On February 25, the Penn Institute for Urban Research, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, UN-Habitat’s World Urban Campaign, and Next City presented an interactive discussion with a panel of leading thinkers in urban development. The event concentrated on the challenges of urban planning and sustainability, and on how research informs practical innovations in urban resilience and equity.
The event took place in preparation for the U.S. delegation to the World Urban Forum 7, which will take place this April 5-11 in Medellín, Colombia.
Attendees heard introductory remarks from each of the twelve panelists, followed by a group discussion moderated by Susan Wachter, Co-Director for the Penn Institute for Urban Research and Professor of Real Estate and Finance at Wharton. The two-hour dialogue culminated in an audience question-and-answer session.
Event panelists included Eugenie Birch, Co-Director for the Penn Institute for Urban Research and Lawrence C. Nussdorf Professor of Urban Research and Education/City and Regional Planning at PennDesign; Ana Marie Argilagos, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office for International and Philanthropic Innovation, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Shahana Chattaraj, former postdoctoral fellow, Penn’s Lauder Institute; Yamina Djacta, Officer in Charge, New York Office, UN-Habitat; Maureen George, Assistant Professor, Family and Community Health, PennNursing; David Gouverneur, Associate Professor of Practice, Landscape Architecture, PennDesign; Albert Han, Doctoral Candidate, City and Regional Planning, PennDesign; Mark Alan Hughes, Professor of Practice, City and Regional Planning, PennDesign; Devesh Kapur, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of Penn’s Center for the Advanced Study of India; Neelanjan Sircar, Visiting Dissertation Research Fellow, Penn’s Center for the Advanced Study of India; Harris Steinberg, Executive Director, Penn Praxis; and Richard Voith, President and Principal, Econsult Solutions.
The panel represented a wide variety of research and practice areas, and each participant offered insight into the evolving field of urban development—and provided their own observations with regard to how researchers and practitioners can collaborate and apply research to practice in useful ways.
Mark Alan Hughes, Professor of Practice at Penn Design, noted that researchers can most productively contribute to practice by working with practitioners "to form a collective intelligence.” Yamina Djacta, Officer in Charge of the New York Office for U.N. Habitat, focused on the importance of addressing inequality: "The consequences of inequality hamper all aspects of human development.
David Gouverneur, Associate Professor of Practice in Landscape Architecture at PennDesign, warned that if researchers don’t move fast enough in their work, they risk missing out on important elements of urban development and change. "[Researchers] must move with vigor in order to gain credibility,” he said. “We have to meet the speed of urban dynamics."
This is an especially important notion given today’s rapid urbanization rate—a point emphasized by Devesh Kapur, Director of Penn’s Center for the Advanced Study of India, who noted that India is urbanizing at a rate of a one million new city dwellers per month. That rate is projected to continue for the next 40 years.
The panel discussed issues at home and abroad, also touching on the recent slew of school closings in Philadelphia, each of which has added to Philadelphia’s 101 acres of vacant land.
Overall, the event generated constructive input for a continuing dialogue on urban development, much of which will be addressed by the U.S. Delegation at the World Urban Forum 7 this April. For more information about WUF 7, visit http://wuf7.unhabitat.org.
Revitalizing American Cities, the latest release from Penn IUR’s book series with the University of Pennsylvania Press, The City in the 21st Century, explores the historical, regional, and political factors that have allowed some industrial cities to regain their footing in a changing economy. On January 29th, Penn IUR, in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania Press and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, convened a panel featuring the book’s editors and contributors. The panelists included Paul Brophy, Principal at Brophy & Reilly LLC; Steven Cochrane, Managing Director of Moody's Analytics; Catherine Tumber, Visiting Scholar at Northeastern University’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs; Kim Zeuli, Senior Vice President and Director of Research and Advisory Services, Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC); and Susan Wachter, Co-Director of Penn IUR and editor of The City in the 21st Century book series.
The graphic above illustrates the astonishing volatility of the wholesale price of electricity over the course of just a few days in early 2014. While the price normally hovers around $20 per megawatt hour (Mwh), at one point in early January it hit $1520 per Mwh. That price peak reflects the extraordinary levels of demand for electricity that accompanied several very cold days in January.
The volatility has led to the demise of at least one energy supplier, Clean Currents Benefit, LLC. In an open letter posted on it’s website on January 31, the renewable energy supplier wrote: “the recent extreme weather, which sent the wholesale electricity market into unchartered territories, has fatally compromised our ability to continue to serve customers."
This volatility stems from new shortage pricing rules implemented in October 2013 by PJM Interconnection, the regional electricity transmission organization that maintains the high voltage electricity transmission system for Pennsylvania and twelve other states as well as the District of Columbia (local distributors, such as PECO in Philadelphia, get that electricity to consumers). The new rules were put into place in response to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission policy that, when energy reserves fall short, the wholesale price should respond to that lack of supply. Because PJM must hold in reserve sufficient energy resources to ensure the electricity system’s reliability even under extraordinary circumstances (such as when a large-scale generator breaks down or when the system experiences very high levels of demand), the extremely high demand for electricity in January caused the wholesale price to spike as the energy reserves diminished.
You can track the real-time wholesale price of energy by viewing the Electricity Price Ticker that Penn IUR developed for PJM. Visit our website to see the price on the Ticker in the upper right. If you would like your own Electricity Price Ticker, you can download and install a free app developed by Penn IUR at http://www.powerisknowledge.com.
By Edward Glaeser
Edward Glaeser is the Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics at Harvard, where he also serves as Director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government and the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. The following article is adapted from "The Historical Vitality of Cities” Glaeser’s chapter in "Revitalizing American Cities" (Penn Press 2014), edited by Susan Wachter and Kimberly Zeuli. To read more about the book Revitalizing American Cities or to order your copy, visit the Penn Press website.
Cities are, fundamentally, the people within them. It is people who envision and implement change. Thus, the route to urban vitality lies in adopting policies that help people to thrive and to innovate; in other words, the route to revitalization lies in promoting human capital. While the federal government has a role to play in this, local governments play the biggest role in bringing people together in cities.
What should cities do to attract human capital? To retain and attract jobs and residents, in short, to make cities livable, there is no substitute for providing the basics of city government. Since the dawn of history, cities have been dealing with the demons that come with density. If two people are close enough to give each other an idea face to face, they are also close enough to give each other a contagious disease, and, if two people are close enough to buy and sell a newspaper, they are close enough to rob each other (Glaeser and Sacerdote 1999). The research demonstrates the importance of government provision of public safety as a basic urban good in order to retain and attract new residents (Gould Ellen and O’Reagan 2009).
Public safety, in the broadest sense, including public health, is historically a key factor in urban growth. Historically, the most important job of city government has been to provide clean water. Remarkably, cities that were once dreadful have become quite pleasurable, something that happened only through massive investments by local government to provide fundamental urban services such as water and sanitation. In 1900, the life expectancy for a boy born in New York City was seven years less than the national average; today, life expectancies in New York are more than two years above the national average (Glaeser 2011).
The relative safety of cities did not happen easily. Cities and towns were spending as much on clean water at the start of the twentieth century as the federal government was spending on everything except the post office and the army. Cities and towns historically played an essential role in creating safe cities, and local government continues to be the place to be for those who care about improving the lives of ordinary people.
Beyond the provision of basics including public safety, what should be done about decline? I will discuss four different approaches: the physical capital approach, the tax incentive approach, the shrinking to greatness approach, and the human capital approach.
Physical Capital Investments
Do infrastructure investments make a difference—can we change the tides of history with major infrastructure investments? Do they meaningfully help local residents? Do they meet cost-benefit analysis? I believe the federal government is playing too great a role in financing local infrastructure and is, essentially, pretending that cities are structures rather than people. This has proven to be a curse for our urban areas. However, the federal government does have an infrastructure role to play toward cities, in helping cities care for people with fewer resources.
