2020 Beyster Symposium

18 06 2020

On Tuesday, June 23, from 9:00 to 10:30am (EDT), I will be participating in the online (and open access) 2020 Beyster Symposium. The purpose of the symposium is to study broad-based forms of capital ownership and capital income such as employee stock ownership, equity compensation, profit sharing, gain sharing, and worker cooperatives in the corporation.

During my session at the symposium – which focuses on “UBI, Taxation, and the Environment,” a recording of my presentation will be released and the panelists in the session will be available in the chat feature of the conference platform to answer any questions you might have on our presentations or papers.

To join my session, go to https://beystersymposium.org/ and select Room 2 at 9:00am on June 23.

All of the material prepared for the symposium can be accessed via this dropbox site.

I will be presenting a co-authored paper entailed “Universal Basic Income and Inclusive Capitalism: Consequences for Sustainability.” My Prezi presentation can be accessed via this link.





New Paper on the Commercialization of Smallholder Farming in Nepal

4 05 2020

The second paper by Raj GC, SPIA PGG PhD candidate, was recently published in Agriculture. This paper was originally accepted for the World Bank’s Land and Poverty Conference 2020: Institutions for Equity and Resilience that was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The final version of the paper focuses on the policies and initiatives the Government of Nepal and other actors could advance to promote the commercialization of smallholder farming in the rural western middle hills of Nepal.

Abstract

A vast majority of farmers in the rural middle hills of Nepal are smallholders who often use family labor and follow traditional agricultural and water management practices. This study examines a range of perspectives (from rural farmers to development experts) on the limited commercialization of rural agriculture in this region of Nepal and the potential approaches to promoting agricultural growth and commercialization among small landholders. An analysis of household surveys, key informant interviews, and focus group discussions in three wards of Kaski, Syangja, and Palpa districts of Nepal revealed that nearly one-third of farmers left their agricultural lands barren or only partly cultivated, and more than one-third were not motivated to engage in agricultural activities. This lack of motivation was found to be connected with limited or no access to irrigation water, poor production systems, a lack of access to markets, a low return on investment in agriculture, the low social status of farm-work, the incidence of crop infestations, and fear of production risks due to extreme climatic factors (such as low/high rainfall, droughts, etc.). Remittances related to outmigration were also found to be important factors limiting a farmer’s involvement in agriculture, which also creates labor shortages. This research confirms that, for agricultural production to be profitable and commercial, households need to receive qualified technical support to introduce new technologies, engage in markets, access input suppliers and service providers, and adopt high-value production crops and related techniques. Households that receive an income from government jobs, private sources, and remittances reported agriculture being a laborious and difficult task. Addressing these mediating factors along with the provision of effective crop insurance and subsides for the lower-income segments of the population, has the potential to (re)engage rural households in farming activities. Such an approach could provide a way to realize the government’s plans to commercialize smallholder farming.





The What, Why, and How of Becoming a Smart City

30 04 2020

The second paper from Dr. Khushboo Gupta’s dissertation has been published in Smart Cities. The full paper can be accessed by clicking on the image below.

Abstract

Rapid urbanization can result in challenges, such as overcrowding, congestion, and a lack of urban services. To address these challenges, an increasing number of communities are exploring the concept of a smart city (SC). Although rapid urbanization is a problem for cities around the world, its consequences can be severe for those located in developing nations. While previous studies have focused on SCs that were built from the ground up, there is a critical need for studies that focus on how to advance SC initiatives in developing regions faced with limited land and resources. This study identified two proposed SCs in India—Kakinada and Kanpur—which are currently implementing SC projects to explore their SC transformation. This case study aims to explore how “smartness” is understood in these cities and examines the local conditions shaping SC objectives by studying the existing issues in the cities, the proposed projects, and the perception of SC experts on a) what they understand by “smartness”; b) why cities want to become smart; and c) how they will become smart. The study findings indicate that although the high-level goals of the proposed SCs in India are similar to those of existing SCs in developed nations, the underlying objectives and strategies vary and are shaped by the urbanization challenges facing the Indian cities. This research also highlights the key questions a SC planning effort should address, especially in a developing nation context.




