Matt Nohn is the Founder and Principal of Rapid Urbanism and an urban economist and development planner with 17 years of work experience in 32 countries. Matt’s work bridges smoothly between academic research and on-the-ground action: besides contracting with international clients – such as World Bank, UN, Cities Alliance, GIZ, Gates Foundation, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, or Self-Employed Women’s Association – he serves as a Loeb Fellow at Harvard and as academic faculty at multiple universities.
Matt’s work focuses on policies that connect private and public resources to self-managed organizations of the urban poor. Appreciating informality and its contribution to society, Matt learns from informal systems that arise as creative and often free-market responses to policy failures, and from interventions that aim to improve such systems. For example, he studies slums and slum upgrading programs. He then employs his findings to design curative and preventive policies that make use of truly inclusive interfaces between formal and non-formal systems: rather than forcing their formalization, bottom-up processes serve as multipliers for top-down interventions that produce an incrementally improving, sustainable and resilient habitat with vibrant social networks, access to financial services, land, shelter, basic infrastructure and life-affirming employment opportunities.
In this regard, Matt develops Rapid Urbanism: a toolbox with environmental planning, social organization, economic development and regulatory instruments that synergistically complement each other. The objective of Rapid Urbanism is to promote politically viable, administratively manageable and financially affordable tools that, collectively, empower societies to tackle rapid urbanization challenges at speed and at scale. Only this way, Rapid Urbanism can create a response that is meaningful, given the unprecedented magnitude and velocity of urbanization, constrained capacities and shortage of public resources. Rapid Urbanism addresses policy makers, community activists, architects, urban designers and planners as well as other actors in rapidly urbanizing cities of the global south.
In the realm of action, Matt has multiple ongoing assignments and collaborations. At present Matt serves as a Senior Advisor to UN-Habitat’s Urban Economy and Finance Program where he conceptualizes the Rapid Urbanism methodology for a forthcoming monograph. He is further concluding two policy analysis and strategy projects: (i) for Cities Alliance he led an investigation on how city-community partnerships for primary solid waste collection in Monrovia, Liberia have been strategically leveraged to win the fight against Ebola, and how the same structures could now be strengthened and employed to achieve other social, economic and health-related development objectives; (ii) for GIZ he coordinated the assessment of the land tenure and building rights continuum in Indian slums and of constraints to including semi-formal properties into public programs and private markets, as well as policy options for overcoming such constraints.
Furthermore, Matt has collaborated with any level of urban actor on a diverse portfolio. 2014-2015, Matt served as the technical lead for housing supply for the World Bank, successfully concluding Programmatic, Analytical and Advisory Assistance (PAAA) in Indonesia and Vietnam, the former leading to a prospective USD 450 million World Bank loan to Indonesia. Earlier he completed a research project with TU Berlin on Housing for the Urban Poor – From Local Projects to Global Networks, funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, which has been published with Ashgate. Other projects include strategies for real estate developers and housing finance companies cooperatively managed by and for the benefit of informally employed women; a GIZ study on a post-2015 international city goal; a World Bank peer review of UN-Habitat monitoring the MDG slum target; reform proposals for Gujarati planning and land management systems; a street design manual for urban India; and world-wide reviews of the grants to Slum Dwellers International, of the urban livelihood portfolio and a strategy refresh for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In summary, Matt has authored numerous business plans, reports for international agencies, academic journal articles and monographs.
Starting his professional career as a bricklayer in 1996, today Matt serves as a Loeb Fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Design. He further holds postgraduate degrees in Public Policy (Harvard Kennedy School of Government), International Affairs (Stiftungskolleg) and Architecture and Planning (TU Darmstadt). Since 2004, he has served as faculty in Germany and India. 2012-2013, Matt acted as Visiting Professor for Urban Management at TU Darmstadt, Germany where he raised 3 million euro external funding for the Mundus Urbano Program. As McCloy Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School of Government he won the 2008 Outstanding Policy Analysis Award for his study Market-based Affordable Housing in Urban India, which contributed to the successful formation of two social housing enterprises in India.