Category Archives: international sustainability

Iceland’s food system at risk

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Photo by Holly Jacobson, 2016

There is no doubt that islands are particularly vulnerable to climate change. This leads to an array of risks, one being threats to food security. Cheap agricultural imports, one way of trying to ensure food security, can undermine the financial stability of small farm businesses in a country like Iceland. Farmers around the world are already a vulnerable to the physical effects of climate change, but in a country like Iceland the lack of a contingency plan and the failure to adopt adaptation measures for food security are shocking. Holly Jacobson, MCP’16 investigates why Iceland is in this situation. She explores the way governmental and non-governmental actors think about risk and resilience. Understandably, economic concerns are at the top of many people’s list. However, moral, sentimental and ideational values also shape risk perception and ought to be taken into account. How can planners take account of different kinds of vulnerabilities in formulating resiliency plans?

 

Continue reading Holly’s thesis by downloading it here.

Female Entrepreneurs, the Building Block of a New Economy?

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In her 2015 thesis, MCP Ellen Chen, studied how female “social entrepreneurs” have spurred micro-level reforms, and how their efforts have fueled broader institutional changes in Malaysia. These innovators are working on topics ranging from transportation safety to sex education. Most have left lucrative professional careers to pursue causes that are important to them, either as organizers or volunteers. From what Ellen was able to document, policy changes at the national or regional level are not enough. Widespread action by risk-takers on the ground is essential to realize greater sustainability. On the other hand, fighting for the rights of disadvantaged groups or using the media to lift up voices for change are also important to achieving sustainable development.

Ellen investigated the proposition offered by political economists that nations can grow their economy more rapidly if they are willing to break with past institutional patterns. Ellen’s research suggests that this has been difficult to do in Malaysia, especially with regards to women’s roles. The state-influenced system of education continues to promote Islam’s gender-specific norms of virtuous behavior. While Malaysia has embarked on an aggressive effort to promote economic growth and launched multiple programs to encourage female entrepreneurship, there is still a prominent cultural aversion to risk-taking. Ellen’s thesis consists of both a traditional written portion, available here, and a video presentation, viewable here.

 

Urban Agriculture Contributes to Sustainable Development of Cities: How do we make it permanent?

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In the 21st century cities have increasingly adopted sustainability as a guiding principal, offering a window of opportunity for the incorporation of urban agriculture into city land use planning efforts. In addition, the engagement of commercial urban farms with local economies has allowed urban agriculture to enter the realm of economic development. Despite these advancements, many still frame their understanding of urban agriculture as interim land use while waiting for appropriate real estate development to happen. In his 2014 thesis, Andrew Cook (MCP ’14) argues the sustainable development characteristics of urban agriculture can only be accessed by treating it as permanent rather than a temporary land use.

 

To illustrate his argument, Andrew draws on a case study of Baltimore City, specifically the temporary use on city-owned land programs: Adopt-A-Lot and Homegrown Baltimore Land Lease Initiative. Andrew traced the historical relationship of urban agriculture to city development, Baltimore’s shrinking population, Baltimore’s policy environment as well as the histories of each program. He found that Baltimore’s view that urban agriculture runs counter to the economic growth objectives of a city, has limited the sustainability, economic, environmental and social benefits of urban agriculture projects. Through his evaluation of several urban commercial farms, community farms and demonstration farms, Andrew provides an alternate view, showing how urban agriculture can drive rather than hindering economic development. He offers a series of recommendations that woucl allow cities to realize the maximum benefit of urban agriculture. To learn more, read Andrew’s full thesis here.

A Business Model for a Constrained World

Our natural systems are increasingly threatened by climate change, droughts, increasing population, and related crises. These coming crises will have massive economic impacts, and firms will soon need to learn how to operate in a setting where resources are constrained and old business models are no longer competitive.Image

Aleyn Smith-Gillespie (MCP/SM 2001), now an associate director at Carbon Trust, recently contributed to an Economist report on the future of business models in a constrained world. Aleyn notes that, for many products where the cost of ownership is high and the rate of utilization low, businesses have an opportunity to recognize resource constraints by shifting away from an ownership economy and towards a sharing or subscription-based one.

Many proactive businesses have already begun to move in this direction, by emphasizing shared ownership of under-utilized resources (like cars and industrial machinery) and advertising services over products.

