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Photograph by Guido Vitti for Bloomberg BusinessweekKate Ascher is a principal at and leads the U.S. practice of Happold Consulting, the urban development subsidiary of the British engineering firm Buro Happold. She is also part of the full-time faculty at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where she serves as the Milstein Professor of Urban Development and teaches a variety of courses in the Real Estate Development program. Her areas of expertise include waterfront planning and development, privatization and municipal services, and infrastructure planning—including transportation, parks, and energy.
Prior to joining Happold and Columbia, Ascher led development for Vornado Realty Trust in New York, where she oversaw a number of major commercial real estate projects involving public transportation entities and facilities. She joined Vornado after four years in the Bloomberg administration, where, as executive vice president for infrastructure at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, she oversaw a wide range of infrastructure and real estate development projects and portfolios across the five boroughs of New York City.
Ascher’s work with cities has also encompassed places outside the U.S. She has worked in London, where she directed the privatization and project finance unit of Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC) Corporate Finance and was involved in numerous infrastructure and transportation deals in the U.K., Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Prior to that, she worked as a management consultant at Harbridge House Europe, undertaking strategic planning and market research work on behalf of major multinationals.
In addition to her professional experience, Ascher is a published author and has written a number of books about cities. Her first book, The Politics of Privatization, looked at the way cities deliver municipal services. More recently she published The Works: Anatomy of a City, which explored the invisible infrastructure that supports life in New York City, and The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper, which examined how skyscrapers around the world work as a form of “city in the sky.” She is currently working on a new book on transportation, focusing primarily on the systems that keep people and cargo moving between and within the world’s urban areas.
Ascher holds a B.A. from Brown University and M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees from the London School of Economics. Among other activities, she sits on the boards of the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center and the Friends of Hudson River Park.