Urban poverty is rarely a sign that cities are making mistakes. Rather, cities attract poor people with a promise of economic opportunity, a more humane social safety net, and the ability to get around without a car. If you build a new subway line, you find that poverty rates go up around subway stops (Glaeser, Kahn, and Rappaport 2008). Is the subway line impoverishing its neighbors? No, the subway is doing exactly what it should: providing a means of getting around for those Americans who cannot afford a car for every adult.
But caring for the less advantaged is a role for the federal government—not for localities. When a local welfare state is created, the rich move out, leaving pockets of poverty. In the 1960s, city after city faced social distress; oft en, they tried to handle the distress locally, but the firms and the wealthy left, leaving behind an urban crisis.
After the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1973, the federal government funded transportation infrastructure. But Detroit, like other struggling cities, did not need transportation infrastructure; it needed investment in children, safety, and schools. The table below shows that the transportation infrastructure investments had relatively little impact on urban growth in the following decades (Gottlieb and Glaeser 2008).
Historical Regressions of Population and Income Growth on Metropolitan-Area Transportation Measures and Controls*
Tax incentives do seem to make a difference. Busso and Kline (2008) find 2 to 4 percent increases in employment rates in empowerment zones, while Greenstone and Moretti (2004) find significant impact in luring million-dollar plants.
The work suggests that keeping tax rates as low as possible is appropriate. But are these results applicable to cities? Greenstone and Morretti’s results (2004) focus mostly on gains in America’s rural areas, as these areas are actually winning battles for million-dollar industrial plants. Rural areas may indeed have a comparative advantage in old-style industry or manufacturing; these activities left our cities decades ago. It is very hard to imagine that cities have a comparative advantage in this arena relative to an arts scene, to an ideas economy, to creativity, to the things that actually take advantage of the proximity of people that enables the spread of ideas. Nonetheless, tax policy in general does matter, as do federal policies that support the poor and vulnerable, who are concentrated in cities, and that counteract the associated heavy fiscal burden on cities.
Shrinking to Greatness
For some cities, the best course may not be returning to a former state by growing back their population to 1950s levels. Instead, cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Saint Louis, or Youngstown have started to embrace the vision of “shrinking to greatness.” The governments and populations of these localities recognize that their housing stock and their public infrastructures cannot be sustained with their current population and economic activity and that they are not going to get back the population level that requires such infrastructures. The concept of shrinking to greatness is to shrink the physical footprint of the area to reduce the costs of city services and potentially produce more usable land. Recognizing that people will not come back to repopulate once-dense neighborhoods, cities that adopt this approach develop plans to destroy empty and often unsound homes and replace them with parks, open space that is less costly to maintain and does not pose hazards. While this approach does not immediately bring back economic activity and people, it can make these cities more attractive and less costly to maintain. This approach is difficult, and significant opposition exists to any plans that displace residents. Nonetheless, some city leaders, including mayors David Bing in Detroit and Dayne Walling in Flint, have made a commitment to do some targeted demolition and have allocated funds and made use of eminent domain to do so.
Accepting that sustainability entails downsizing their physical footprints, sharing or consolidating urban services between adjacent communities, and concentrating redevelopment efforts on the remaining core of density and activity will not bring cities back to their former states but will make them more efficient in delivering services and better able to provide a good quality environment for their residents (Glaeser 2011).
The most difficult and promising approach is to focus directly on human capital: on attracting, retaining, and empowering skilled people. This is not just about appealing to twenty-seven-year-old poets and artists; it is also about appealing to thirty-eight-year-old moms who work in research labs and care about the safety, education, and commutes of their children. We cannot ignore the basics of city government and get sidetracked by the idea of glitzing our way to successful redevelopment. Fundamentally, attracting and retaining smart people means providing basic city government services well.
That, of course, also requires innovation directly in education. The challenge of providing better schooling, for example, requires innovative models and the development of a better understanding of how to deliver education in an urban environment that counteracts the differential that exists today in educational outcomes in cities versus suburbs (Jacob and Ludwig 2011). The success of older cities in reinventing themselves lies in their capacity to develop their human capital through education and prepare a skilled workforce that will be able to demonstrate the creativity required by the knowledge economy.
* * *
America’s cities continue to face challenges. But the ability of our nation and our species to endure and innovate because we are connected by our cities, because we are more than the sum of our parts, because we learn from the people around us, because we innovate in the urban milieu—that track record is remarkable and it will continue.
Lisa Mitchell is an Associate Professor and Graduate Chair of the Department of South Asia Studies and the Director of the South Asia Center. She is an anthropologist and historian of southern India. Her interdisciplinary research and teaching interests include democracy and public space; the city in South Asia; technology, media, and discourse networks; knowledge production and intellectual history; language politics; colonialism and empire; and Telugu language and literature. Her book Language, Emotion, and Politics in South India: The Making of a Mother Tongue (Indiana University Press 2009 and Permanent Black 2010) was a recipient of the American Institute of Indian Studies’ Edward Cameron Dimock, Jr. Prize in the Indian Humanities.
1. You are a scholar of southern India, with a particular interest in public space, political protest, and cities. How did you become interested in these areas?
Like many Americans, I grew up in an extremely monolingual context. Unlike four out of every five Americans, however, I did not grow up in an urbanized area, but instead grew up in a series of rural small towns in the Midwest, which may explain my interest both in cities and in multilingual cosmopolitanisms. When I went off to college, I was very much looking forward to expanding my knowledge of the larger world. I was somewhat disappointed, however, at the Euro-American focus of most of my courses in college—in literature, history, political science, etc. In my second year, I took a government class on North-South relations (which at the time was the politically correct way of referring to countries that had earlier been described as “developed” and “developing”). I thought a course on North-South relations would introduce perspectives from both types of nations and help to address some of what I felt was missing in my education up to that point. I expected that we would read some authors from “northern” countries, and some from “southern” countries, but instead we read entirely American authors, with the exception of one British author—not exactly a balanced perspective. At that point I decided to seek out some sort of opportunity that would help me to gain some insight into other perspectives on history, politics, literary production, and culture, and I enrolled in the University of Wisconsin’s College Year in India program. I spent a summer in Madison, Wisconsin studying the Tamil language, followed by ten months in Madurai, a city of about one million people in southern India. While there, I continued my Tamil language study at Madurai Kamaraj University. During our term breaks, I had a chance to travel to other cities in India, including Madras (now Chennai), Hyderabad, Bangalore, Calcutta (now Kolkata), Delhi, and Varanasi, and also Kathmandu in Nepal.
It was while I was in Hyderabad and Bangalore that I was struck by how commonplace multilingualism was in urban India. Domestic household workers with little or no education would routinely move in and out of three, four, even five different languages. This was so different from my experience of language use and acquisition in the United States that I chose to examine language ideology and multilingualism in three cities in India for my MA thesis. Today there are over 1,600 different languages recognized by the decennial Indian census, with 30 languages in India spoken by more than one million speakers. Out of these, 22 are recognized by the Indian constitution as official languages. In the mid-1950s, the division of Indian states was redrawn along linguistic lines. My first book grew out of this earlier research to focus on historical changes in ideas about and representations of language during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that helped lead to the creation of the first linguistic state in independent India in 1953. Of central importance in contestations over linguistic statehood in India was the status of cities. Madras (Chennai), Bombay (Mumbai), and even Bangalore are all examples of cosmopolitan, multilingual cities that have experienced heated contestations between speakers of different languages over who should control the city, and Hyderabad is currently at the center of conflicts over the creation of yet another new state, Telangana. So although my first book project, Language, Emotion, and Politics in South India: The Making of a Mother Tongue, was ostensibly concerned with language, it also began to investigate the role of politics and public space in contemporary urban India. This has led to my second and current book project on Public Space in the History of Indian Democracy, a project that really grew out of the first book.
2. What is your new book about?
The new book looks at the spaces of transportation networks, particularly roads, railways, and the intersections and junctions that connect them. However, it treats them not as forms of transportation, but rather as mediums of communication, with particular attention to how they have helped to enable new forms of politics in India.
As part of the last chapter of my first book, I interviewed many people (at the time mostly in their seventies and eighties) who had been young men in the 1950s during the movement that led to the creation of the first linguistic state in independent India. In these conversations, I was struck by how important railway stations had been to the political activism of the 1950s (and to earlier political movements). Upon closer examination, I realized that all of the activists who had been killed in police crackdowns on the linguistic state protests (in at least four different towns) had been killed in or adjacent to railway stations along the main Madras-Calcutta railway line. Indeed, railway stations tended to be central meeting places for political gatherings, something hardly surprising when you consider that they were natural gathering places anyway, and political mobilizations tended to spread along this main transportation artery. Newspapers, exam results, and the mail all arrived by train, and many people would routinely meet their friends at the station for their morning or evening cup of tea or coffee, and catch up on and discuss that day’s news. Whenever a rumor was circulating, people would make a beeline for the station to learn more. Since radio broadcasts were government-controlled and newspapers were seen to reflect the interests of particular political factions, people considered news collected from travelers getting down from a train arriving from the place where something had just happened to be the most reliable form of news. Stations were the links with the outside world.
Each chapter of the book takes up a different form of political practice involving public space and traces a longer history of that practice. Most histories of Indian democracy begin only with Indian independence in 1947, or, if they make any reference to democracy prior to independence, refer only to formal democratic institutions and processes like municipal elections or the establishment of legislative proceedings. But if scholars of Europe like Jürgen Habermas can consider the coffee houses of England or the salons of Paris as fundamental to the emergence of Western forms of democracy, then it’s equally important for us to recognize other forms of public spheres that have inflected the ways in which democracy has emerged in a context like India. As the world’s largest democracy, it’s inadequate for us to analyze democracy in India simply as an institutional transplant from elsewhere and evaluate it against the ways that democracy functions in America or Europe. Instead, my book advocates close examinations of existing forms of political practice that span both the pre- and post-independence periods. I trace the ways that specific forms of political practices changed during the colonial and post-colonial periods, but also examine continuities that bridge the moment of independence. The book looks closely at activities like political processions; M. K. Gandhi’s addresses to crowds that would gather in railway stations as he traveled by train throughout India during the anti-colonial movement; road and rail blockages used to telegraph political messages over long distances to political leaders; ticketless travel to political rallies; and dharnas or sit-down strikes, popularized on the global stage by Gandhi, but clearly already in use long before his birth. The project has been an exciting one, as it’s enabled me put into conversation theoretical approaches to the study of public space and the built environment, ethnographic approaches to the mapping of discursive, communicative, and political networks, and historical approaches to the significance of public space within the success of anti-colonial movements and the development of democracy.
3. What are some of your other research interests?
With my second book now nearly complete, I’ve recently begun a new project on the cultural history of cement in India, provisionally titled Three Bags of Cement: Concrete Dreams in the New India. I’ve been intrigued by the role of cement and concrete in India for some time now. Way back in the early 1990s, I remember travelling by bus from the city of Chennai (at that time called Madras, the capital of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu) to the temple city of Tirupati in the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh. As we crossed the state border from Tamil Nadu into Andhra Pradesh, I remember that the only way I could tell we’d crossed the border is that the advertisements for cement (King and Coromandel brand, in particular) switched from Tamil script to Telugu script, reflecting the dominant language in each state. At the time I was struck by the fact that cement was virtually the only commodity that was being advertised in the countryside. Whenever we’d approach a town, you’d see other kinds of advertisements, but in the countryside, it was almost exclusively cement advertisements, and I was a bit puzzled by this.
Then two summers ago at the end of a research trip to Hyderabad for my project on public space and Indian democracy, I found myself traveling on the airport AeroExpress bus back to Hyderabad’s new airport, twenty-two kilometers outside the city. In the time since I’d last been in Hyderabad, a new, elevated expressway had been constructed to connect the city with the airport. And what was the number one commodity being advertised on both sides of this new expressway? Once again, it was cement—this time, at least fifteen or twenty different brands. At that point I knew that cement had to be part of my next project. I spent this past summer doing some preliminary groundwork for the new project to identify specific locations for my research. This involved interviewing and spending time with people at each point along the cement commodity chain. I spent a day touring a cement factory in Nalgonda district, tracing cement’s manufacture from limestone quarry to bagging, loading, and dispatch. I interviewed and spent time with distributors and cement salesmen; real estate developers, contractors, and builders; site managers, masons, and laborers; architects and interior designers; and various types of consumers of cement, both domestic and commercial. I also talked to those involved in protests against bauxite and laterite mining (used in manufacturing cement), illegal river sand mining (combined with cement to make concrete), and the construction of Hyderabad’s outer ring road, which has involved appropriation and rezoning of agricultural land and sparked rampant land and real estate speculation.
What I eventually plan to do is trace three bags of cement through their production, circulation, and consumption processes, using each to illuminate various economic, social, and cultural processes at work in contemporary India, as well as key sites of conflict and contestation (e.g., land, minerals and other natural resources, labor). One bag of a particular grade might end up in a road construction project or a big dam, a second in domestic real estate construction, and a third in commercial construction, illuminating three different domains central to processes of urbanization and the creation of built environments in India today.
4. You helped plan the “India as a Pioneer of Innovation” conference held at Penn in November. What were some of the key findings that came out of this conference?
One of the highlights of the conference was its true interdisciplinarity. Zeke Emanuel, the Vice Provost for Global Initiatives, was committed to making it possible to bring scholars and policy experts from different schools at Penn and from outside the academy together in order to create conversations between groups who don’t often speak to one another. As the director of the South Asia Center, I’m looking forward to the Center’s role in building on these conversations to enable Penn’s longstanding expertise on India (and the South Asian region more generally) to be made more available to broader audiences outside of the University. Penn’s commitment to the study of India emerged over a century ago, and the University was the first to establish a dedicated academic department devoted to the study of the South Asian region after the Second World War. Currently we’re about to unveil a new set of research priorities that further highlight India’s significance within the history of global capitalism and business enterprise, India’s role in the development and circulation of scientific and other systems of knowledge, the history of South Asian urbanization and the role of both formal and informal urban economies, and the crucial role of the Humanities in all of these processes.
A second highlight was the way the conference placed contemporary innovations in India into broader historical and socio-political contexts. The unique history of British colonial law’s impact on business practices in India, particularly the influence of colonial legal structures on kinship and family networks, is an example of the significant but often overlooked forces necessary for understanding contemporary India, as are the artisanal roots of contemporary industrialization, and the role of the informal urban economy in innovation in Indian markets and within the state. The conference helped bring these forces back into conversation.
5. You teach a class on the city in South Asia and are currently working on a reader on this topic. What makes this topic timely now? What deficits in the literature of urbanization in the region would you like to see filled?
People are often surprised to learn that South Asia has been urbanizing at a much slower rate than many other places in the world, with India and Nepal both having urban populations of around 31 percent, Pakistan 36 percent, Bangladesh 28 percent, and Sri Lanka only 15 percent (compared with Indonesia and China at 51 percent, Russia at 74 percent, the United States at 82 percent, and Brazil at 85 percent). Seasonal and cyclical migration also plays a more significant role in processes of urbanization than in many other parts of the world. Still, with one-fifth of the world’s population (now over one 1.6 billion), this still means that the region is faced with comparatively large urban populations. When I first started teaching my course on the city, scholarship on India was still largely fixated on its villages. The global attention to India’s economy over the past decade has redirected attention to a few major cities in South Asia, reflecting what Saskia Sassen has identified as the growing spatial concentration of many highly specialized professional activities and control operations. This has prompted a surge of interest in urban India within the academy as well. My class, for example, now attracts students from across the University, including Wharton, Engineering, and the College, and from a wide range of majors, including students who would previously most likely not have sought out a course on South Asia. Although we’re starting to see some excellent studies of a few specific major cities in South Asia (Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Kolkata, Lucknow, Lahore, and Karachi, to name a few), there has been little effort so far to address urban themes that cut across or are shared by multiple cities in the region. I had a difficult time finding academic work that could do this, particularly scholarship that could be used with an audience not already familiar with the region. In the seven years I’ve been at Penn, I’ve slowly been able to put together a series of readings that help students understand not just particular cities in the region but also more general issues, trends, and challenges that are shared across multiple cities, placing them in the broader context of South Asia’s unique social, cultural, economic, and political history.
