Traditionally, Indian cities relied upon a combination of a formal municipal collection and processing; informal recycling, collection and processing; and waste pickers. However, urban sprawl and a lack of sites for new landfills have outpaced the capacity of traditional systems. The response has been to turn to private enterprise to manage waste, but this approach comes with severe draw backs in terms of social and environmental justice.
India’s waste pickers are vulnerable to changes in solid waste management policies. A shift towards more formal privatized systems, leaves little room for this large labor force. Privatized waste management also hinges on maximizing profits at scale, thus leading to greater reliance on landfills. This disproportionately effects the most vulnerable groups in cities, since they do not have the political power to resist the siting of new landfills.
In her 2014 thesis, Caroline Howe argues for Indian cities to build the capacity of the informal waste management sector and to invest in decentralized waste processing. By investing in these ways, Caroline finds, Indian cities would develop a more sociall- just, economical, and environmentally friendly waste management system. In addition, by protecting a large population of workers in India, cities would be more resilient to economic and social challenges.
Are the models used to evaluate the costs and benefit of natural mineral extraction reliable? Do they accurately account for the most important benefits and costs communities are likely to experience during a process like fracking?
In Sara Lynn Hess’s 2014 thesis, Extracting the Economic Benefits of Natural Resources in the Marcellus Shale Region, she highlights the key challenges associated with valuing the impacts and products of shale extraction. Focusing on West Virginia and Pennsylvania, Sara compares the benefits of resource extraction with their capture and distribution costs. In addition, she develops a simple framework that communities can use to assess whether their utility companies and regulators are focusing on the “right” costs and benefits prior to allowing drilling to begin.
In her case studies of Virginia and Pennsylvania, Sara illuminates the natural resource curse, wherein areas rich in resources often fail to realize the economic and social gains associated with extraction while bearing substantial immediate costs. Both Virginia and Pennsylvania have experienced severe environmental damages while realizing limited economic booms. Both states have approached shale gas mining with the hope of limiting damage and ensuring the sustainability of the natural gas industry. However, Sara’s analysis shows that uncertainties abound, both in terms of the long term commitments of the companies involved and in the ability of regulators to limit environmental damage. To learn more about these uncertainties read Sara’s thesis, here.
Can grass-roots innovation be scaled-up through the design and maintenance of social and policy networks?
The states are the “laboratories of democracy. ” They are often the source of new policy ideas, including new strategies for encouraging investment in renewable energy. Some of these ideas spread; others don’t. The process of diffusion is inherently a social process; implementation is achieved via a network of actors. Ryan Cook’s thesis looks closely at the way in which Solarize, a community-based energy program has moved across the country.
Ryan Cook (MCP ’14) examines the way policy actors adopt and adapt innovative ideas to their particular needs. Through a study of Solarize on both the west coast and the east coast, Ryan documents the way in which network structure can facilitate the spread of energy programs. He argues that policy innovations are rarely entirely original. Instead, they are often an amalgamation of ideas which have been implemented elsewhere. The pathways that new policy ideas follow lead to substantial differentiation. For example, the core elements of Solarize include competitive contractor selection, community-based outreach, public education, and limited sign-up campaigns. However, as Solarize moved around the country, there are some versions that involve multiple contractors as well as different technologies.
By analyzing the social networks underlying the process of policy adoption, Ryan has discovered that issue-specific relationships that cross multiple policy networks are important. He has also identified organizational creativity, programmatic flexibility, and a commitment to continuous learning (rather than just imitation) as important explanations for why and how policy innovations diffuse. Read more about the ways in which grass roots innovation can be scaled-up through the design and maintenance of social and policy networks. Ryan’s thesis complete thesis can be accessed here.
The great variety of services that natural systems provide is rarely recognized. From water filtration to flood prevention to carbon sequestration, these ecosystem services are crucial to supporting both natural and human life. The cost of preserving these services is often far eclipsed by the cost of replacing them mechanically should they be lost, a point that is rarely appreciate economic markets. What can be done to correct this and ensure that natural systems continue to provide their much-needed benefits?
In his dissertation, Tijs van Maasakkers (PhD ’13) examines one solution that has been eagerly advanced in environmental circles: the ecosystem services marketplace. Similar to other environmental markets like carbon cap and trade schemes, ecosystem services markets are based on the idea that a developer who is likely to damage the ability of natural systems to provide their full benefits would have to pay for improvements elsewhere to offset these impact. In an early example, increases in water temperatures in Oregon’s Tualatin River threatened the survival of a number of local salmon species, a problem often corrected at great expense mechanically by chilling wastewater before releasing it. Instead, the local water utility opted to offer incentives to local landowners to plant shade trees along the river’s banks, cooling the river naturally, effectively, and at a lower cost.