SuperStudio Session with Grace Blakeley

16 04 2020

On Thursday, April 15, we had the pleasure of speaking with Grace Blakeley – author of Stolen: How to Save the World from Financialisation – during the VT Honors College SuperStudio. Rather than posting an hour-long/unedited video, I thought it would be more helpful to break our conversation into parts. The first video below captures Grace’s introductory remarks. After this, students were able to ask questions ranging from how to “hack” financialization to advice on where to study heterodox economics.

For some context, the SuperStudio combines five advanced undergraduate courses – focused on Environmental Policy and Social Change, Data Analysis for Health Reform, “Drone-Age” Innovation for the Public Good, the Future of Higher Education, and the Future of Employment – that collaborate to examine the potentials and challenges of the Green New Deal. The SuperStudio is designed to engage students in transdisciplinary and collaborative work and provide a space where they can develop critical skills and knowledge that are applied to group or individual capstone projects.

Student Questions

Payton Green to Grace Blakeley – How to build a “populist narrative”?

Lonnie Hamilton III to Grace Blakeley – Thoughts on democratic socialism in Nordic countries?

Lorena Beltran to Grace Blakeley – Impacts of COVID-19 on efforts to advance the Green New Deal?

McKenna Magoffin to Grace Blakeley – Is there a way to “hack” financialization?

Caitlín Adams to Grace Blakeley – Where to study heterodox economics?

Natalie Serio to Grace Blakeley – How to create an influential social media platform?

My Question

Ralph Hall to Grace Blakeley – Will automation/AI undermine efforts to strengthen unions/labor?





New Paper in Environment and Planning B

3 03 2020

The first paper from Dr. Khushboo Gupta’s dissertation has been published in Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science. The full paper can be accessed by clicking on the image below.

Abstract

With an increasing number of smart cities initiatives in developed as well as developing nations, smart cities are seen as a catalyst for improving the quality of life for city residents. However, current understanding of the risks that may hamper successful implementation of smart city projects remains limited due to inadequate data, especially in developing nations. The recent Smart Cities Mission launched in India provides a unique opportunity to examine the type of risks, their likelihood, and impacts on smart city project implementation by providing risk description data for area-based (small-scale) development and pan-city (large-scale) development projects in the submitted smart city proposals. We used topic modeling and semantic analysis for risk classification, followed by risk likelihood–impact analysis for priority evaluation, and the keyword co-occurrence network method for risk association analysis. The risk classification results identify eight risk categories for both the area-based and pan-city projects, including (a) Financial, (b) Partnership and Resources, (c) Social, (d) Technology, (e) Scheduling and Execution, (f) Institutional, (g) Environmental, and (h) Political. Further, results show risks identified for area-based and pan-city projects differ in terms of risk priority distribution and co-occurrence associations. As a result, different risk mitigation measures need to be adopted to manage smart city projects across scales. Finally, the paper discusses the similarities and differences in risks found in developed and developing nations, resulting in potential mitigation measures for smart city projects in developing nations.





TRB 2020 + a Conversation with Congressmen Garcia and Takano

2 01 2020

For more than a decade, I have served as a member of the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB’s) Transportation and Sustainability Committee (ADD40). During the TRB 2020 Annual Meeting, ADD40 will be holding its final series of conference meetings, workshops, and lectern sessions (see below for more information on these activities). The success of the ADD40 committee has meant the subject of sustainability will now be elevated to the Sustainability and Resilience Group (AM000), which will have a special Section on Transportation and Sustainability (AMS00). The new TRB structure can be accessed here.