6. What do you see as the biggest challenges this region faces in terms of urbanization?
Educational and employment opportunities for a demographically youthful population with rapidly expanding aspirations are one of the major challenges facing India’s cities. India, like other South Asian nations, has one of the largest proportions of people in younger age groups in the world, with more than 40 percent of its population currently under the age of eighteen. At the same time, due to the liberalization of the economy in the early 1990s, and the rapid expansion of mass media in India over the past two decades, this younger generation has grown up with aspirations and expectations vastly different from their parent’s generation. Although private educational institutions are currently a growth industry in India, both the quantity and quality of educational opportunities have been unable to keep pace with demand, leading to a generation of young people who are unable to gain the skills they need for the jobs they desire. The lack of desirable opportunities in turn feeds into and fuels much of the urban unrest that South Asian cities have experienced in recent decades, something that frequently presents itself as linguistic, ethnic, or religious conflict. Untrained observers sometimes assume that such conflicts are due to “age-old” differences in identities but, in fact, much of the identitarian conflict in contemporary South Asia has actually grown out of frustrations over the lack of opportunities and been further stoked by political interests.
7. As Director of Penn’s South Asia Center, you are very familiar with cross-University centers like Penn IUR that develop and promote programs, activities, and research across departments and schools. You are Penn IUR’s newest Faculty Fellow—how do you think Penn IUR can help further your work?
I’m trained as an anthropologist and historian, but didn’t initially start out as an urban studies scholar. My increasing engagement with urban issues in South Asia has already benefitted from my engagement with Penn IUR and my colleagues here. I’m particularly pleased to be involved with the Humanities, Urbanism, and Design (H+U+D) Initiative that was launched here at Penn this year with a major grant from the Mellon Foundation. Not only have I been introduced to important bodies of literature by my urban studies, planning, and design colleagues in Penn IUR, but a number of my graduate students have also benefitted from opportunities to present their work in Penn IUR colloquia and poster sessions. I also hope to co-teach a course with another IUR colleague in the future as a way of putting our respective areas of expertise more directly in conversation. The South Asia Center has just launched a new modular study abroad initiative called “C.U. in India,” in which students can do part of their coursework in a classroom at Penn, followed by an intensive two-week study trip in India over the winter break. I would love to co-teach a course on Indian or Comparative Urbanisms with a colleague from Penn IUR and have it culminate with a hands-on trip to India.
By James Goodman
Nearly two dozen world experts are convening to discuss the future of urbanization. How do you mine their collective wisdom before the group convenes in a way that moves the dialogue forward at a short, intense meeting? The answer—Futurescaper.
Futurescaper is an online program that uses crowdsourcing to make scenario planning more robust. This software allowed a group of twenty-three urban thought-leaders to collectively identify, analyze, and prioritize the complex, interrelated trends related to rapid global urbanization and to develop concrete approaches to the unforeseeable challenges sure to accompany these trends—and to do this in just two days. Assembled by Penn IUR, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), and Forum for the Future for The Rockefeller Foundation at the Foundation’s Bellagio Center, in Bellagio, Italy, in August 2013, this group of urbanists made this progress with the help of Futurescaper. The recently released Transforming Cities: Visions of a Better Future reports the group’s findings and can be found at www.visionariesunbound.com.
The use of scenario planning is well-established; envisioning multiple possible futures (“scenarios”) in order to create long-term plans flexible enough to be useful in a range of different futures, has a long history in fields ranging from urban and regional planning to finance, business, and politics. The beauty of this approach lies in the fact that it draws from multiple perspectives. But that is also its weakness. Collecting, analyzing, and presenting many people’s opinions takes time. The more perspectives included, the more staff time is required to synthesize this input.
The emergence of web-based collective intelligence systems capable of robust, real-time data analysis and computation has opened to urbanists a new set of tools to do this. Futurescaper, the program used at Bellagio, is an example of one such online mapping tool. Developed by Noah Raford while at MIT, Futurescaper employs crowdsourcing to support future scenario planning. It integrates participants’ perspectives in a set of real-time, dynamic systems maps that illustrate the trends and developments participants consider important to the future of a particular issue. In addition to opening the process to many participants , which makes it supportive of inclusive and participatory planning, Futurescaper is particularly well-suited to quickly teasing out relationships in very complex situations—clearly a useful tactic when wrestling with the many interrelated causes and effects of rapid global urbanization, as was the case in Bellagio.
For the participants at Bellagio, the use of Futurescaper meant that they were able to start their conversations at a much higher level than they would have otherwise, and that their conversations were informed by real-time testing of the dynamics of trends and strategies. Forum for the Future, an independent non-profit organization that works with various groups on sustainability issues, employed Futurescaper in both laying the foundation for the August meeting and in facilitating the conversation at the meeting itself.
In advance of the meeting, in July 2013, Forum for the Future personnel interviewed public, private, and non-governmental decision-makers involved in urban affairs around the world (many of whom would attend the meeting), asking them to identify the factors likely to affect the provisioning of public services necessary to support resilient and inclusive cities in the next few decades. Forum for the Future then used Futurescaper to identify and map key trends, displaying these trends and their interactions as a series of diagrams. The trends that respondents collectively identified as particularly important were:
The diagrams generated by Futurescaper made explicit the relationships among these trends. Explicitly acknowledging these relationships (which are often tacitly understood in conversation) allowed them to be openly examined and stimulated participants’ thinking, prompting them to make associations that they may not have otherwise have considered.
The figure below, for example, illustrates the group’s collective understanding of the various causes and effects of the perceived trend of increasingly poor or shortsighted urban planning. This diagram spurred conversation on a wide range of topics: from the historic lack of funding for municipal and urban level program implementation to current struggles with urban food and water security to dysfunctional housing markets and perverse land use incentives. The discussion led the group to finesse their collective understanding, agreeing together that although planning capacity is actually improving in many cities, this is not enough to match the rapidly increasing complexity of challenges that planners must overcome, and that therefore the real problem might be the gap between complexity and capacity.
The groundwork laid in advance of the meeting with the use of Futurescaper meant the participants began their face-to-face conversations with a sophisticated shared understanding of the challenges of urbanization. They were able to recognize and debate the impacts that related trends—such as increasing infrastructure breakdown and marginalization of the urban poor—are likely to have on urban policy and programming. In addition, observations made at the meeting were entered real-time into Futurescaper, allowing diagrams to be adjusted and perfected and the dynamic relationships between trends made visible.
The Futurescaper output, while not a map of reality, is a representation of the thoughts and insights of the respondents. As such, it, and other emerging crowd-sourced systems technologies, offers a new avenue toward the construction and testing of proactive, future-oriented solutions to multi-faceted problems, like the complex challenges faced by cities today as they look towards building a resilient and inclusive future.
James Goodman is Director of Futures at Forum for the Future.
What is the role of the city in sustainable growth in the twenty-first century?
This question has been central to our work since the Institute’s founding ten years ago. Now, as Penn IUR begins its second decade, the question is even more pressing. With 4.3 births per second occurring worldwide—more than half in cities—“understanding cities, understanding the world” is increasingly to the point.
We asked a number of urban experts to reflect with us on the question of the city’s role in the twenty-first century. Their answers are provocative and will help further Penn IUR's mission of advancing impactful urban-focused research that informs public policy.
