2016. Editorial: Community Involvement in Urban Planning and Policy Development to Strengthen City and Regional Food Systems. Urban Agriculture Magazine. 31:4-9.
  • Clark, Jill, Molly Bean, Samina Raja, Scott Loveridge, Julia Freedgood, and Kimberley Hodgson. 2016. Cooperative Extension and Food System Change: Goals, Strategies, and Resources. Agriculture and Human Values. 2016:1-16. doi:10.1007/s10460-016-9715-2
  • Baek, Sora, Maryam Khojasteh, Nathan Attard, and Samina Raja. 2016. "Acculturating into (In)active Commuting to School: Differences among Children of Foreign-born and US-born parents." Children, Youth, and Environment. Available on-line.
  • Raj, Subhashni, Samina Raja, and BreeAna Dukes. 2016. “Beneficial But Constrained: Impact of urban agriculture on consumption of fruits and vegetables among youth.” Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. 2016:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19320248.2015.1128865
  • Khojasteh, Maryam and Samina Raja. 2016. “Agents of Change: The Role of Immigrants in Creating Healthier Food Environments.” Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. 2016:1-29. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19320248.2015.1112759
  • Raja, Samina, Justin Booth, J. Travis Norton, Beverly Crowell, Jessie Hersher Gouck, and Kari Bonaro. 2015. “Promoting Active Commuting to School through Environmental and Policy Supports in Buffalo, New York.” Public Health Management and Practice. 21:S110-S115, May/June 2015.
  • Baek, Solhyon, Samina Raja, Jiyoung Park, Leonard Epstein, Li Yin, and James Roemmich. 2015. “Park Design and Children’s Active Play: A Micro-Scale Spatial Analysis of Intensity of Play in Olmsted’s Delaware Park.” Environment and Planning B.
  • Raja, Samina, Diane Picard, Solhyon Baek, and Cristina Delgado. 2014. “Rustbelt Radicalism: A Decade of Food Systems Planning Practice in Buffalo, New York.” Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 4(4): 173-189.
  • Feda, Denise, April Seelbinder, Solhyon Baek, Samina Raja, Li Yin, and James N Roemmich. 2014. Neighbourhood Parks and Reduction in Stress among Adolescents: Results from Buffalo, New York. Indoor and Built Environment. (24) 5: 631-639
  • Raja, Samina. 2013. “A Review of “Sustainable Food Planning: Evolving Theory and Practice.” Journal of the American Planning Association. 79 (3):3-4.
  • Yin, Li, Raja, Samina, Xiao Li, Yuan Lai, Leonard Epstein, and James Roemmich. 2013. “Neighborhood for Playing: Using GPS, GIS, and Accelerometry to Delineate Areas within which Youth are Physically Active.” Urban Studies. 50 (14): 1-18.
  • Epstein, Leonard, Samina Raja, Tinuke Oluyomi Daniel, Rocco A. Paluch, Denise E. Wilfley, Brian E. Saelens, and James N. Roemmich, Ph.D. 2012. “The Built Environment Moderates Effects of Family-Based Childhood Obesity Treatment over 2 Years.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 44 (2): 248-58.
  • Improving Health in the United States: The Role of Health Impact Assessment. The National Academies Press, 2011. [Authors in alpha order: D. Bear, R. Bhatia, S. Cantor, B. Cave, A. Diez Roux, C. Dora, J. Fielding, J Graff Zivin, Richard Jackson, J. Levy, J. Quint, S. Raja, A. Schulz, and A. Wernham.]
  • Raja, Samina and Niraj Verma. 2010. “Got Perspective? A Theoretical View of Fiscal Impact Analysis.” Planning Theory. 9 (2): 126-136.
  • Raja, Samina, Li Yin, James Roemmich, Changxing Ma, Leonard Epstein, Pavan Yadav, and Alex Ticoalu. 2010. “Food Environment, Built environment, and Women’s BMI: Evidence from Erie County, New York.”  Journal of Planning Education and Research.  29: 444-460.
  • Raja, Samina, Angelika Breinlich, and Aidan Kallas. 2010. “Partnerships to Promote Healthy Eating in School Environments: Lessons from Buffalo, New York.” Children, Youth, and Environment. 20 (2).
  • Raja, Samina, Michael Ball, Justin Booth, Philip Haberstro, and Katherine Veith. 2009. “Leveraging neighborhood-scale change for policy and program reform in Buffalo, New York.” Special issue on Active Living by Design. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 37 (6S).
  • Raja, Samina, Branden Born, and Jessica Kozlowski Russell. 2008. A Planner's Guide to Community and Regional Food Planning: Transforming Food Environments, Building Healthy Communities. Planning Advisory Service (PAS) Series. Number 554. Chicago, IL: American Planning Association.
  • Raja, Samina, Changxing Ma, and Pavan Yadav. 2008. “Beyond food deserts: Measuring and mapping racial disparities in the food environment.” Journal of Planning Education and Research. 27 (4): 469-482. 
  • Roemmich, James, Leonard Epstein, Samina Raja, and Li Yin.  2007. “The neighborhood and home environments: Disparate relationships with physical activity and sedentary behaviors in youth.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 33 (1): 29-38
  • Epstein, Leonard, Elizabeth Handley, Kelly K. Dearing, David D. Cho, James Roemmich, Rocco Paluch, Samina Raja, Youngju Pak, and Bonnie Spring.  2006.  “Purchases of food in youth: Influence of Price and Income.” Psychological Science. 17 (1): 82-89
  • Roemmich, James, Leonard Epstein, Samina Raja, Li Yin, Jodie Robinson, and Dana Winiewicz.  2006. “Association of access to parks and recreational facilities with the physical activity of young children.” Preventive Medicine. (43) 6: 437-441
  • Raja, Samina. 2013 (2006). “Kashmir” In Murer and Reveron (eds.) Flashpoints in the War on Terrorism: Understanding the Hot Spots that Stoke the Fire. New York, NY: Routledge
  • Raja, Samina. 2006. “Seeking Common Ground in Smart Growth and Food System Planning: Lessons from the Food for Growth Studio” in Teaching Smart Growth at Colleges and Universities: A Set of Model Course Prospectuses. US Environmental Planning Agency.

 

Public Service

Nationally, Dr. Raja works with the American Planning Association (APA) to bring the importance of community and regional food planning to the attention of practicing planners nationwide.  Dr. Raja serves on the steering committee of the Food Interest Group (FIG) of the American Planning Association whose mission is to advance the practice of food systems planning within the profession.

Locally, Dr. Raja has worked closely for the last 10 years with the Massachusetts Avenue Project to document how their community-based efforts can strengthen food systems and inform food policy and planning. She is a steering committee member of the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities-Buffalo coalition, led by the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Inc., which strives to promote policy and environmental change to promote healthy eating and active living in Buffalo. She currently serves on the Buffalo-Erie Food Policy Council, the first city-county food policy council in New York State. 

Education

  • Ph.D. (urban and regional planning), University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • M. Planning (housing), School of Architecture and Planning, New Delhi
  • B.Sc. (civil engineering), College of Engineering and Technology, Jamia Millia University, New Delhi

Selected activities, honors and awards

  • Faculty Excellence Award, Graduate Student Planning Association (GPSA) 2017
  • Excellence Award for University Community Partnerships University at Buffalo 2016
  • 2014 William R. And June Dale Prize for Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning Scholarship
  • Center for Whole Communities Fellow, 2012
  • 40 Under Forty , Class of 2008, 17th Annual Business First of WNY
  • 'Food for Growth' graduate studio taught by Dr. Raja won several awards including the 2005 national award from the American Institute of Certified Planners.