Luc Anselin becomes 1st Walter Isard Chair in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning

Luc Anselin is the founding director of ASU's School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, and the school's first Walter Isard Chair. (Photo by Dave Tevis)

When ASU’s Luc Anselin received a prize in 2006 for innovative work in regional science, his friend and mentor Walter Isard, a pioneer in that field, remarked at a dinner celebration that “Luc is an independent thinker, very independent. One day he said: ‘I’m not going to do any more theory with you. I’m going to do econometrics.’ And, of course, that decision he made was the proper one.”

Fast forward to today and Anselin, who is widely published on topics dealing with spatial and regional analysis, including a much cited book “Spatial Econometrics,” is the founding director of ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, and the school’s first Walter Isard Chair.

The appointment was made by Elizabeth D. Capaldi, provost and executive vice president , who said: “Walter Isard is a leader in regional science, an early example of a new, interdisciplinary field of study to problems ranging from spatial economics to transportation to geographical information systems.

“As a scholar, Dr. Isard was a leader and innovator and as such this named Chair in his honor is most appropriate for Dr. Anselin, who is a leader at ASU. Dr. Anselin reflects the same commitment to advance new ideas across intellectual boundaries and encourage new perspectives on problems or our urban and rural environments,” Capaldi said.

Anselin, who joined ASU in July 2007, received his doctoral and master’s degrees in regional science from Cornell University. Isard, his graduate studies mentor, is an emeritus professor of economics and regional science at Cornell. When Anselin first came to Cornell to study with Isard, they both were engaged in pure theory.

“Dr. Isard forced his students to think and especially to think spatially, well before this term gained traction in the mainstream social sciences,” Anselin noted. “He was always challenging his student to push the envelope and to come up with creative solutions.”

Anselin, a Belgium native, added that “this was very different from the European tradition in which I was trained, but it was a refreshing experience that I now try to transfer to my own students.”

At ASU, Anselin serves as director of the GeoDa Center for Geospatial Analysis and Computation, a research unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences devoted to the development, implementation and application of state-of-the-art methods of geospatial analysis to policy issues in the social and environmental sciences. Anselin is one of the principal developers of the fields of spatial econometrics and is best known for his applications SpaceStat and GeoDa.

“In my work, I took the spatial perspective to a very technical econometric area of application, which Dr. Isard never pursued, “Anselin said. “But, my initial interests in complexity and integrated modeling, especially including environmental aspects into economic models paralleled his, and, while I have not been active in this area for some years, I am now returning to it at ASU, working with colleagues in the GeoDa Center on regional models and include carbon footprint, energy and water, used together with the economics, while taking a spatially explicit approach.”

Isard often found himself at the hub of a network of scholars from economics, city planning, geography, sociology, political science and other social science fields, according to Anselin, who has held appointments in those same areas.

Being the Walter Isard Chair at ASU “is very humbling, but at the same time, it is an opportunity to stress the values he held: interdisciplinarity, creativity, and tolerance and appreciation for other points of view,” Anselin said. In addition to his work in economics and regional science, Isard also is credited as a founder of the disciplines of peace science. His current research interests are conflict management and regional economics and integrated multi-region and world ecologic-economic models.

Anselin is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, as is Isard. “I am his only student to get elected to NAS. Dr. Isard was elected in 1985,” he said. Anselin also is a fellow in the Regional Science Association International. The association’s North American Regional Science Council presented Anselin with the William Alonso Memorial Prize in 2006 and the Walter Isard Award in 2005.

“The field of regional science is more relevant in the U.S. as it has ever been,” said Anselin, citing the White House Aug. 11, 2009, memorandum on “Developing Place-Based Policies.”

“In Europe, regional science has been very prominent in policymaking for years and is a very healthy academic field as well,” Anselin said. “My perspective is that computation is becoming ever more important and that is where we are positioning the GeoDa Center at ASU.”

[Source: ASU press release]

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