Eugénie Birch, Lawrence C. Nussdorf Professor of Urban Research and Education, Chair of the Graduate Group in City Planning, City & Regional Planning, and Co-Director, Penn Institute for Urban Research, University of Pennsylvania
Next year, the United Nations will issue Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to replace the important Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that expire in 2015. These goals are intended to respond to global trends with an aspirational and action-oriented agenda to inspire public and private decision-makers to pursue policies and programs that will yield an equitable, economically productive and environmentally responsible world. The last time around, the MDG crafters practically ignored a key trend: urbanization. Almost as an afterthought, they included within a broad environmental directive the target of improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. While the nations met the target well in advance of the deadline, it was a poor marker for progress. The number was not only lacking ambition—the number of slum dwellers actually increased by one third during the period—but it was too narrow, missing a holistic view of cities and their growing needs. Cities house half the world’s population and produce three quarters of the global GDP, yet they shelter nearly a billion in poverty-stricken informal settlements lacking public goods (e.g. clean water, basic sanitation, transportation, education).
Neglect by those who created the MDGs is astonishing. It should not be repeated in the crafting of the SDGs, though signs are present that it may be. So today’s challenge is: How can the UN be persuaded to direct specific attention to urban places? With today’s global urban population of 3.5 billion expected to nearly double, and an anticipated 2 billion anticipated to live in slums, place matters. The spatial dimensions of urbanization are forces to be identified, harnessed, and directed. An SDG that recognizes this fact with an explicit geographic focus on cities is in order. A simple and clearly articulated sentence would do the job: "Achieve well-planned, sustainable, productive, and inclusive cities and human settlements." Associate it with timely, measurable targets, clustered around such key themes as improved spatial configuration (e.g. reduce sprawl and peri-urban development), improved living conditions (e.g. upgrade slums and accommodate increased population with well-planned, fully serviced urban extensions) and improved enabling urban policies (e.g. widen the adoption of national urban policy). UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said: “Cities are where the battle for sustainable urban development will be won or lost.” I hope you will agree.
Raphael Bostic, Judith and John Bedrosian Chair in Governance and the Public Enterprise and Director, Bedrosian Center on Governance, Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California
At the end of the twentieth century more people were living in cities than at any time in human history. While a reflection of the tremendous productive power and capacity of cities, this increased concentration of people and production also comes with negative effects that call into question the sustainability of current development and growth trends. This places the city at the center of all efforts to establish a model of sustainable growth that extends well into the twenty-first century and beyond. The only way that we will make significant headway on all of the key sustainability issues we currently face is to find solutions that work in cities. Thus, the most important innovations that “solve” sustainability challenges will be those that reduce the urban contributions to problems of power generation, water use, food production, pollution, and climate change. These are the ones that will have the scale able to measurably ease sustainability pressures and put us on a path to stable growth that also preserves the planet. We all must work hard to find these innovations, however, as their discovery and widespread adoption is not assured. Indeed, sustainable growth is not a foregone conclusion for the next century. Put another way, the city will clearly have a starring role in the story of sustainable growth in the twenty-first century. The only question is whether that role will be as hero or villain.
Charles Branas, Professor of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of Pennsylvania
The twenty-first-century city is the greatest opportunity for sustainable commerce, economic prosperity, and intellectual growth that humankind has ever known. But what of human health? What of the enormous opportunities our rapidly changing cities now pose for making people healthier and, by extension, happier and more productive than ever? Electric power grids, water treatment plants, building codes, and roadway redesign did more to enhance the health of twentieth-century city residents than many (maybe any) other programs, including medical care. If they have not already done so, twenty-first-century cities should make “health smart” planning and urban development a leading municipal pursuit. Physicians and police chiefs, sanitarians and city planners should all be on the same team, working to change the very structures of their cities and sustainably transforming health for large numbers of people over multiple generations. Somewhere along the way we forgot the power of these seemingly strange connections. Perhaps it’s time to rekindle them and put health prominently back into the equation for sustainable growth in our cities.
Tom Daniels, Professor of City & Regional Planning; Director of the Certificate in Land Preservation Program, City & Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania
Sustainable growth is economically robust, environmentally healthy, and socially equitable. Since 2007, a majority of people have been living in cities for the first time in recorded history. And this trend is expected to increase through the twenty-first century. This means that cities must be the leaders for producing global progress on economic expansion, reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and promoting social harmony.
Cities are the driving forces of metropolitan regions, which have replaced countries as the unit of global competition. Studies have shown that the stronger the economy of the central city, the more resilient is the economy of the metro region.
Climate change is the world’s largest long-term threat. The main sources of air pollution and greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change come from burning carbon-based fossil fuels. Cities are more energy-efficient than suburbs or rural areas because urban dwellers often have the option to walk, bicycle, or take mass transit and they live in smaller homes and apartments that use less energy for heating and cooling.
Water quality and adequate water supplies are essential for public health and economic growth. Improved sanitation systems, especially in the developing world cities, water conservation, the protection of urban water supplies, and green infrastructure to help manage stormwater will be paramount.
Cities must be socially sustainable by providing quality affordable housing to accommodate growing populations. In developing countries, where most of the population growth will occur, squatter settlements and urban slums are wholly inadequate. In any city, green spaces are needed to promote public interaction and healthy lifestyles. Environmental justice should guide the location of public amenities and necessary but unpleasant infrastructure, such as electrical substations. Finally, arts and entertainment bring people together in cities.
David Hsu, Assistant Professor, City & Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania
I am skeptical of the idea that all cities will be sustainable. Cities seem to be potential centers for sustainability, because they are correlated in global development statistics with higher economic growth, rising levels of education, and falling birth rates, and because activist mayors are ahead of dysfunctional national politics. In the next century, however, the challenge will be to reconcile local efforts at sustainability with the fact that the global environment is still getting worse and not better.
Higher density, urban living has many advantages, but density arguments ignore the fact that in absolute numbers, our global consumption and waste production is still growing rapidly. New climate-driven risks will affect every city, ranging from immediate events like drought and hurricanes; to slow but inexorable problems like sea level rise; as well as water crisis, energy poverty, inequality, the persistent growth of bio-accumulative and toxic chemicals, and mass extinction of species.
The transfer of goods, people, and pollution between cities is a critical part of the story. Resource consumption in a financial capital like New York extends worldwide, and the majority of urban growth will occur in new small and medium cities that exist as small towns today. Reducing air pollution in one place (like Pittsburgh) may be a temporary or even false victory if people move to places (like Phoenix) that are water-limited or if heavy industry moves to places (like China) that verge on environmental catastrophe. Climate-driven refugee migration may further destabilize existing countries.
The necessary role for cities is therefore, somehow, to help accommodate the cumulative impact of the population of nine billion people—expected in 2075—and to get us below the finite capacity of the planet’s resources on an ongoing basis. Some cities will help, some cities will hurt, and we need to know the difference.
Mark Alan Hughes, Professor of Practice, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania
Two of the most important claims made for cities are really statements about density: that it fosters, first, a resilient use of resources and, second, a productive setting for innovation. The first is a good-enough definition of "sustainable" and the second of "growth." If we maintain the assumption above that density is a defining quality of "cities," we've started a fairly comprehensive response to the prompt about the "role of cities in sustainable growth," which is that density generates resilience and innovation.
But can the critical condition of density survive the twenty-first century? The most important role cities play in the coming decades may well be the stewardship of the civic conditions that make density possible, which in turn is necessary to sustainable growth capable of meeting human needs on a challenged planet.
The 2013 film "Her" portrays a not-too-future Los Angeles in which people move around on elevated trains, live in even more elevated apartments, and work in clusters of office stations that have no compelling reason to be in the same place. It's a brilliant film that uses our relationship with technology to explore the limitations that make us human.
The film also requires density as a plot device for its characters to develop: they seem to live and work in the same towers, which allows their interaction at key moments. And the observation of public life in plazas and on beaches is the means by which humanness is quickly taught to the non-human character in the story.
