Dr. Christine Wen specializes in economic development planning. Her current research focuses on the impact of business incentives and other growth-oriented policies on educational equity, housing affordability, and environmental justice.
Christine received her Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University in August 2019. Supported mainly by the C.V. Starr Fellowship, her interdisciplinary dissertation research bridges scholarship from development sociology, critical geography, political economy, and labor studies. During this time, she worked as a teaching assistant at Cornell University for courses on American planning practice, global cities, and inferential statistics. She was also part of an award-winning team that studied how inequitable tax systems contribute to fiscal stress in upstate New York.
While completing her master's degree at Columbia University, she spent a year researching at the Earth Institute how climate cycles affect groundwater levels. Prior to that, she spent two summers working for the cosmic microwave background radiation group at Princeton University while completing a bachelor's degree in physics there. Before that, at age 15, she received the professional performer's diploma (ARCT) from the Canadian Royal Conservatory of Music with First-Class Honors with Distinctions.
Christine hails from Vancouver, Canada. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, playing the piano, boxing, cooking, thrifting, boating, protecting her plants from her cat Salem, and roaming the woods of Northern Virginia with her 80-lb boxer mix Arthur.
tax incentives and educational inequality
This project is part of an emerging area of research that aims to center children and schools in economic development planning and seek community-based solutions to wicked problems. One common tool is tax incentives, many of which divert funds from schools and accomplish dubious results. Places compete with one another by offering ever-bigger incentive packages, even though all might be better off if no one does. The power imbalance between the growth coalitions and public service providers creates a thorny dilemma that requires collective effort to address. The papers in this series examine the importance of data transparency in mutual intergovernmental accountability and the impact of tax abatement on educational inequality. Findings suggest that the costs of tax incentives are inequitably distributed, which could worsen socioeconomic, racial, and regional inequality.
tax caps and local government revenues
Almost all U.S. state governments impose some form of limitation on their taxing and spending by local governments. This research contributed a 50-state database that disassembles these limits to quantify their stringency for different types of local governments (Colorado's TABOR wins this one). The measure is then used to test the impact of tax caps on local governments' revenue structures and found that more stringent TELs restrict counties' overall revenues and force cities to shift to alternative, often more regressive, revenue sources as well as incur more debt. State aid mostly does not make up the difference. These findings are troubling as counties provide many critical social services. This research suggests that states need to tailor their tax caps to local conditions.
informal schooling for China's migrant children
One key feature of urbanization in contemporary China is the exclusion of rural migrants from certain basic urban services. To this day, about two million migrant children are still denied access to urban public schools. This exclusion has resulted in the proliferation of low-fee private schools in China's cities that almost exclusively serve rural migrant children. Scholars disagree on the extent to which low-fee private schools can adequately supply education to poor children in developing countries. This research contributes to the debate with a qualitative study in interior China where the privatization of education intersects with rural-urban migration, using grounded theory to examine how informal schooling affects settlement and integration for migrant families. Fieldwork in the country’s interior region reveals that migrant schools are oriented toward meeting the immediate needs of migrant families but do so at the cost of children’s future prospects and thus perpetuate urban inequality.
when and where to put down roots
This project examines the determinants of urban homeownership in destination cities for China's rural migrant families. For the past few years, the country's urbanization policy has focused on expanding social provisions for rural migrants so as to encourage them to put down roots in the city. There are two dominant theories in the international literature on the relationship between housing ownership and welfare access. Competing theories suggest that housing can be either a substitute for or a result of welfare. Using national survey data, this research shows that ties to the city such as enrollment in local pensions and health insurance as well as co-habitation with family are associated with a higher likelihood of homeownership. This suggests that rural migrants might be more willing to purchase homes, which is a policy goal, if the risk and precarity are lowered and that cities should adopt a family-friendly approach.