If implemented well, ecosystem services markets could allow for continued economic progress without sacrificing natural systems. But, as Tijs shows in his study of efforts to create ecosystem services markets in the Willamette River basin and in the Chesapeake Bay, such markets are difficult to develop and face three important structural obstacles.
First, people care deeply about particular places, and tend not to view the services that are provided in one place as transferrable to another. Second, metrics that account for ecosystem services are not yet consistent, comprehensive, and universally accepted. Third, it has been difficult to establish a consensus among effected stakeholders about what these markets should look like.
These obstacles limit the potential of ecosystem services markets, and if they cannot be addressed, it is difficult to imagine how markets can be scaled up. Read more about the promises and pitfalls of ecosystem service marketplaces in Tijs’ dissertation.
“Energy transitions are an unmistakable part of today’s public discourse. Whether shaped by fuel price fluctuation, environmental and security concerns, aspects of technology change, or goals to improve energy access, attention regularly turns to ways in which to improve energy pathways. Yet what is understood about energy system change is still emerging.” In a recent article, EPP Alum Kathleen Araujo (PhD, 2013) explores the evolving field of energy transitions with an aim to connect and enlarge the scholarship. Kathleen discusses examples of energy transitions, while providing analysis of the core ideas on trade-offs, urgency, and innovation. She also reviews global developments in energy, related mega-trends, the sources of the data we use to analyze energy, and opportunities for further research. Dr. Kathleen Araujo is a research fellow with the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program and Project on Managing the Atom at the Belfer Center in the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She will move to Stony Brook University, where she will work as an Assistant Professor in the Technology and Society Department, College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. If you are an alumnus/a of the EPP program and have recently published or produced research, please send your notices to Takeo Kuwabara, so we can share your achievements as well. To see a complete copy of Dr. Araujo’s article, click here.
There are few urban issues that touch as many nerves as parking, which resides in the often uncomfortable overlap of transportation, environmental protection, land use, and economic growth. To determine how much parking cities should have—and where that parking should be—a wide variety of stakeholder need to interact in a complex political process. Debates over parking policy, it turns out, are rarely just about parking.
In her thesis, Cara Ferrentino (MCP ’13) took a close look at the formation of parking policy in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She shows how three distinct groups—the “growth coalition”, “limited growth” advocates, and “smart growth” bureaucrats—have nudged the city into adopting and reforming policies regarding parking supply.
Cambridge was forced to confront parking in the 1970s, when EPA regulations enforced a mandatory parking freeze on the city’s non-residential parking supply to ensure compliance with the Clean Air Act. But, driven by concerns over the freeze’s impact on Cambridge’s commercial growth, the city lifted the freeze in 1997 and adopted instead a variety of demand-side approaches to managing parking supply. Today, Cambridge uses a number of incentives to encourage the use of alternative modes of transportation. These are often implemented in cooperation with the city’s major employers.
Cara evaluates the success of these efforts and finds that, while many employers have taken steps to encourage alternative transportation, the city nonetheless builds more non-residential parking than it uses. She notes that the city will need to rethink both the supply side and the demand side of parking policy in the near future if it is going to provide just the right amount of parking in all the right places. Read more about the past, present, and future of parking policy in Cambridge in Cara’s thesis.
Encouraging energy efficiency among residents and businesses is hard work, not least because of the absence of accessible and easily understandable information about energy consumption. Most people don’t understand everything on their energy bills, don’t know if they’re using more energy than they should, and have no way to compare their energy use to that of their neighbors. This information is often guarded closely by utilities, presenting energy efficiency advocates with a formidable barrier.
In her thesis, Alexis Howland (MCP ’13) sketches the possibilities afforded by better energy consumption data. She surveyed efforts across the country to share energy efficiency data. Alexis focuses on incorporating these data into mapping applications—which could lay bare the differences in energy consumption among homes and add valuable information to the housing market. These efforts could be combined to allow no-touch energy assessments that offer actionable suggestions for homeowners who want to improve their energy efficiency.
In a survey of five previous attempts at energy mapping, Alexis notes a common theme: the developer’s inability to access or make public energy consumption data at the household level. This, Alexis explains, is due to privacy concerns that have so far prevented such data from being used to its full potential.