But in this beautifully realized film world, there is no crowding, no discord, no inequality, no scarcity. Nor is there any accounting for why. How a city can create, contain, and continue such idealized "warmth of density" is not just a challenge to cities—it appears to be the necessary condition for everything else we expect and require cities to do for us in this century. It's a challenge that probably requires looking backward as well as forward.
Abha Joshi-Ghani, Director for Knowledge Exchange and Learning (WBIKL), The World Bank
There is no doubt that cities will play an important role in sustainability in the twenty-first century. Increasingly, cities are where a majority of the world’s population will live and, therefore, cities are central to sustainability. How they are designed, planned, and governed is key to how resource-efficient and sustainable they can be.
An unprecedented demographic shift is taking place. We all know the statistics: nearly three billion people are expected to move to cities by the year 2030, with 90 percent of this growth occurring in developing countries. This urban transformation presents tremendous challenges, with which we are all familiar: congestion, air pollution, social divisions, crime, the breakdown of public services and infrastructure—and the slums that one-third of the world’s urban resident’s call home.
But cities have the potential to provide solutions to these challenges. Cities can embrace sustainability by purposefully following the path of low-carbon growth. They can choose between sprawl, individual automotive-driven growth, or energy efficient, compact, dense design with integrated public transport, housing, and land-use policies. Most rapidly growing cities today need to invest in infrastructure to meet the needs of their burgeoning populations for services such as water and sanitation, transport, and housing. Investments in urban infrastructure can have consequences for 50 to as much as 200 years. The right investments and policy decisions today can lock in systemic benefits for generations to come, while poor choices may forever constrain a city’s competitiveness, livability, and social and environmental health. Low carbon and environmentally sustainable cities are the new frontier of development. While national policies and frameworks are important, eventually cities are where the action must take place. They can learn from the successful examples of others, gain insights, adapt, and innovate for successful, inclusive, and sustainable urbanization. With the right policies and vision, cities will be the key drivers of sustainability in the twenty-first century.
Alan Mabin, Research Fellow, Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria
Cities are our main sites of creativity, productivity, and life improvement, and these roles are intensifying in the twenty-first century. Only in cities can we anticipate new forms of economic growth and development that will allow resources and people to combine to dissipate the problems of twentieth-century growth models. But cities have not always generated consensus, peace, and happiness. Underlying conflict are lines of fracture that can threaten the endurance of cities and of their wider societies, as present tragedies in Timbuktu, Damascus, and Goma show. In the twenty-first century, cities must overcome grinding inequalities to achieve something vastly more sustainable.
Randall Mason, Chair/Associate Professor, Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania
Answers to the question about sustainable growth in the twenty-first century shouldn’t be confined to “what’s new.” Giving some critical attention to twentieth-century (and earlier) notions of balancing development and conservation holds as much promise of yielding solutions that can satisfy the technological, economic, political, and cultural challenges faced by future cities.
While “sustainability” has become a powerful concept to describe and model good urbanism and development, most notions of sustainable growth or design underplay the importance of inherited patterns, processes, and practices. Our sources for sustainable development and balanced urbanism come as much from the past as from unabashedly new ideas. Sustainability will thrive by cultivating and embracing the notion of urbanism as an inheritance—and its analog in practice, stewardship of what’s inherited.
Acknowledging the roots of sustainable growth does not mean an unthinking turn to the past, or merely looking backward. The questions are: How can cultures of inheritance and innovation be fused? How can “conservation” be accepted as a sustainable growth paradigm?
Such questions put me in mind of Lewis Mumford. The insights of City in History and Culture of Cities—masterfully synthetic and penetrating works of historical scholarship—were situated and deployed by Mumford as contemporary criticism. His was a “heritage” approach—history of scholarly heft made useful for contemporary purposes. Mumford’s work about the past was a generator and seedbed for ideas about his very contemporary engagements as a critic and theorist: truly metropolitan urbanism, reasoned acceptance of modern innovation, critical reception of modern design. Do these challenges sound familiar? Sounds like what twenty-first century cities need to strengthen and extend the sustainability paradigm.
Gary W. McDonogh, Professor, Growth and Structure of Cities, and Coordinator, Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowships, Bryn Mawr College
The challenge of sustainability in global cities is no longer simply one of models, planning, or slogans (we have more than enough!); this is a time for citizens and dialogue. Top-down regulations and abstract debates have had their place, from expanding mass transport to rethinking land uses and green facilities to ongoing struggles to define creative urban models for the future, but now planners, politicians, and academics must engage the complexities of real people who embody the contradictions of sustainable cities. People who conserve in some areas of their lives but consume precariously and unthinkingly in others. People who grapple every day with social exclusions and differential abilities, identities, and access yet who lack clear models for environmental citizenship or even time for reflection. Sustainable visions need to incorporate those who value their senses of place, of terroir, but who express these values not through theories but rather through concrete perceptions of loss and risk, sometimes at the hands of far-too-visible competitors and other times because of more distant and shadowy forces of power that threaten cherished lifeways. Sustainable visions must deal with people who respect sustainability in the abstract but treat it as inconvenient, or at least easily postponed until some undefined tomorrow.
If sustainability—social, economic and ecological—is the paradigm for twenty-first century urbanism, learning from the grassroots must become part of inquiry and of answers. This includes learning from the mistakes, misunderstandings, questions, and diverse practices of real people, and means dealing inclusively with varied peoples who are living in and recreating burgeoning metropoles, small cities, and even suburban sprawl. It means engaging in creative give-and-take, in translations as well as appreciations beyond traditional expertise. Shared, more sustainable urban futures must be built together.
Rolf Pendall, Director, Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center, The Urban Institute
Sustainable growth needs cities because cities are the incubators of innovation for social equity—a linchpin of true sustainability. Cities allow the evolution of complex ecologies of organizations and governments that connect low-income people with opportunity and reduce their exposure to precarious situations. Such institutional networks will be increasingly important as the United States and the world face two huge challenges—climate change and demographic transition. Climate change will inevitably dislocate, dispossess, and harm low-income people wherever they live; when they live in cities, however, they have access to and participate in institutions that protect them, help them recover, and engage them in the reconstruction of their communities. Demographic transition entails the addition of 100 million people in the United States and 3.5 billion people on earth by 2060—perhaps the last sustained increase in population the world will see. Cities, and the organizational networks in them, will allow these larger populations to live more productively and to respond creatively and equitably to a host of longstanding challenges—like building and maintaining infrastructure and paying for public services—that will become thornier and more urgent as people become more diverse in every way.
Brent D. Ryan, Associate Professor of Urban Design and Public Policy, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT
Cities represent humankind’s greatest concentration of people, infrastructure, capital, and ideas. As such they have a close, peculiar, and even dangerous relationship with sustainability. Cities hold not only the greatest potential for generating the ideas critically necessary to reduce humankind’s impact on the earth, but also the greatest threat of total disaster should humanity not be able to accommodate nature’s needs.
Most would agree that cities are our most promising sites for innovation in both scientific and political spheres. Living in a city obliges one to understand and appreciate human diversity, pluralism’s value, liberal government’s importance, and, most of all, the city’s delicate balance of art, environment, technology, and tolerance. Cities promote dialogue, dialogue promotes ideas, and ideas promote solutions. Cities, in other words, are the keys to sustainability. Were more citizens of the developed world and particularly the United States to live in cities, I think sustainability policies and solutions would be far less distant a reality than they are today.
New York City’s recent disastrous experience with Hurricane Sandy is but a modest preview of the risks, expenses, and crises that lie ahead for the world unless carbon dioxide reductions are taken seriously and occur immediately. Cities, wonderful and vulnerable as they are, provide our best chance to change stubborn minds, change political and technological realities, and change the world’s future.