This is a doctoral dissertation project looking at Chinese government policy on migrant integration and local implementation of this central directive. By 2013-2014, a plan had been formulated to get more rural residents settled in cities and entitled to the same services as urban dwellers. However, the geopolitical configuration that has resulted from decades of regionally uneven policies presents a major roadblock. As megacities increasingly tighten restrictions on migrants, this research investigates the approach of ordinary cities toward receiving and integrating rural mgirants.
groundwater management and governance
Groundwater is a common-pool resource that poses unique governance challenges. This research investigates the temporal and spatial relationship between groundwater levels and extraction rates, precipitation anomalies, and climate cycles. The results show sensitivity to the Pacific decadal oscillations and widespread decline, particularly the central and southern Ogallala aquifer, lower Mississippi basin, the southeast basin, and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. California and Nevada were chosen for case studies for their contrasting approaches to managing groundwater in close proximity. These show that more fragmented governance as is the case of California is linked to spatial unevenness in groundwater trends as well as data collection frequency, suggesting the need for state oversight.
Christine Wen. "Corporate subsidies versus public education: How tax abatements cost New York public schools."
Christine Wen. "The Revenue Impact of Corporate Tax Incentives on South Carolina Public Schools 2017-2021."
Financial Exposure: Rating the States on Economic Development Transparency (p. 12-35 of 36).
Christine Wen et al. "Mapping Amazon 2.0: Where the online giant locates and why."
Christine Wen and Greg LeRoy. Revealing the True Costs of Tax Incentives: Eight Critical Improvements Needed for GASB Statement No. 77.
Connor Rigney and Christine Wen. "School boards must speak up when money goes away." The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Connor Rigney and Christine Wen. "NY school boards needn't be powerless against corporate tax breaks." The Post-Standard.
Christine Wen and Arlene Martínez. "Opinion: Black and Brown students pay for this tax break. Texas should not extend it." The Houston Chronicle.
Christine Wen et al. Abating Our Future: How Students Pay for Corporate Tax Breaks. Good Jobs First.
John Mozena and Christine Wen. "Opinion: How economic development is killing Michigan school funding." The Detroit News.
Christine Wen. 2020. "Educating rural migrant children in interior China: The promise and pitfall of low-fee private schools." International Journal of Educational Development 79.
Christine Wen et al. "The revenue impact of corporate tax incentives on South Carolina Public Schools."
Christine Wen, Yuanshuo Xu, Yunji Kim, and Mildred Warner. 2020. "Starving counties, squeezing cities: Tax and expenditure limits in the U.S." Journal of Economic Policy Reform 23 (2), 101-119.
Christine Wen et al. "Mapping Amazon.com: Where the online giant locates its warehouses and why."
Christine Wen and Jeremy Wallace. 2019. "Toward human-centered urbanization? Housing ownership and access to social insurance among migrant households in China." Sustainability 11 (13), 3567-3581.
Christine Wen. Review of Eggleston, K., Jean Oi, and Yiming Wang (eds.) Challenges in the Process of China's Urbanization. Stanford, CA: Shorenstein APARC. Pacific Affairs Review 91:2.
Hector Chang and Christine Wen. "Tax caps in other states: Lessons for New York."
Upmanu Lall, Tess Russo, Christine Wen, and Mary Williams. "The impact of climate change on U.S. groundwater systems."
Christine Wen et al. "Assessment of water resources, green infrastructure, and utility rates in San Diego County."
Christine Wen. Putting Pension Costs in Context: How Corporate Tax Breaks are Diverting State Revenue Needed for Public Employees' Retirement.
Esri User Conference
"Where do Amazon.com locate its warehouses?" (in absentia)
"How tax incentives constrain K-12 education." Delivered at the Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA) Conference in Boston, Massachusetts (virtual).
IRE DBEI Symposium
"Researching the impact of tax abatements on educational inequality: A How-to Guide." Delivered at the Investigative Reporters and Editors inaugural Diversity, Belonging, Equity, and Inclusion (DBEI) Symposium in Baltimore, Maryland.
"Making the students pay? The impact of tax incentives on school finance." Delivered at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) Annual Conference in Miami, Florida.
Interview with America's Work Force (AWF) Union Podcast on new report "Abating our future: How students pay for corporate tax breaks"
Interview with In the Public Interest (ITPI) on "Corporate subsidies not only rarely work, but they're also starving public schools"
Interview with the Sanctuary for Independent Media, Hudson Mohawk Radio Network on how "Corporate tax breaks hurt schools"
"Using the Tax Break Tracker." Delivered virtually at the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) Conference.
