DUSP MCP’s reflections on RES/CON 2017


Photo and Reflections by Sam Jung, Alaa Mukahhal, Insiyah Mohammad, Carey Dunfey, and Anna Doty

In March, five DUSP master in city planning students, Sam Jung (‘17), Alaa Mukahhal (‘17), Insiyah Mohammad (‘17), Carey Dunfey (‘17), and Anna Doty (‘17), attended RES/CON Global Resilience Summit in New Orleans. RES/CON is the premier annual international conference on the practice of successful resilience and disaster management in an evolving global environment. Held along the Mississippi River in New Orleans at the Ernest N Morial Convention Center, the conference draws experts from a variety of fields who work on resilience and disaster issues across the country. As attendees, we sat in on panels ranging from issues related to the future of the National Flood Insurance Program to rural economic sustainability, from financing resiliency measures to transforming city systems. We connected with city planners in the private and public sectors, chatted with recent DUSP grads, and heard insight from emergency managers working in diverse sectors across the country. We left feeling inspired by the talented and dedicated practitioners working tirelessly in this field and excited by the prospect of being able to contribute to creating solutions to resiliency and disaster management challenges faced by cities big and small.

The day before the conference, we were able to attend and receive certification of attendance for a day-long training on Community Resilience offered by the University of Hawai’i’s National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC). This workshop, lead by two Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) facilitators, provided us with insight into the basics behind building community resilience: preparation and planning; absorption; recovery; and adaptation. Through interactive workshops, we worked in teams with other participants, some of whom had been working in the resiliency field for over 10 years. In one of these workshops, we split up into groups and were given a map of an unknown city in the U.S. with demographic, geographic, and social information, as well as a disaster scenario (e.g. hurricane, earthquake, drought, etc.). After identifying community assets, we worked together identifying the most vulnerable areas, assessing the potential impact, and developing long term preparation plans and short term emergency response measures. In our analyses, we raised questions about what additional pieces of information were necessary to understand vulnerability in that context. Here, we realized the importance of community capacity in all resilience work, recognizing the value of stakeholder engagement in not only preparing and planning for disasters, but also in ensuring that communities can adapt and bounce back from any setbacks.

Over the next two days at the conference, we learned from a diverse set of practitioners in the emergent field of climate resiliency, experiencing first hand the importance of framing climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies as localized issues with transnational implications. As a multi-scalar and multi-disciplinary challenge, resilience should be considered a framework for planning, rather than a singular planning challenge. As such, resiliency needs to be built into budgets; it requires inter-agency collaboration and integration into all aspects of physical and economic planning.

During the NDPTC training we attended, one of the facilitators emphasized that resilience is indeed about working proactively, understanding risks, and adapting. However, he stressed that resiliency, most importantly, is about learning. It’s a long-term process that ensures community engagement at multiple scales, from individuals to businesses, community groups, and municipal governments. When we think of resiliency, we tend to think of hard assets, like infrastructure, hospitals, homes, and schools. However, to develop sustainable and adaptive plans, planners and resiliency managers must engage the “soft assets” like human capital. Several resiliency practitioners have raised that the most difficult aspect of their jobs is to engage and sustain community stakeholders in meaningful ways through preparedness (non-disaster) years. Human capital is one of the most important assets that cities have for preparation for disaster emergencies. Spending time and money on preparation strategies and hazard mitigation yields fewer losses and greater savings post disaster. These concerns underscore the need for long lasting community engagement strategies in resiliency planning.



Climate Change Adaptation Planning: the experience of sixteen cities across the U.S.


Hannah Payne, MCP’16, compared the way sixteen cities have tried to engage the public in climate adaptation planning. She identifies three common approaches: 1) including the public in the formulation of broad adaptation strategies, 2) educating the public about climate risks, and 3) promoting collaborative problem-solving for specific climate resilient projects. According to Hannah’s findings, the third approach is the least used. More important, cities are really struggling to implement even the first two less ambitious approaches. In some cases, cities have postponed any commitment to a participatory and inclusive approach to adaptation planning. Hannah has identified the most common barriers that cities have overcome.

To read the complete stories of what has happened in these cities and Hannah’s recommendation you can download her thesis here.

Understanding urban choices for adulthood after Hurricane Katrina


As young people begin transitioning into adulthood, they need to make a number of important choices. Will they try to improve their education? Can they find a job? Where will they live? The way they answer these questions will have a lot to do with the progress they make in their lives. There are people who decide to go back or stay in places that limits their opportunities. Hurricane Katrina destroyed many cities across the US, leaving neighborhoods even deeper in poverty and more disadvantaged than before.  In such conditions, it seems like it should be easy to determine the factors they take into account in deciding where to move next. However, these decisions turn out to be quite complicated. Tatjana Trebic MCP’16, studies the cases of 53 low-income mothers between the ages of 19 to 29 to understand how these women made choices and trade-offs during and after the reconstruction of their neighborhoods. Based on her analysis, Tatjana creates a  framework to identify the constrains that planners should keep in mind in trying to serve low-income emerging adults in the US. For example, for many young mothers, neighborhood safety competes with social network support when deciding to stay or go back to an old neighborhood. By understanding more about these kinds of tradeoffs regarding neighborhood choice, planners and policy makers will be better equipped to prioritize social services versus other institutional support for these vulnerable groups.

To see Tatjana’s framework, make sure to download her thesis here.

Rebuild by Design competition: a new tool for resilience planning


New Meadowlands Proposal, MIT CAU + ZUS + Urbanisten

In the past few years, cities have experienced devastating effects of climate change. The physical impacts of major weather events have spurred cities to look for ways of minimizing risks and disruption. Competitions are being used to encourage innovative design, increase public awareness and gain support for investment in resiliency projects. Catie Ferrara, MCP’ 16, uses the federal  competition to analyze three such competitions in New Jersey municipalities.  None actually received any financial support to implement the ideas that emerged from their competitions. While all three efforts appeared to have some positive effects (such as cross-boundary collaboration and increasing awareness of the problem), politics and limited local capacity made it hard to get anything built. Catie provides practical proposals to overcome these challenges. If you’d like to read more, you can download her thesis here.

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.