Nicole Foster

Assistant Professor of Sustainable Community Development

Nicole Foster, faculty
Office:Mead Hall 132
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Earned and Honorary Degrees

PhD Urban Planning and Public Policy, University of Texas at Arlington
MA Humanities, University of Texas at Arlington
BFA Theater, New York University


I began my career working in community-based theater in New York City. Realizing the potential power (and limitations) the arts have in community development, I returned to graduate school to better understand the relationship between culture, place, and social and economic inequality. After finishing my masters degree, I worked in nonprofit and public sectors for seven years, focusing on community engagement and neighborhood revitalization. Before arriving at Northland in August 2020, I spent three years in Bristol, England, researching arts-led community and economic development.

Why Northland?

I believe research and teaching should make a demonstrable positive impact in the world. Northland's commitment to sustainability, community engagement, and social justice makes it a powerful place to address pressing social, environmental, and economic challenges.


I teach the Political Process, Capitalism, Justice and Sustainability, Community Organizing, and Introduction to Sustainable Community Development.


Cities and communities serve as key sites through which to understand the continued implications of globalization, neoliberalism, and planetary environmental change. Although understanding the causes of structural inequalities remains crucial to the study of community development, attention is increasing towards analyzing emergent forms of collective action that envision and enact more sustainable and just outcomes.

One area of research is the relationship between art, culture, and community development. Although there is an extensive literature on the potential link between the arts and gentrification, there is another body of research that suggests the presence of arts can revitalize communities by rehabilitating physical spaces, building social capital, empowering marginalized identities, and offering opportunities for civic and cultural engagement. My research explores these dynamics through quantitative and qualitative analyses of creative placemaking, culture-led development and creative economies.

You can find more information about my research here.

Student Involvement

My teaching approach is both theoretically grounded and geared towards real world impact. For example, my students have developed economic development strategies for the Dallas Design District by collecting industry, socio-demographic and land use data, conducting archival research and visual surveys, interviewing local businesses, and mapping networking spaces. Students in my research methods course conducted interviews with local residents to identify barriers as well as novel approaches to community engagement across diverse generational and cultural groups. I have also taught interdisciplinary courses, which encouraged students to tackle local issues such as homelessness, economic exclusion and food deserts through creative projects.


I love to walk, hike, cook, and garden so I find Ashland—with easy access to incredible local farms, the lake, forests—a fantastic place to live.