Xavier Briggs

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Xavier de Souza Briggs
Born 1968
Miami, Florida
Residence Cambridge, MA, USA
Nationality U.S.
Institutions Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Alma mater Stanford University
Harvard University
Columbia University
Doctoral advisor Robert Crain
Other academic advisors Herbert Gans
Spouse Cynthia

Xavier de Souza Briggs (born 1968) is an American sociologist and planner, known for his work on social capital, civic capacity, and community building, as well as the concept of the "geography of opportunity," which addresses the consequences of race and class segregation for the well-being and life prospects of the disadvantaged. In January 2009, Briggs went on a public service leave from MIT, appointed by President Barack Obama to become Associate Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. At OMB, he oversaw policy and budget for six cabinet agencies (Housing and Urban Development, Treasury, Commerce, Transportation, Justice, and Homeland Security) as well as the Small Business Administration, General Services Administration, and other agencies, with a discretionary budget totaling approximately $225 billion per year.1 He returned to the MIT faculty in August 2011.

He is Associate Professor of Sociology and Urban Planning (with tenure) in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).2 He is also a former faculty member of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He was a presidential appointee in the Clinton Administration, serving as a senior policy official at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Professional life

In New York City, Briggs helped develop the now widely emulated "quality-of-life" planning approach to neighborhood revitalization, and in 1996 his work with the Comprehensive Community Revitalization Program in the South Bronx won the first President's Award of the American Planning Association. He began his teaching career at Harvard, took a leave to work in the Clinton Administration from 1998 to 2000, returned to Harvard and, in 2005, moved to MIT. He is also a faculty affiliate of The Urban Institute, a leading nonpartisan policy research organization in Washington, DC.

Briggs' research centers on economic opportunity, racial and ethnic diversity, and democratic problem-solving in cities worldwide. His dissertation, on housing desegregation and the social networks of poor young people, won the 1997 best dissertation prize of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management. In 2002, he was appointed a Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Scholar at MIT. His edited book, The Geography of Opportunity (Brookings, 2005), won the top book award in planning in 2007 (the Paul Davidoff Award), and 'Democracy as Problem Solving' (MIT Press, 2009) was a finalist for the coveted C. Wright Mills book award. He is the founder of two online tools for self-directed learning in the field of civic leadership and local problem-solving: The Community Problem-Solving Project @ MIT, sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Working Smarter in Community Development, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation. In March 2010, he and co-authors Susan Popkin and John Goering published 'Moving to Opportunity: The Story of An American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty' (Oxford University Press), a CHOICE "highly recommended" title and the culmination of more than a decade of work on housing opportunity and the effects of high-risk neighborhoods on poor children and their families.

He has been an adviser to the Rockefeller Foundation, the World Bank, and other leading organizations and is a member of the Aspen Institute's Roundtable on Community Change. Briggs has served as an expert witness for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in civil rights litigation. His views and research have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Salon.com, National Public Radio, and other major media.3

Personal life

Born in Miami, Florida, Briggs spent the early part of his life in Nassau, Bahamas, where his family - with roots in the Black Seminole nation, Brazil, and Europe - has lived since the early 19th century. His mother, Angela, is the daughter of Bill Aranha, Nassau's crown lands officer during the 1940s, and his father was an out island doctor.4

Raised by his mother, Briggs moved back to the U.S. in 1976, several years after The Bahamas secured independence from Britain. In Miami he attended Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, a Catholic high school with strong ties to Cuba and the Cuban-American community. He later received a BS in engineering from Stanford University, worked with the innovative planning firm of Moore Iacofano Goltsman in Berkeley, CA, and won a Rotary Scholarship to study education and community development in Brazil, living in Salvador, Bahia. In 1993 he earned a Master in Public Administration (MPA) from Harvard University. In 1996 he earned a PhD in sociology and education from Columbia University, where he studied under Robert Crain, Herbert Gans, Charles Kadushin, and other scholars. While a student, Briggs designed and taught the second version of the Unseen America course at Stanford, a pioneering approach in democratic experiential education, and joined with David Lempert and others to publish a book on this alternative approach to education.

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