Saskia Sassen, Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Columbia University
Our global geopolitical space is getting crowded. Many new actors have been added over the last three decades, from WTO to the International Criminal Court. And older actors, such as the IMF and civil society organizations, have gained prominence. Over a hundred other regulatory bodies have emerged and aspire to govern our increasingly globalized economies, polities, criminalities, terrorisms, epidemics, and environmental destructions. None of these have fully replaced national governments because these are far more complex in their all-encompassing functions and (at times at least) capabilities.
But now we see emerge a very different network of complex actors with multiple capabilities who find themselves at the forefront of many of our major challenges—from the environment to terrorism. They are cities, especially global cities. It is not that the diverse leaderships of cities want to compete with national states in our global geopolitical space. They don’t. They simply have had to address these major challenges because it is in cities where they become acute, urgent, empirical—one can act on them directly. It is this practical and urgent situation of city leaderships which is giving them such traction, often informal, in the new global geopolitics.
Thomas J. Sugrue,
David Boies Professor of History and Sociology, Director of the Penn Social Science and Policy Forum, University of Pennsylvania
Over the last decade, observers have celebrated the “comeback” of big cities, pointing to accelerating gentrification, the revitalization of downtowns, and the growing presence of hipsters and the “creative class” in once forlorn neighborhoods. The unspoken assumption is that attracting the young, white, and wealthy back to cities will benefit working and middle-class urbanites. Yes, growing the population of wealthy residents and businesses can help fill city tax coffers and improve public services. But the benefits of growth won't simply trickle down. The challenge for 2014, and beyond, will be developing growth strategies to challenge deep and urban inequality. Long -term, sustainable growth for the majority of city residents means better jobs, higher wages, investments in struggling middle- and working-class neighborhoods, and improved public education. Trendy coffee shops and four-star restaurants, luxury apartments, and public policies that favor downtown growth over neighborhood health and sustainability might get a lot of good press but they won't make life better for those who are clinging onto low-wage jobs, sending their children to underfunded schools, and struggling to make ends meet.
Catherine Tumber, Visiting Scholar, School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, Northeastern University; and Fellow, Gateway Cities Innovation Institute, MassINC
I’m not sure how useful it is to speak of “the city” categorically—especially with regard to sustainability, which involves stewarding the assets and challenges at hand in a particular historical place. Of course, as population centers, all cities should take measures to husband their resources and reduce their carbon emissions, such as upgrading their waste and water management systems, improving their buildings’ energy efficiency, and securing low-carbon transportation alternatives to the car. But with regard to economic development, it is particularly true that one size does not fit all. What works in New York will not necessarily play in Peoria.
The role of the city, then, is to chart out a credible guiding vision for green metro development that plays to local strengths, and to cultivate early participatory buy-in by both the citizenry and local and state leadership. So, for example, as U.S. manufacturing undergoes signs of revival, it makes sense that New York State would heavily subsidize a new plant (making solar panels and LED lights) on the former site of Republic Steel in the City of Buffalo rather than on some far-flung, exurban greenfield—or, for that matter, in Brooklyn, where property values are soaring. Smaller industrial cities can ground the productive low-carbon economy in manufacturing and sustainable agriculture in ways large, finance- and high-tech-based cities cannot, thanks to their manufacturing infrastructure, fertile proximate farmland, and productive cultural ethos. City leaders can also help find markets for exports with urban trade partners, push for living wages, and align K-12 education with the local labor market without sacrificing the humanities. For if the past thirty-five years have taught us nothing else, it is that sustainable economic growth requires greater equity and more judicious habits of civic thought.
Susan Wachter, Richard B. Worley Professor of Financial Management, Professor of Real Estate and Finance, The Wharton School, and Co-Director, Penn Institute for Urban Research, University of Pennsylvania
With their dense form, cities have the potential to minimize humankind’s footprint on earth and contribute to a sustainable future but, to do so, they must provide the public goods and infrastructure that make inclusive growth possible.
In order to achieve inclusive growth, cities must provide essential public goods such as education, sanitation, clean water, and transportation (for access to jobs)—elements to improve life chances for all people. With these resources, global urbanization can produce a virtuous dynamic: an increasingly educated population with investment in children supporting future sustainable economic development.
As incomes rise, citizens place a higher value on the environment and therefore demand more environmentally aware policies. Additionally, with sufficient economic resources, urban families no longer need to rely on their offspring as insurance mechanisms, which expands opportunities for education and promotes investment in human capital. Building out the earth over the next several decades requires public goods today to support inclusive and environmentally sustainable growth going forward.
Richard Weller, Professor and Chairman, Martin and Margy Meyerson Chair of Urbanism, Landscape Architecture
Since their inception, cities have survived through exploitation of their landscapes, simply moving further afield when resources run out. Given the obvious geographical limits to that historical process, we must—as I think is implied by "sustainability”—redesign the problem at its source. As Herbert Giradet says, “There will be no sustainable world without sustainable cities.” This implies that in this century our cities need to evolve from wasteful machines into more eco-logistical metabolisms.
We now strive for urbanization with a reduced overall ecological footprint as a matter of global survival and global justice. As such, we are now concerned with redesigning the city’s metabolic systems: its flows of food, water, energy, and its products and by-products. To understand and map a city in terms of these flows is to chart complicated material and cultural relationships across local, regional, and global scales. The value in doing this is to develop a systemic understanding of the city and its broader relationships to better determine where design intelligence is most needed.
I hasten to add that this logistical tracking of the global city’s systems is not a crudely instrumental exercise, for the city is first and foremost a place of desire, mythology, and theater. If sustainability is prosecuted as merely instrumental or punitive it will not succeed. The sustainable city is the desirable city.
Laura Wolf-Powers, Assistant Professor, City & Regional Planning, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania
To make the world we want, we need the vibrancy, the density, the productivity, the intellectual and artistic combustibility, of cities.
To make the cities we want, we need investors, large and small. Investors who recognize the embodied energy in existing infrastructure, the latent value in historic buildings and underutilized land, and the immense potential of city-dwellers—those astonishingly improvisational, resourceful, indefatigable people who activate the potential of urban places.
Alongside investors, we need a strong, mobilized, high-capacity public sector. A public sector of and for the public, intent on providing public goods without which there would be no investment opportunities. Intent on ensuring excellent public education and beautiful, unexpected, inclusive public spaces. A public sector ready to make it possible for all people who work to earn a living that makes them and their families self-sufficient and proud. We need strong civic organizations too—but first we need a public sector populated with leaders capable of building cities where growth and equity are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.
From cities like these—cities where place-conscious investors are working symbiotically with a public sector dedicated to both growth and equity—sustainable growth in the twenty-first century will emerge.
The Mellon Foundation granted the School of Design and the School of Arts and Sciences $1.3 million last spring to create the Penn Humanities, Urbanism, and Design (H+U+D) initiative. Co-directed by Eugénie Birch, Lawrence C. Nussdorf Professor of Urban Research and Education and Chair of the Graduate Group in City Planning and Co-Director of Penn IUR in the School of Design, and David Brownlee, Frances Shapiro-Weitzenhoffer Professor and Chair of the Graduate Group in the History of Art in the School of Arts and Sciences, this five-year initiative is a unique, multi-faceted program intended to bridge the gaps among urbanists in the humanities and design disciplines.
To this end, the initiative’s co-directors have convened both a nineteen-member steering committee and a twenty-one-member inaugural colloquium of faculty from multiple departments in both the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Design. The steering committee oversees the implementation of the overall initiative while the colloquium engages in a series of activities that foster interaction between traditionally siloed disciplines in the humanities and design programs at Penn. Each year, the co-directors will identify new faculty members as needed to fill out the colloquium, whose participants are appointed for one- and two-year appointments.This past fall, H+U+D colloquium members met biweekly to read and discuss texts. They also visited and met with curators at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York to discuss the Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes exhibition and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) to discuss the Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis exhibition. Through activities like these, the initiative is creating a new community, based on overlapping interests and new friendships, that crosses fields that would typically remain isolated from one another. Already, the initiative has given younger faculty members opportunities to consult more established scholars and has sparked plans to co-teach courses and collaborate on projects. Plans for spring 2014 colloquium activities include excursions, networking opportunities, and research presentations.