During this conference, I will have the pleasure of hosting a conversation with Representatives Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (Fourth Congressional District of Illinois) and Mark Takano (41st Congressional District of California), who along with Representative Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts 7th Congressional District) launched the Future of Transportation Caucus in 2019. During our session – entitled A Century of Progress? Reflecting on How Transportation Has or Has Not Promoted Sustainability Outcomes in Equity, the Economy, and the Environment – we will discuss the role of the new caucus and explore what can be done to advance environmental, social, and economic sustainability through transportation system development. We plan to dedicate over one half of our session to an open Q&A with conference participants.

https://annualmeeting.mytrb.org/interactiveprogram

Monday (Jan 13)

Tuesday (Jan 14)

Wednesday (Jan 15)

Thursday (Jan 16)





Congratulations Khushboo Gupta!

10 12 2019

Congratulations to Khushboo Gupta who successfully defended her Ph.D. in Planning, Governance, and Globalization last Tuesday. Khushboo’s research focused on exploring risks associated with implementing smart city projects in India’s Smart Cities Mission. During her research in the cities of Kakinada and Kanpur, Khushboo interviewed industry professionals who were executing the proposed smart city projects as well as officials in local government and in the Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs). The main findings from her research can be found below in her dissertation abstract.

While at Virginia Tech, Khushboo worked part-time as a graduate assistant in the Office of Economic Development, where she supported projects related to workforce and industry analysis, strategic planning, and community involvement. She has a master’s degree in Civil Engineering (from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India) and bachelor’s in Civil Engineering (from Uttar Pradesh Technical University, India). Khushboo first came to Virginia Tech as a summer intern under the IITK-VT Obama-Singh Knowledge Initiative in 2013. During her summer internship, she worked in the Civil and Environment Engineering department on a project entitled “Condition Assessment of Pipelines in the USA” in collaboration with Prof. Sunil Sinha.

During her PhD, Khushboo was also a summer intern at the CIDCO Smart City Lab, National Institute of Urban Affairs in India in 2017, where she supported the work of a smart city that was funded under the Smart Cities Mission. This experience was instrumental in helping her narrow down her research focus. Khushboo was recently awarded the Gill-Chin Student Travel Award for her research on smart cities by the Global Planning Educator’s Interest Group in the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. 

I served as the chair of Khushboo’s doctoral committee, along with committee members Wenwen Zhang, Shalini Misra, Tom Sanchez, and Adam Eckerd.

Smart City and Related challenges – Cases of Kakinada and Kanpur

Abstract: With the advancement in information and communication technologies (ICT), Smart Cities are becoming a popular urban development strategy amongst policymakers and city managers to respond to various threats posed by rapid urbanization such as environmental degradation and increasing inequality (Hartemink, 2016). Therefore, globally, regions ranging from small towns to megacities are proposing and investing in smart city (SC) initiatives. Unfortunately, the prolific use of this term by city managers and technology vendors is clouding the view on what it really takes to become a SC (Van den Bergh & Viaene, 2015). As a consequence, cities are experiencing multiple implementation risks when trying to turn a smart city ambition into reality. These implementation risks reflect the gaps or missing pieces in the current organizational structure and policies designed for implementing SC projects at the city level. They can be understood better if the process of SC transformation is explored using diverse cases of cities undergoing such a transformation. However, the current studies on SC initiatives at the local, regional, national, and international level have focused on: 1) strengthening the SC concept rather than understanding the practical implementation of the concept – i.e., discussing SC characteristics and outcomes rather than focusing on the challenges faced in implementing SC projects; 2) cases that have already been developed as a SC or are soon to become a SC, leaving out the opportunity to study cities undergoing SC transformation and the identification of implementation risks; and 3) cases from more advanced economies. Taken together, these observations reveal the need for research that focuses on SC initiatives in a developing nation context. More specifically, there is a need for researchers, city managers, and policymakers in these regions to focus on the process of SC transformation to identify implementation risks early on in the process. Understanding these risks may help the development of better risk mitigation strategies and result in more successful SC projects. This research identifies SC implementation risks in two cities currently undergoing SC transformation in India – Kakinada and Kanpur. While examining the risks landscape in these two cities, the research also explores what city officials are focused on when implementing SC projects.

