Ph.D., Urban and Regional Planning, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2003
Master of Urban Planning, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1995
Architect Dipl., Architecture, University of Architecture and Civil Engineering, Sofia, Bulgaria, 1991

My focus as a researcher and educator is on the interactions between social values and the urban built environment. I aim to further understanding of the relationships between social processes, cultural values and urban forms, and to create opportunities to make cities more equitable and sustainable. In my scholarship, I am committed to diversity and active public service. As an educator, I seek to help students appreciate the complexity of urbanism and develop the passion and skills necessary to improve urban life. My scholarship has both a theoretical and an applied perspective. I strive to enhance the quality of urban environments by developing a richer theoretical understanding of the social processes and cultural values that influence their evolution. I also strive to provoke critical debates within the urban planning and design professions and thus contribute to innovation in practice.

I conduct research along three main themes:

Comparative urban form with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe – I research the substantial social and spatial changes which have occurred in urban environments in Central and Eastern Europe since the end of communism in 1989. I aim to link these changes to processes caused by globalization in other parts of the world. This line of research has resulted in two books: Iron Curtains: Gates, Suburbs and Privatization of Space in the Post-socialist City (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) and Twenty Years of Transition: The Evolution of Urban Planning in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, 1989-2009 (with Kiril Stanilov; UN-HABITAT, 2009).

Iron Curtains: Gates, Suburbs and Privatization of Space in the Post-socialist City was awarded Honorable Mention for the 2013 Davis Center Book Prize in Social and Political Studies. The prize is sponsored by Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, for an outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eurasia, or Eastern Europe in anthropology, political science, sociology, or geography. The jury stated: “Sonia Hirt provides a thoroughly researched and brilliantly written study of post-socialist urbanism that is a must read for anyone interested in contemporary urban politics.”

Twenty Years of Transition: The Evolution of Urban Planning in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, 1989-2009 was an invited, peer-reviewed monograph commissioned by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

2. Comparative urban planning and land-use regulation – I contrast American and European approaches to land-use planning and regulation. My new book, Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land-use Regulation, was published by Cornell University Press (2014).

Zoned in the USA received several major honors. First, it was granted the Honorable Mention for the 2015 Best Book Award by the Urban Affairs Association (UAA). The UAA jury stated: “Within this very competitive field of entries, your book received high ratings and unanimous praise. The book advances our understanding of land-use regulation in ways that are comprehensive and intellectually challenging.” Second, it was shortlisted for the Best Book Award by the International Planning History Society. Third, it was named one of the Ten Best Books in urban planning, design, and development by Planetizen, the most popular urban planning news website. Finally, it was included in the list of Outstanding Academic Titles by Choice Magazine, the publication outlet of the Association of College and Research Libraries. Choice Magazine’s list comprises what are considered the best, or top 10%, of academic titles every year. Zoned in the USA was also cited by the Washington Post

3. Urban planning theory and history – I study the evolution of ideas of “good” (i.e., ideal or desirable) urban form. I strive to place the evolution of these urban planning and design ideas in relation to ideas in other fields in the arts and humanities and the social and policy sciences. I have been especially interested in the ideas advanced by Jane Jacobs and have an edited volume on this topic: The Urban Wisdom of Jane Jacobs (with D. Zahm; Routledge, 2012; paperback edition 2014).

I am committed to pursuing research that crosses the borders of architecture, urban planning, urban design, the humanities and the social sciences (e.g., geography, legal studies, and sociology). I am the Co-editor of the Journal of Planning History and serve on the editorial boards of four other journals: Current Research on Cities, Journal of Urban Cultural Studies, Planning Practice & Research, and Urban Design International

My research has been funded by organizations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Association of University Women, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, the Fulbright Program, and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.

In 2011, while on research-study leave from Virginia Tech, I served as a Visiting Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University.  At Harvard, I taught Urbanism in Europe and served as a design critic in the core planning studio.