Additionally, the H+U+D initiative will sponsor two courses in the spring that will integrate knowledge from both the humanities and design fields. The undergraduate course—URBS 210: The City(Philadelphia), co-taught by Michael Nairn, Lecturer in Urban Studies, and Eric Schneider, Assistant Dean and Associate Director for Academic Affairs and Adjunct Professor of History—will examine Philadelphia in a detailed, multidisciplinary way. The graduate course—ARCH 712/ARTH 581: Architects, Historians, and the Invention of Modern Architecture, co-taught by Daniel Barber, Assistant Professor and Associate Chair of Architecture, and David Brownlee—is the first iteration of H+U+D’s annual “Problematics Seminar,” which will engage graduate students from the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Design in structured dialogues about the creation of architectural literature, emphasizing the diversity of its authors at the intersection of design practice and humanities scholarship. These courses will be offered annually, along with a seminar that explores an international city both in the classroom and on the ground.
Over the next five years, H+U+D will continue to promote integrated knowledge through its colloquium participants, research and publications, public events, and courses.
Dominic Vitiello, Penn IUR Faculty Fellow and Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning in the School of Design, recently published Engineering Philadelphia: The Sellers Family and the Industrial Metropolis, which examines the development of industrial capitalism and its interrelationship with the evolution of urban America by following one inventive family through several generations in Philadelphia.
The Sellers family included “millers, mechanics, manufacturers, engineers, and a corporate titan or two.” By following this family (particularly the men) from the colonial era through World War II, Vitiello traces the influential networks of people, businesses, and institutions with which the Sellers were involved and, in the process, illuminates how patterns of urban and economic development were established. While the book focuses on Philadelphia, the broader story Vitiello tells reveals how industrial cities grew and declined and illustrates these cities’ changing place in the world. On December 5, Vitiello spoke on his book to an audience of about fifty people at a book talk sponsored by Penn IUR.
Vitiello began his research for this book while a doctoral candidate in History at Penn, presenting his dissertation research on this topic as part of the first group of students to participate in Penn IUR’s first annual doctoral symposium.
To learn more and to buy the book, click here. For more information on some of Vitiello’s recent work, see the Penn Current article from December 5 on his study of the disappearing Chinatowns of Philadelphia and New York.
By John D. Landis
John D. Landis is a Penn IUR Faculty Fellow and Crossways Professor and Chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design.
Superstorm Sandy, coming just seven years after Hurricane Katrina, served to again remind America how vulnerable its large coastal populations are to extreme weather events, and of the need to better prepare for future such events. Better preparation is especially important in the foreshadow of climate change, which many meteorologists expect to generate more severe hurricanes and tropical storms. Congress’s slowness in appropriating post-Sandy rebuilding funds rekindled a periodic policy conversation about the government’s after-the-fact responsibilities to pay for rebuilding versus its before-the-fact opportunity to encourage or even require more resilient building forms. Promoting more of the latter to reduce the former is at the heart of Rebuild by Design (RBD) an initiative of the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Announced as a combination policy-design competition in June 2013, Rebuild by Design drew 148 competitors representing the top engineering, architecture, design, landscape architecture, and planning firms as well as research institutes and universities worldwide. Ten RBD finalists were selected, including a team led by Dean Marilyn Jordan Taylor, and Landscape Architecture faculty Ellen Neises, and Lucinda Sanders representing the University of Pennsylvania School of Design together with OLIN Partners. Working at a particular location, each RBD team is to develop new design and policy approaches to promoting more resilient housing, commercial, and infrastructure development models. The PennDesign/OLIN team is currently focusing its efforts on the Hunts Point Food Market area in New York City.
In theory, efforts like RBD should focus on locations where: (1) there is significant hazard potential; (2) the population is highly vulnerable to hazard-based danger, damage, or disruption; and (3) the population will have greater difficulty recovering on its own, or where resilience is lacking. This high hazard/high vulnerability/low resilience model has long been used in the disaster planning community to prepare precautionary disaster mitigation programs.
Operationalizing these concepts is harder than it might seem. Hurricanes, unlike earthquakes, floods, and even tornados don’t occur at known intervals or follow easily predictable pathways, especially where they are infrequent (as in the Northeast). Tides also matter a great deal: high tides can dramatically magnify storm surge potential, exacerbating coastal flooding and building damage. Despite its less-than-hurricane force wind levels, Superstorm Sandy was particularly devastating because it moved slowly and occurred when tide levels were high.
Vulnerability and resilience can be similarly difficult to gauge. Building and infrastructure vulnerability is largely a matter of location, elevation, and construction quality. Human vulnerability, by contrast, depends mostly on people’s ability to evacuate in a timely fashion. Resilience is mostly a function of economic resources. Recovery from disasters is far easier for higher-income households and profitable businesses with access to savings and insurance than for lower-income households and small businesses that are far less able to tap into reserve funds or insurance payments. The real estate market magnifies these discrepancies because poorer households and more marginal business are more likely to occupy lower-quality—and therefore more vulnerable and less resilient—structures.
To put its design efforts into the proper context, the PennDesign/OLIN RBD team began by using commonly available census and economic data to identify high vulnerability/low resilience locations along the Atlantic Coast from Maryland to Cape Cod. Based on data from the 2010 Census and the Department of Commerce’s County Business Patterns series, we identified census tracts with higher levels of socio-demographic vulnerability as those with year-round resident populations greater than 3,000; more than 500 residents younger than five years old or older than seventy-five; a household poverty rate in excess of 10 percent; and the percentage of households lacking available public transit and access to a car at 20 percent or more. We identified census tracts with higher levels of economic vulnerability as those with more than 100 establishments and 1,000 employees. Building on the relationship between housing vulnerability and housing costs, we identified census tracts with higher levels of housing vulnerability as those with more than 1,000 dwelling units; those where the median value of owner-occupied homes was less than 80 percent of county-median home value; and those where the median rent level was less than 80 percent of the county-median rent level.
The PennDesign/OLIN team took a similar approach to identifying census tracts with higher levels of demographic, economic, and housing resilience as those with residents or businesses with the personal and economic resources to bounce back on their own, and tracts with lower resilience levels as those that lacked such resources. Census tracts with higher levels of socio-demographic resilience were identified as those with unemployment rates below 8 percent; median household incomes above $50,000; and which had lower-than-typical percentages of one-person households, non-English-speaking households, and renter households. Census tracts with higher levels of economic vulnerability were identified as those with average payroll levels (per establishment) above $500,000 per year, and average annual payroll per employee levels above $40,000. Census tracts with higher levels of housing resilience were identified as those with more new housing, fewer numbers of blighted dwelling units, rates of homeownership above 50 percent, and median home values higher than 95 percent of the county median home value.
Map A below, in red, summarizes socio-demographic vulnerability by census tract for the counties around New York City harbor, one of the areas hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy. Map B, in green, summarizes the level of socio-demographic resilience. Map C, in green and red, combines the vulnerability and resilience ratings. Similar vulnerability and resilience maps are available at http://penniur.upenn.edu/.
These vulnerability and resilience ratings are independent of particular hazards or storms. Viewed together, they suggest that combination of poverty, dependent physical and social isolation, and the deficiencies of an older building stock are at least as important as location and physical proximity when developing new models of disaster resilience.
Map A: Socio-demographic Vulnerability by Census Tract
Light red is least vulnerable; dark red is most vulnerable.
Map B: Socio-demographic Resilience by Census Tract
Light green is least resilient; dark green is most resilient.
Map C: Socio-demographic Vulnerability and Resilience by Census Tract
Light green is low on vulnerability and high on resilience; light red is high on vulnerability and moderate on resilience; dark red is high on vulnerability and low on resilience.