Frank J. and Deborah Popper

Frank J. Popper
Visiting Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University
B.A. Haverford; M.P.A. and Ph.D., Harvard


Contact Information

Civic Square Building, Room 356

Phone (848) 932-2790

Fax (732) 932-6564





  • Profile
  • Research
  • Buffalo Commons
  • LULUs
  • Smart Decline
  • Courses
  • Media

ProfileFrank J. Popper

Frank J. Popper teaches in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, where he also participates in the American Studies, Geography and Political Science Departments and the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program.  He teaches regularly in the Environmental Studies Program at Princeton University.  He is author of The President's Commissions (1970) and The Politics of Land-Use Reform (1981), coauthor of Urban Nongrowth: City Planning for People (1976) and coeditor of Land Reform, American Style (1984).

Professor Popper has served on the governing boards of the American Land Forum, the American Land Publishing Project, the American Planning Association, the Citizens Council on Land Use Research and Education, Ecocity Builders, and Urban Ecology.  He now serves on the boards of the National Center for Frontier Communities (formerly the Frontier Education Center) and the Great Plains Restoration Council, helped found both and chairs the board of the latter.  He has served on the editorial boards of American Land Forum, Journal of the American Planning Association, and Journal of Rural Communities and now serves on the editorial board of Housing Policy Debate, Journal of Geography, Online Journal of Rural Research and Policy: The Research Journal for the Great Plains, Urban Infill, and APA [American Planning Association] Watchdog.  He is a fellow of the American Geographical Society and a member of Shaping Tomorrow’s Urban Futures Group.

Professor Popper's article "Siting LULUs" (Planning, April 1981) created the concept of Locally Unwanted Land Uses, or LULUs, which have become part of the language of planning and the environmental justice movement.  As a result of his LULUs work, he served on a National Research Council committee on building chemical and biochemical laboratories, whose report, Laboratory Design, Construction, and Renovation: Participants, Process, and Product, appeared in 2000.  LULUs were the subject of a satirical documentary about garbage disposal, Locally Unwanted Land Use (2009).

His article "Understanding American Land Use Regulation Since 1970: A Revisionist Interpretation" (Journal of the American Planning Association, Summer 1988) won the Journal's award as its best article of the year and the Society of National Association Publications' second prize for articles in any American professional  association’s scholarly journals in 1988.  The 1995 and 2004 editions of Jay Stein’s edited collection, Classic Readings in Urban Planning, reprinted the article. 

His article "The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust" (Planning, December 1987), written with his wife, Deborah Popper, a geographer at the City University of New York and Princeton University, put forward the controversial Buffalo Commons idea that touched off a national debate on the future of the depopulating rural parts of the Great Plains region.  The Poppers' Plains work was the subject of Anne Matthews' book Where the Buffalo Roam (1992), one of four finalists for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. It appeared in a second edition in 2002. The Poppers’ work inspired Richard Wheeler’s The Buffalo Commons (1998), a novel where the concept wins out in the end.  A revised Kindle edition appeared in 2010. The Poppers and their work appeared in documentary films such as Dreams Turn to Dust (1994), The Fate of the Plains (1995), The Buffalo Commons: The Return of the Buffalo (2008) and Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison (2010).

Symposia on the Buffalo Commons came out in the American Geographical Society's Focus (Winter 1993), the Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy (Winter 1994) and North Dakota Quarterly (Fall 1996).  In 1997 the Poppers' Buffalo Commons work received the American Geographical Society's Paul Vouras Medal for regional geography, and Frank Popper received Rutgers' Presidential Award for Distinguished Public Service.  In 2001 the Poppers became associate fellows at the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska, and from 2002 to 2009 they were members of the National Prairie Writers Circle at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.

Since 1971, beginning in Chicago, his hometown, and Washington, DC, Frank Popper has been a land-use consultant to numerous government agencies, corporations, nonprofit groups, film companies, universities, and publishers. Before coming to Rutgers in 1983, he was a Gilbert White Fellow at Resources for the Future in Washington. He has been a visiting professor in the City and Regional Planning Department at Cornell University. The Poppers frequently teach together in the Environmental Studies Program, the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and the Princeton Environmental Institute at Princeton University.

In 2003 Planning named his 1981 LULUs article and their 1987 Buffalo Commons one among the 25 most significant it had published in the previous quarter-century.  The same year the Journal of the American Planning Association named his 1988 piece on understanding American land-use regulation one of four “classic articles”—“required reading for those who want to understand what the field of planning is all about”—it had published on land use since its inception in 1935. 

