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USC Price student drives urbanism nonprofit aimed at city dwellers

The group harnesses the talents of young people educated in civil engineering and urban planning

Germano Johansson, a Master of Planning student at the USC Price School of Public Policy, could have easily spent his summer on a beach in his native country of Brazil or current home of California. Instead, he dedicated his time to better the quality of life for people across the globe through his nonprofit COURB, short for the Institute of Collaborative Urbanism.

Johansson traces his passion for people to childhood. He was born in Curitiba, a city admired by urban planners for its public parks, Bus Rapid Transit and other amenities. As a child, he moved to a city located near the famous Iguassu Falls at the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, so that his father could take an engineering job at the second largest hydroelectric power plant in the world.

“It’s a very cosmopolitan region — a lot of people from China, a lot of people from the Middle East, Brazilians, Paraguayans, Argentinians and a lot of tourists [live there] because of the waterfalls,” Johansson said. “By living in such a culturally diverse environment, I developed a lot in my social perspective of equity and social justice.”

Broadened by this experience, Johansson returned to Curitiba to earn his civil engineering degree at the Federal University of Paraná. He also spent a year studying abroad in Portugal at the University of Porto, where he began course work in environmental and planning issues.

After graduation, he parlayed his engineering degree into jobs at a public transit consulting firm and the Ministry of Transportation. He lived in several Brazilian cities and traveled frequently for work, witnessing the economic and social disparities in different regions of the country.

Bringing his passions to USC

His aims led Johansson to apply and be admitted into Brazil’s Science Without Borders program, which provides federally funded scholarships for 600 Brazilian students studying in graduate programs in the United States. After being admitted to several top programs, he chose USC because of its emphasis on translating academic theory into professional practice — and because of the California sunshine.

At USC Price, he shifted his focus from transportation to broader issues of urban living. He gained inspiration from professors such as David Sloane, Tridib Banerjee and Lisa Schweitzer, and from courses in planning history, planning theory, comparative international development and foundations of public policy analysis.

“By being able to write and to read things that I would not do by myself, I discovered part of me that was hidden,” he said.

Starting an urban-focused nonprofit

Inspired to make lasting change, Johansson recruited a group of like-minded young people to form COURB.

The nonprofit seeks to improve the life of city dwellers by harnessing the talents of young people whose education and experience runs the gamut from civil engineering to urban planning, from architecture to geography, from software development to law. Together, they aspire to create sustainable urban solutions ranging from collaborative construction projects to community engagement.

We really want to give people tools … to reduce the stress in cities.

Germano Johansson

“We really want to give people tools, give local governments advice on how they can help the quality of life of people — to reduce the stress in cities, improve transportation, create more healthy communities,” Johansson said. “And I think that the program here [at USC] was very important for seeing the multidisciplinary part of how to achieve change.”

Taking the initiative

Marlon Boarnet, vice dean for academic affairs and director of the graduate programs in urban planning at USC Price, called Johansson “somebody who takes initiative and seizes things and runs with them in a really good way.” He added, “He’s an ambitious, innovative person, and we’re impressed by him and proud of his efforts.”

Johansson will continue his efforts by launching COURB United States next year. In December, he’ll host an informative session through Google Hangouts, and he invites people interested in learning about the organization or getting involved to email him at

“I really believe that this organization can grow even more,” he said. “This is a life project.”

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USC Price student drives urbanism nonprofit aimed at city dwellers

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