Monthly Archives: April 2012

What Are The Best Ways For Big Coastal Cities In Asia To Protect Themselves Against Flooding?

Underground water storage facility for flood protection in Tokyo
(Photo credit: Shoko Takemoto)

Managing the impacts of climate change is no longer a concern of the future, but a significant reality of the present – especially for coastal megacities in Asia where flood management is a pressing concern.  In order for big coastal cities in Asia to better protect themselves against floods, Shoko Takemoto argues that it is important to closely examine how cities are already managing climate vulnerability and change, what factors shape their approach, and how climate change adaptation can fit within their actions and perceptions towards future planning. Given the recent Great East Japan Earthquake and other natural disasters, asking the question of what cities are adapting to, and why they are adapting could be the necessary first steps for enabling cities to become climate-smart.

Takemoto examines how two coastal megacities, Bangkok and Tokyo, are currently dealing with changing climate and weather patterns, and what factors shape their responses.  He finds that, despite their significant differences in socioeconomic conditions, Bangkok and Tokyo’s flood management efforts are surprisingly similar.  He also finds that whether a city is developed or developing may not necessarily influence existing capacities for flood management or climate-adapted systems.

Flood response exercises with school children in Thailand.
(Photo credit: Asian Disaster Preparedness Center)

Bangkok and Tokyo do, however, have very different perceptions of their respective challenges and priorities for future flood management. In the case of Bangkok, the non-climatic issues of improving urban planning and watershed management need to be tackled simultaneously with dealing with the potential impacts of climate change. For Tokyo, because they already have established urban planning and watershed management systems, figuring out how to manage future climate risks and create a methodology to deal with uncertainty within long-term planning are the key challenges.

You can learn more about this topic by reading the full thesis, “Moving Towards Climate-smart Flood Management in Bangkok and Tokyo,” written by Shoko Takemoto.

Can Ideas from Psychology Help Convince Homeowners to Invest in Energy Efficiency?

For the last 30 years, experts have claimed that energy efficiency upgrades in existing buildings can lead to significant reductions in energy use, yet efficiency programs, particularly those geared towards households, have failed to meet expectations. Traditionally, these programs have tried to convince homeowners to invest in energy efficiency with information and financial assistance, aiming to overcome logistical and cost barriers to retrofitting homes. Nevertheless, many programs have failed to achieve significant rates of adoption. This approach overlooks the difficulty of actually completing a home retrofit as well as the complexity of human decision-making.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains consumers’ decision-making process using the metaphor of an elephant and its rider. The elephant is our emotional side, lazy and difficult to motivate, especially for future payoffs. The rider, our rational side, holds the elephant’s reins but is dwarfed by the animal’s size and has difficulty controlling it. Programs that aim to change peoples’ behavior need to direct the rider and motivate the elephant in the same direction. It is not enough to simplify the process and provide information. In order to convince homeowners to complete upgrades, energy efficiency needs to be desirable. Programs must make an emotional argument that can coax the elephant to action.

The Community Energy Services program in Minneapolis, Minnesota, combines technical and financial assistance (to direct the rider) with efforts to create neighborhood norms around addressing energy efficiency (to motivate the elephant). This program is a promising model that could be a breakthrough to significant reductions in residential energy use.

You can learn more about this topic by reading the full thesis, “Making Energy Efficiency Desirable: Lessons from a Cutting-Edge Program in Minneapolis,” written by Stephanie Stern.

How is Technology Being Used to Improve Disaster Management in U.S. Cities?

The rapid development of modern technology has increased access to and reliance on sophisticated communication and real time technology. These technologies, which have become embedded within everyday life, have significant implications for government agencies – particularly within the field of disaster management. How are cities currently using technology in their disaster management? In understanding what cities are using, what are the most important factors in adopting new technology? Can future technology developments help address the needs of emergency managers?

Damage from April 2011 tornado that ripped through Raleigh, NC.
(Photo credit: Alex Ford)

To answer these questions, this thesis draws on the evolution of disaster research, the history of disaster management in the US, literature on emerging uses of social media technology, and interviews from 24 emergency management offices throughout the US. The analysis reveals several conclusions. First, cities are using a variety of communication, data management, and simulation technologies, primarily within the preparedness and response phases of the disaster cycle. Although many cities are operating on web-based platforms and using social media, this use is generally as a one-way broadcasting system rather than as a bi-directional exchange allowing the gathering of crowdsourced information.

Cities are also facing a variety of challenges for adopting new technology, including funding, political support, and legal constraints. When combined with general interoperability challenges, shifting government-public relations and increasingly mobile populations, it is clear that future technology developments and legislation must work to address these issues. Through the use of open standards and strengthened data integration, cities may be able to both focus on and better leverage both existing and new forms of communication to build the level of trust needed to both reduce vulnerability and increase resilience.

You can learn more about this topic by reading the full thesis,“Evolving Technologies for Disaster Management in U.S. Cities,” written by Vanessa Ng.

How Can Cities Ensure Social Equity While Promoting New Development at the Same Time?

Cities rely on development to support local economies, but efforts to promote new development often do not benefit poor neighborhoods. Sustainable development has become the mantra of the environmental movement, but it also can help cities spur development that meets the economic, health, and transportation needs of low-income communities.

A community garden in progress in Washington, DC (Credit: Daniel Lobo)

Cities should harness sustainability to meet the needs of low-income neighborhoods while promoting new development. In partnership with community development organizations, local sustainability initiatives must undertake a focused effort to identify economic, health, and transportation problems in cities’ marginalized neighborhoods. Planning for sustainability should include aligning development impacts and targeting programs to alleviate these problems. Even cities with few fiscal resources can implement equitable sustainability efforts through development review processes and by leveraging external private and public investments. However, it is unlikely that city sustainability efforts will result in social equity improvements without a directed effort to do so.

Currently, there are very few tools that track cities’ progress in advancing the needs of low-income neighborhoods through sustainability planning. In line with the principle that “what gets measured gets done,” Amanda Martin’s research proposes accounting metrics that will help cities report and learn from efforts to promote equity through sustainability planning. She concludes with recommendations for cities looking to improve transportation, health, and economic conditions of low-income communities through sustainability efforts.

You can learn more about this topic by reading the full thesis, “Social Equity in Urban Sustainability Initiatives: Strategies and Metrics for Baltimore and Beyond,” written by Amanda Martin.