"Public subsidy research in union organizing." Delivered at the AFL-CIO Strategic Training for Intermediate/Advanced Researchers in Silver Springs, Maryland.
"Migrant housing ownership in urban China: Evidence from survey data." Delivered at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) Annual Conference in Buffalo, New York.
"Development, education, and the urban integration of rural migrants in interior China." Delivered at the 2018 International Conference of China Urban Development in Glasgow, U.K.
"Linking fiscal stress and social equity: A municipal toolbox." Delivered at the New York State City Managers Association (NYSCMA) Annual Conference in Ithaca, New York.
"Development, education, and the urban integration of rural migrants in interior China." Delivered at the Urban Affairs Association (UAA) Annual Conference in Toronto, Canada.
"Development, education, and the urban integration of rural migrants in interior China." Delivered at the Cornell Contemporary China Initiative Student Symposium "China in Transition" in Ithaca, New York.
"Engineering urbanization and growth in China's poor periphery." Delivered at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.
"Urbanization as development: Understanding China's new growth strategy." Delivered at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Conference in San Francisco, California.
"Restrictiveness of TEL (tax and expenditure limits) and impact on local fiscal stress." Delivered at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) Annual Conference in Houston, Texas
"New York property tax cap: Implications for local fiscal health." Delivered at the 2014 Conference "Local Fiscal Stress: State: State Austerity Policy and Creative Local Response" in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning, Cornell University
M.S. in Urban Planning, Columbia University
A.B. in Physics, Princeton University
Cornell University C.V. Starr Fellowship ($21,620)
Cornell University East Asia Program Travel Grant ($1,250)
Institute for the Social Sciences Research Travel Grant ($2,000)
Cornell University Research Travel Grant ($2,000)
Cornell University Departmental Research Travel Grant ($1,500)
Various Cornell University Conference Travel Grants ($1,315)
Quoted in MinnPost: "There's little evidence that film and TV tax credits work. Why Minnesota lawmakers funded a new one anyway. Click here to read.
Quoted in Chalkbeat Philadelphia: "Report stating Philadelphia schools lose $112 million a year to tax breaks is incomplete, city says" Click here to read.
Quoted in The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Philly schools lose more money to tax breaks than any district in the country, a new report says." Click here to read.
Quoted in Bloomberg CityLab: "What corporate tax breaks mean for school funding." Click here to read.
Lead-author report featured in WCSC Live 5 News interview with the Executive Director of Good Jobs First
Lead-author report featured in "Costly corporate tax breaks are taking away money to improve South Carolina's schools" by Kendall Deas in The State. Click here to read.
Lead-author report featured in "Tracking the elusive tax dodge" by Paul Bowers in Brutal South. Click here to read.
Lead-author StoryMap featured in "Why are local governments paying Amazon to destroy Main Street in Fortune. Click here to read.
Cornell CRP 5450: Inferential Statistics for Planning and Public Policy
Cornell CRP 5450: Inferential Statistics for Planning and Public Policy
Cornell CRP 5450: Inferential Statistics for Planning and Public Policy
Cornell CRP 1101: The Global City
Cornell CRP 2000: The Promises and Pitfalls of Contemporary Planning
Good Jobs First (economic development, tax policy)
June 2019 - May 2022
Cornell University East Asia Program (environment, urbanization)
September 2018 - May 2019
Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations (urbanization, migration)
June 2016 - May 2019
Cornell University Community and Regional Development Institute (public finance, tax policy)
June 2015 - December 2015
The Earth Institute at Columbia University (water, sustainability)
June 2013 - May 2014
Columbia University Department of Urban Planning (poverty reduction, neighborhood change)
September 2012 - December 2013
ArcGIS, Stata, MATLAB, ATLAS.ti, IMPLAN, R
(completed coursework in Java, C, C++)
English; Chinese mandarin
Completed college advanced reading coursework
Completed Canadian Grade 12 coursework
American Planning Association
Canadian Institute of Planners
Labor and Employment Relations Association