Buffalo Commons articles appeared twice (1991 and 2001) on the cover of High Country News. In a 2003 New York Times op-ed column, Nicholas Kristof called the Buffalo Commons “the boldest idea in America today … the biggest step to redefine America since the Alaska purchase. Pushing it would give the environmental movement a chance to be known mainly by what it’s for instead of for what it’s against.”  In 2009 Rutgers historian William O'Neill, in his book A Bubble in Time: America During the Interwar Years, 1989-2001, called it "the most heartwarming form of political incorrectness in the 1990s." 

In 2004 former Kansas Governor Mike Hayden, a Republican and previous critic of the Buffalo Commons, publicly endorsed it.  In 2009 he told the Kansas City Star that it "makes more sense every year." The Journal of the West reprinted the Poppers’ spring 2006 article, “The Onset of the Buffalo Commons,” in its fall 2009 “Best of the Decade” issue.

The Poppers are now at work on a series of articles and a book extending the Buffalo Commons concept and related approaches to other depopulating rural regions (for instance, Appalachia, the Lower Mississippi Delta and northern New England) and large and mid-sized shrinking cities (Detroit, St. Louis, Birmingham [Alabama] and Camden [New Jersey]).

Frank Popper is a graduate of Haverford College and has a masters degree in public administration and a doctorate in political science, both from Harvard University.  He and his wife’s Buffalo Commons work has been the subject of articles in publications from academic institutions where he has worked or studied: Rutgers University’s Rutgers Magazine (Winter 1992), Princeton University’s PEI [Princeton Environmental Institute] News (Winter 2003-2004), Harvard University’s Kennedy of School of Government Bulletin (Winter 2008) and Haverford College’s Haverford Magazine (Spring 2008).


Complete Curriculum Vitae (C.V.)


  • Land-use planning
  • Regional planning
  • Environmental history
  • Natural resource planning
  • The Great Plains
  • The American West
  • The American South
  • Planning for population decline


Selected Recent Writing


Multiple-Award-Winning Land-Use Article


The Best Article Whatshisname Ever Wrote (by Himself)

Frank Popper, "The Strange Case of the Contemporary American Frontier," The Yale Review, Autumn 1986, (reprinted in Major Problems in the History of the American West, Clyde Milner II [ed.], Lexington, Massachusetts: Heath [1989])


First Buffalo Commons Article by the Poppers

Frank Popper, "The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust," Planning, (December 1987)


Sample Recent Writing by the Poppers on the Buffalo Commons



Sample Recent Writing Using the Buffalo Commons Idea


First LULUs Article

Frank Popper, "Siting LULUs," Planning (April 1981)


Sample Recent Writing Using the LULUs Idea


First Smart Decline Article by the Poppers

Deborah Popper and Frank Popper, "Small Can Be Beautiful: Coming to Terms with Decline," Planning, July 2002


Sample Recent Writing Using the Smart Decline Idea


August 2013
Turning economics inside-out

April 2013

Keystone's Crude Reality, HuffPost Live

May 2011

15th Annual Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival


February 2004

"The Buffalo Commons Revisited" at Kansas State University


July 2008

Interview with the Poppers about the Buffalo Commons


October 2008Frank Popper buffalo

Office of Instructional and Research Technology Interview with Frank Popper on his Research



Environmental Justice: History and Policy in New Jersey
Aired January 30, 2011 on Humanities Connection

"Buffalo Commons" by Long Haul Productions (mp3)




February 2008

The Buffalo Commons and Soft-Edged Planning, a Bloustein School Professional Development Institute Learning Lab | PDI Home



English translation of a documentary, "The Return of the Buffalo," that appeared in German and French on the ARTE public-TV network in Europe in January 2008


Recent Newspapers

Detroit Free Press: Biden and Palin hail from 2 states having little in common (September 2008)


USA Today: Palin Sharpens Focus on West's Uneasy Relationship with Uncle Sam (September 2008)


The New York Times: A Western State of Mind (September 2008)


Recent Magazines

Article on the Great Plains in the Italian version of Conde' Nast Traveller, May 2009


Jarid Manos and Madeline Ostrander, "Life Reclaimed," Yes!, Winter 2009 issue on "Sustainable Happiness."


Recent Blogs

Dan Savage, The Stranger, "GM to Pull Out of Detroit," May 11, 2009


Buffalo Commons Pictures of Frank and Deborah Popper taken in Fairburn, South Dakota, in June 2007 by Westend Film & TV Production (New York City and Frankfurt am Main, Germany).


Buffalo Commons