Alexis explores ways of unleashing these data. Several cities—including Boston—have recently passed ordinances that require the disclosure of energy consumption data, and the federal government has offered a framework for voluntary energy data disclosure through the Green Button Initiative. While these efforts must overcome serious privacy concerns, they have the potential to make public vital information about the way people and buildings nationwide use energy. Read more about Alexis’ survey of the opportunities for and barriers to energy mapping projects in her thesis.
In his thesis, Tuan-Yee Ching (MCP ’13) provides a framework to consider the different ways that cities view themselves—and their initiatives—as “smart.” In a six-city study that includes interviews with officials in Boston, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Singapore, and Rio de Janeiro, Tuan-Yee discovered four different ways that cities consider themselves to be smart.
A city may call itself smart because it adopts new technologies and adapts itself to their use, as with Rio’s deployment of a suite of advanced weather sensors to better track and respond to local weather impacts. A city may also be smart for adopting new collaborative processes to work with stakeholder communities in innovative new areas, like San Francisco’s “Unhackathon” that crowd-sourced ideas to optimize taxi service with technological improvements. Cities may be smart because of a commitment to learning and adaption informed by lessons from other cities and the use of performance metrics, as in Boston’s participation in the G7 network of American cities that offers a forum for idea-sharing between municipal Chief Information Officers. Or cities may call themselves smart because they make investments in the technology sector that promise future returns, as with Singapore’s “Living Lab” fund, which offers public sector support for ventures in clean energy, urban mobility, IT, and public safety.
Tuan discusses the implications for these four very different notions of what a smart city really is, and he provides a series of recommendations for policymakers to keep in mind as they try to make their cities smarter—whatever that means to them. Read more in his thesis.
South Asia’s coastal mega-cities are at risk. With staggering populations and high probabilities of flooding related to climate change, these cities face an extreme adaptation challenge. Distressingly, these cities often lack formal processes for enhancing climate resilience, focusing their planning efforts instead on broader economic development goals. What steps can these cities take to enhance their resiliency and increase their safety from the effects of climate change?
Madhu Dutta-Koehler (PhD ’13) examines this problem in her dissertation. Madhu looks closely at the capacity for adaptation planning in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Kolkata, India. She finds that these cities are remarkably constrained in the resources and attention that they are able to dedicate to climate adaptation efforts explicitly, but that they have nonetheless implemented a series of tangible projects related to enhancing resilience.
The cities have done this by aligning adaptation efforts with broader development goals. As part of a comprehensive effort to improve Dhaka’s future water supply, for example, planners have taken steps that will also mitigate the impact of climate-related flooding in the city. These “no regrets” moves that embed climate planning within broader policy goals have allowed the cities to make progress on climate adaption even though it is not being an explicit planning priority.
Madhu provides a helpful way of thinking about adaptation efforts like this, labeling them as “contingent planning.” Contingent planning postulates a loose approach to climate change mitigation. It builds gradually towards long-term adaptation goals, but allows the details of implementation to conform to overall development goals. This sort of informal climate planning may not be ideal, but it might just be what saves the coastal mega-cities of South Asia. Read more about Madhu’s work in her dissertation.
Cities have a massive thirst for water, but their needs must be balanced against those of agriculture and the natural environment in
determining how fresh water will be allocated. In California, an emerging market for water transfers allows various water districts to negotiate for additional supplies. In theory, areas with unmet water needs will contract with areas that have surpluses.
As Keith Tanner (MCP ’13) notes, however, this market-based system of allocating water resources does not always operate efficiently. Keith analyzes a failed negotiation between the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Modesto Irrigation District to transfer water supplies from agricultural to urban use. Though initially promising, the deal fell apart. The press blamed the intervention of a stakeholder coalition opposed to transferring long-term ownership of water outside their agricultural region.
Keith attributes the failure of the deal to the interaction of three overlapping spheres of conflict that combined to make the deal politically infeasible. First was internal conflict within the Modest Irrigation District. Newly elected board members staunchly opposed the deal. Second, several of the district’s contractual partners—including the City of Modesto, which threatened to sue to block the deal—imposed barriers of various kinds. Compared to these concerns, the opposition of the stakeholder coalition—though present—was a relatively minor factor in scuttling the MID boards’ willingness to pursue the deal.
The case of the failed San Francisco deal raises concerns about the ability of the water transfer system to operate efficiently in California. Keith reports that the city has moved on to pursue a similar deal with another regional irrigation district, while MID has turned its attention in-house to better defining its strategy and preferences in the water market. Read more about California water transfers and the failed deal to add to San Francisco’s water supply in Keith’s thesis.