US-Dutch Flood Resilience Partnerships


When Hurricane Katrina hit cities across the country, the US government looked for ways to tap the expertise and experience of other cities that had dealt with similar disasters. The US identified the Dutch as having valuable advanced skills and knowledge. Partnerships with individual cities were encouraged. Matthew Willner, MCP’16 explored the gains and losses to both sides associated with these partnerships. Through interviews, with both Dutch and American officials, Matthew sought to verify his concern that the underlying goals of policy transfer partnerships are not always obvious.

Do you think that international efforts to share or transfer policy ideas are always a good idea?

You can download Matt’s thesis to read about his findings here.


Forest City: A Chinese Urban Megaproject in Malaysia


With the rapid growth of population and increasing international mobility, cities around the world are seeking to attract investors who want to build mixed-use megaprojects. Such investors are presumed to have, for the most part, a positive impact on local economies. However, when the expectations of foreign developers don’t match the political and regulatory expectations of the host country, difficulties can ensue. Marcel Williams, MCP’16, looks at the challenges of mega-project development through the lens of the Forest City case.  Because of the scale and location of this project, local, state, national and international challenges emerged.  There are many lessons to be learned from the experience of Chinese developer Country Garden Ltd. in building a project for 700,000+ people over the next two decades on an environmentally sensitive site.

Will Forest City become an example for future mega-project developments in Asia? Is the potential for economic success of Forest City in jeopardy because of the way regulations are being implemented in Malaysia?

Find out the answers to these questions and more by downloading Marcel’s thesis here.

Boston and Cambridge, MA: A comparative study of the use of green infrastructure


Source: US EPA Massachusetts Water Resource Authority

In Sasha Shyduroff’s (MCP ’16) thesis, green infrastructure (GI) is defined as engineered systems incorporating green space and natural systems to provide benefits to the public. Such infrastructure can help to address sea level rise, storm surges, inland flooding and many other climate change-related effects. Green infrastructure has been proven to be cheaper and faster to implement than standard infrastructure.  Due to these benefits, GI should be quite popular; however, the actual experience of cities where GI is being advocated raises some concerns. Sasha uses the cases of Boston and Cambridge to identify the socio-political barriers to and drivers of GI, specifically as a means of addressing urban flooding. To learn more, read Sasha’s thesis here.

Adaptation indicators for U.S. coastal cities

sandyIndicators can be used to track progress across different sectors of development, whether they are standardized throughout an industry or unique to a particular organization. It would seem to make sense for every city to use indicators to gauge the success of their climate adaptation plans. Amy Plovnick (MCP ’16) suggests that this is much more difficult than we might imagine. Based on her analysis of adaptation plans along with interviews with staff in several coastal cities, she has found that many cities don’t yet have such indicators in place, even though they are already implementing their adaptation plans. Amy identifies the reasons that lead cities to be in such position. Key barriers include insufficient resources, technical challenges and inadequate organizational structure. There are ways, though, that cities can overcome these problems.

Download Amy’s thesis to see her recommendations.

Iceland’s food system at risk


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.

Implementing the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in South East Asia


International treaties can exert pressure on national governments to pay attention to certain policy goals, how they choose to implement these goals is up to them. Kelly Heber Dunning (PhD ’16) examines the challenges facing countries that have signed on to the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Using a comparative case study of relatively similar (endangered) coral reefs in Indonesia and Malaysia, Kelly looks at the results in the two countries. She discovers (using a variety of underwater monitoring strategies and detailed surveys and interviews) that Indonesia’s co-managed system (government and villages) is more effective than Malaysia’s uses a top-down network of federally managed Marine Parks. Her findings go beyond what the research community has been able to document thus far regarding the advantages and disadvantages of alternative common pool resource management strategies.

If you’d like to learn more about Indonesia’s model and the likelihood it can be replicated, you can download Kelly’s dissertation here.

People’s Climate March: Frontlines of Crisis, Forefront of Change


On September 21, 2014, 400,000 people converged on the streets of Manhattan for the People’s Climate March (PCM), making it the largest climate change demonstration in U.S. history. The PCM was led by low-income people of color and indigenous people — those most likely to be affected by the health, environmental, and economic impacts of climate change.

Lisa Young, MCP 2015, begins her thesis by telling the story of the “climate movement” starting in the early 1990s. This leads her to expose a deep division between two streams of the movement: the mainstream Climate Action (CA) camp, led by privileged white environmentalists, and the more radical Climate Justice (CJ) camp, led by communities of color. Their ultimate partnership offers an example of how the competing movements were able to developed a collaborative framework by conftonting issues of trust, leadership, funding, framing, and strategy. To learn the full story of how the CA and CJ camps were able to overcome the barriers between them, and grow the size and diversity of the climate movement, you can read Lisa’s thesis here.

Time for a change in Utah: conquering nature or living within its bounds


More than 150 years ago, the Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley and immediately set to work digging irrigation ditches and canals to harness water for their farms. Since then, Utah water managers have solved water supply problems by building large infrastructure projects. Unlike many other states in the region that have implemented aggressive demand-side measures to conserve water, Utah’s conservation efforts have been relatively minimal. At this point, demand-side measures are a tough sell as a way of addressing water needs in Utah. At the same time, supply-side projects are costly for taxpayers and for the environment, take decades to complete, and are based on unreliable forecasts of future water demand and uncertain water sources. Chloe Schaefer, MCP 15, provides a critical comparison of these two traditional strategies and makes a case for water conservation as the best option for the state. She points out that this would require a big shift on the dominant water planning mindset. While behavior is a hard thing to change, Chloe points out ways of encouraging this shift. You can see more at the following link, here.

From good intentions to meaningful actions: CSR in the Electric Power Sector


RobecoSam | Sustainability Indices | 2016

Providing data to CSR rating schemes may signal that a company is prepared to take responsibility for its environmental, social, and economic impacts, but the correlation between responding to CSR rating schemes and taking meaningful action to minimize impacts is not entirely clear. Elisabeth Rutledge, MCP 15 focuses on the electric sector to learn more. The two most widely using rating schemes in this industry are the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI). Based on interviews with key participants she concludes that these CSR rating schemes have succeeded in encouraging companies to disclose corporate sustainability data voluntarily, but given certain perverse incentives, reporting does not necessarily motivate appropriate action. Elisabeth highlights some positive effects that CSR reporting does have on internal corporate policies.

What do you think are some of the features of CSR assessments are that companies are ignoring? How can we ensure better standardization and more trust in CSR scores? Elisabeth suggests a number of ways of restructuring current CSR rating schemes. You can find these recommendations in the full version of Elisabeth’s thesis here.

The role of Massachusetts in making a case for the adoption of a nationwide carbon tax policy


Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) passed in 2008 committed the state to reducing carbon emissions 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Progress towards meeting these targets has been uneven, especially when it comes to transportation improvements and land use policy. This is especially worrisome given that transportation emissions are likely to rise over the next few years. One possible solution, supported by much of the environmental community, is the adoption of a revenue-neutral carbon tax or carbon fee. This would levy an additional fee on fossil fuel consumption, but distribute the revenue back to the state’s residents instead of adding it to the state budget. MCP 15 Elizabeth argues that this would be a mistake. She draws from a spatial analysis of passenger vehicle driving patterns in Massachusetts, a case study of British Columbia’s successful revenue-neutral carbon tax, and analysis of the current political landscape in Massachusetts to make her case. What are the flaws in this potential strategy? How do the state’s efforts relate to nationwide efforts to adopt a carbon tax? You can find the answers to these questions and more by downloading Elizabeth’s thesis in the following link: