Richard Smith

Richard Smith

Professor and Associate Dean for Research

 Expert in community and economic development, sustainability, urban policy, and social policy

5447 Woodward Avenue, Rm 256

 By appointment

(313) 577-2262

Richard Smith


Richard Smith, PhD is a native of Michigan. He currently serves as a core advisor for the International Ecocity Standards project of Ecocity Builders, Inc. In Detroit, he serves on the Hope Village Steering Committee and the Urban Learning and Leadership Collaborative. Smith's research has been published in Journal of Urban Affairs, Journal of Policy Practice, International Journal of Social Welfare, Social Work, Urban Studies and others.

While studying at the University of California, Berkeley, he received a US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development Doctoral Dissertation Grant. Smith also held research appointments at the California Social Work Education Center and the University of California Labor Center. Before pursuing his doctorate, he served as a Presidential Management Intern at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C., where he obtained a professional certificate in economic development finance from the National Development Council.

While studying for his master of social work at the University of Michigan, Smith obtained a Ford Foundation community development internship through the National Congress for Community Economic Development in Cleveland, Ohio. Smith also worked in Mongolia, where he served in the U.S. Peace Corps training English teachers; managed the Spring English Language Center; and consulted for UNICEF and a World Bank/UNDP project.

Click here to view Curriculum Vitae


  • Lead teacher for the Innovation in Community, Leadership and Policy concentration in the MSW program.
  • Chair, Social Work Budget Advisory Committee
  • Editor, Journal of Community Practice

Degrees and Certifications

  • Ph.D., Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley
  • M.S.W., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • M.F.A., Creative Writing, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo
  • B.A., English Language and Literature, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Awards and Honors

  • Council on Social Work Education/SAGE Award for Teaching Innovation (As member of the Social Entrepreneurship Committee)
  • Wayne State University School of Social Work Teacher of the Year
  • Urban Affairs Association Best Conference Paper
  • Society for Social Work and Research Fellow
  • Best Article in Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare
  • Rose Dobrof Award for outstanding article in the Journal for Gerontological Social Work
  • Association of Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA) Emerging Scholar Award

Teaching Interests

  • Data analysis and visualization
  • Social welfare policy
  • Social work practice in communities and organizations

Areas of Expertise


  • Urban neighborhoods
  • Immigrants and migrants
  • Organizations and firms


  • Causal Inference, Complex Sample Analysis, Quasi-experimental Design, Genetic Matching (Matching, genoud), Generalized Linear Models, Hierarchical Linear Modeling (R, Stata, SPSS), Structural Equation Models (LISREL, R) & Bayesian Model Averaging (WinBUGS, R)
  • Demographic Methods, Survival Analysis, Sequence Analysis (R, Stata, SPSS)
  • Spatial Statistics, Spatial Inequality, and Geographic Information Science (ArcGIS, QGIS, R-Spatial, OpenGeoDA)
  • Analysis of texts from participant observation, semi-structured interviews, administrative documents and other historical texts (Atlas.ti, N-Vivo, TAMS Analyzer)


  • Sustainable community development
  • Poverty, inequality and social policy
  • Organizations and firms
  • Urban neighborhood change, segregation, and migration 


  • Sustainability
  • Green
  • Ecocities
  • Community development
  • Economic development
  • Neighborhood change (e.g., gentrification, spatial assimilation, segregation)
  • Urban policy
  • Immigrant friendly communities
  • Poverty and inequality
  • Social policy
  • Technology in communities and organizations


  • Using Technology for Social Good
  • Responding to a Changing Environment

Research Interests

Smith's research interests include sustainable community development, spatial inequality, and migration. He is currently involved with the following projects:

I. Water and Health Infrastructure, Resilience and Learning (Shawn McEllmurray and Matthew Seeger, Principal Investigators)

Drinking water and public health depend on each other. In many places it is difficult to avoid and fix big problems related to water safety when they happen. We are trying to assess threats to water safety and what happens when people’s access to clean water is disrupted. To do this, we hope to better understand how drinking water and public health are connected. Understanding these connections can improve water safety. The Goals of WHIRL are to 1. Describe how drinking water, public health and communities depend on each other and the kinds of challenges different groups see; 2. Describe what we have learned from past water-related problems and how we can make drinking water and public health stronger for our future; and 3. Develop a way to warn people about water safety issues and to quickly respond to these issues.

II. Aging in Place, Spatial Equity, and Health Outcomes

Smith has been collaborating with Amanda Lehning and Nicole Mattocks of the University of Maryland, Baltimore and Kyeongmo Kim of Virginia Commonwealth University to analyze the health outcomes of older adults in different kinds of neighborhood contexts. They are also interested in how these differences vary by different kinds of vulnerability. Policy makers are promoting an attitude towards planning that is friendly to persons of all ages, but older adults may have different kinds of supports depending on the environment.

III. Immigrant Friendly Communities

Smith worked with Wayne State University students to compile a database of local governments that are actively welcoming or literally attempting to recruit immigrants to purchase homes, start businesses or contribute to needed skills in the workplace. Are these policies mostly a response to urban decline, pressure from civil society, or a result of political pressure? This work is of particular salience due to shifts in Federal policy.

Personal Interests

Smith is a patron of the visual and performing arts. In his free time he is learning guitar, piano, song writing, and music production. He loves vegan cooking and supporting local food entrepreneurs. He is an avid bike commuter. 

Courses Taught

  • SW 7065 Foundation Macro Theory and Practice
  • SW 8025 Community Assessment and Evaluation
  • SW 8045 Techniques of Data Interpretation and Presentation
  • SW 8075 Theories and Practice of Community Building and Development
  • SW 9260 Current and Historical Trends in U.S. Social Welfare Policy

Grand Challenges Project

Achieving Sustainable Cities

“Ecocities” are human settlements modeled on natural ecosystems. They provide healthy abundance to their inhabitants, replenish the resources they consume, assimilate their own waste, and are nontoxic — to themselves and to neighboring ecosystems. Ecocity Builders is an international organization, based in Oakland, CA that designs educational tools and strategies to support the development of ecocities and to reverse patterns of sprawl and excessive consumption.

As a member of Ecocity Builders and a core advisor to its International Ecocity Standards project, Smith draws on his extensive practice experience in sustainable community development and advanced training in geographic information science to develop and refine ecocity-building tools. Smith recently worked with Ecocity Builders to develop The EcoCompass, a participatory course curriculum to train community residents in the understanding of and participation in community-engaged research and ecocity planning.

The EcoCompass serves as a training manual to use Urbinsight, an online participatory mapping and resource flow visualization tool that empowers residents and community-based organizations to help determine if their city meets Ecocity Standards. 

In fall 2016, Smith and a team of five graduate social work students reviewed and edited modules of the EcoCompass curriculum. In particular, the group contributed to the sections on participatory research methodology, community development, and neighborhood outreach. Learn more

← Return to listing