As these new business models succeed and resource constraints continue to strangle the old economy, Aleyn expects this shift to become more pronounced. Read more about Aleyn’s take on his guest blog at the Economist, or download the full Economist report, Supply on Demand.

Can Sustainable Jobs Programs be Sustained?

Green JobsOne often-cited benefit of a sustainable economy is the creation of a new class of green jobs, but creating these jobs has proven to be difficult. First, there’s no clear consensus on what makes jobs “green.” Second, efforts to encourage green jobs are complicated by the need to satisfy both environmental and economic objectives, which often conflict.

Louise Yeung (MCP ’13) evaluated two green jobs programs—the Oakland Green Jobs Corps and the Baltimore Center for Green Careers—to see how they were handling the tension between these policy priorities. She found that they were taking significantly different approaches.

In Oakland, the Green Jobs Corps takes  a supply-oriented approach to filling jobs by partnering with unions to move green jobs through existing employment pipelines. The Corps trains workers in a broad set of environmental practices, and then inserts them into traditional trade positions. While this approach has given the Corps good access to new positions, the resulting jobs are not always as “green” as might be hoped. Because of union partnerships and other constraints, the program places a high emphasis on employment priorities.

The Baltimore Center for Green Careers, meanwhile, takes a demand-oriented approach. It has encouraged the growth of a new green industry—home energy efficiency contracting. This has led to a somewhat smaller programmatic impact, and the program is dependent on other policies that offer generous incentives for energy efficiency.

The varying tactics that the two programs have adopted—and the pros and cons of each—demonstrate continued uncertainty in how best to fashion green jobs policy. Read more about these programs and the lessons that they offer in Louise’s thesis.

Taking a Second Look at Environmental Justice

This week we highlight Isabelle Anguelovski’s 2011 PhD dissertation, which seeks to make a unique contribution to the field of environmental justice by presenting the holistic environmental revitalization of three marginalized neighborhoods across contexts of urbanization and political systems in Boston, Barcelona, and Havana. Isabelle develops a new framework for understanding urban environmental justice and for planning just and resilient cities.

Callejón de Hamel, Cayo Hueso, Havana.

As local activists repair community spaces, build new parks and playgrounds, and develop urban farms and gardens, they address grief, fear of erasure, and suffering in a neighborhood that they may have previously considered as a war zone and destroyed place. Environmental projects are a means for nurturing the community and building a sense of rootedness and home. They create safe havens and refuges for residents. They also offer a strong cathartic and soothing effect away from the pressures of city relations and processes of urban change, while bolstering residents’ ability to deal with negative dynamics. Eventually, local EJ activism reshapes place and community and constitutes the occasion to question, realign, and recreate (positive) local identities. In other words, Isabelle argues that both physical and psychological dimensions of environmental health must be taken into consideration to rebuild historically distressed and degraded urban communities.

Check out the full dissertation and share your thoughts on this topic in the EPP Facebook Group!

Vancouver 2010 – A Lesson in Olympic Sustainability

The London games began with a quirky opening ceremony on July 27, 2012, and will wrap up August 12. Ever wondered whether the new Olympic stadiums are LEED certified, or what happens to the city on August 13? Have the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) done their jobs with long-term sustainability principles in mind?

Photo credit: Carri Hulet

The answer is mostly, yes (you can download the LOCOG’s sustainability plan here), but how well the plan will play out over time in London remains to be seen. It appears that Vancouver, when it hosted the 2010 winter Olympics, set a high bar in this arena, according to DUSP 2012 graduate Ksenia Mokrushina. She studied Vancouver’s sustainability plans and practices in order to draw lessons for future host cities, including Sochi, Russia (2014), where Ksenia is from.

As Ksenia points out in her thesis, since the late 1960s, Olympic organizing committees have given varying degrees of attention to questions of environmental impact, community involvement, and development versus growth strategies. These are big challenges. The planning takes place in an accelerated timeframe, and in countries with vastly different commitments to basic sustainability principles. Ksenia concludes, for example, that when developing countries host the games, the IOC should be prepared to provide extra support for the planning and execution of the games if they expect sustainable practices to be taken seriously.

Hosting the Olympics gives cities an unprecedented opportunity to experiment with an “urban laboratory” of sorts. How have they done? Are the costs (financial, social, and environment) too high? Should we support one critic’s suggestion to stop moving the Olympics around the world and instead invest in a single site that can host the games repeatedly? Please comment and share your thoughts!