This exploratory research finds that: 1) implementation risks such as Institutional, Resource and Partnership, and Social are crucial for implementing SC projects; 2) Institutional risks that relate to gaps and deficiencies in local urban governance such as overlapping functions of multiple local urban development agencies, have causal linkages with other risks such as Resource and Partnership risks and Financial risks, which further delay project implementation; and 3) city officials and industry professionals implementing SC projects in Kakinada and Kanpur have a slightly different perspective on smartness, however both the groups focus on External smartness of the city – i.e., projects related to physical infrastructure such as mobility and sanitation – rather than Internal smartness of the city – i.e., strengthening local urban governance, increasing citizen engagement, etc. Overall, this research proposes that there is a need to frame the concept of a SC around both Internal and External Smartness of the city. 

This research will be of special interest to: 1) cities (in both developed and developing nations) currently implementing SC projects by providing a framework to systematically examine the risk landscape for successful project implementation; and 2) communities/institutions (especially in developing nations) proposing SC initiatives by helping them focus on components, goals, and enablers of a SC.





Challenging Human Supremacy

31 10 2019

On Friday, November 8, I will be taking part in a symposium in honor of Eileen Crist, the author of Abundant Earth: Toward an Ecological Civilization. The symposium is tilted Challenging Human Supremacy: Degrowth, post-growth, and the future of life on earth.

The symposium is open to the Virginia Tech community and the public and will be held from 1:30 to 5:00pm in the New Classroom Building, room 360.

In her new book, Eileen argues that the continued existence of life on earth requires us to rethink our relationship to the planet. She calls for humans to scale down and pull back by challenging human supremacy and economic growth frameworks. During the symposium, I will join a panel discussion with Virginia Tech faculty to explore these ideas from our various perspectives.

Panel Discussion: 1:30 – 3:00 PM

Reception: 3:00 – 3:30 PM

Keynote: 3:30 – 5:00 PM

  • Eileen Crist, “Exiting the Age of Man”




New Paper on RWSS Sustainability

28 09 2019

Over a decade ago, while I was a postdoc at Stanford University, I co-led a multiple-use water services (MUS) study in Colombia. A key part of this study was finding and working with in-country experts who could help us design effective and culturally appropriate surveying instruments. During one of my pre-fieldwork trips to Colombia, I had the pleasure of meeting Isabel Domínguez, who was working as a researcher at CINARA (Research and Development Institute for Water Supply, Environmental Sanitation, and Water Resource Conservation) at the Universidad del Valle in Cali. The pictures below were taken during this trip.

 

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At the time of my visit, Isabel had led several research projects in Colombia connected with MUS, but was looking to build on her expertise by returning to graduate school. Several years after our first encounter, she started a MSc program at Loughborough University in connection with the Water Engineering and Development Centre, and then went to Newcastle University for a PhD. After successfully obtaining her PhD, Isabel returned to Colombia, where she is now a lecturer at the Industrial University of Santander.

Just over a year ago, I reconnected with Isabel via a study she was hoping to publish with several colleagues. The challenge facing the research team was to develop a paper that described the process of creating a new rural water supply system (RWSS) assessment tool. Given Isabel’s help in shaping our MUS research in Colombia back in 2008, I was happy to join the team and help craft a paper that described their new tool.

In contrast to most studies that assess RWSS sustainability using a low number of indicators, typically due to pragmatism or the costs associated with data collection, the larger number of attributes and indicators selected for the proposed assessment tool were found to be critical to the measurement of sustainability. The end result was a tool composed of 17 attributes with 95 quantifiable indicators. The tool enables the assessment of the sustainability of RWSS, using data collected through semi-structured interviews, social cartography, technical inspection, household surveys, and water monitoring.

Having studied the sustainability of rural water systems for well over a decade, I believe a unique aspect of the new assessment tool is the role it can play in helping communities better understand their systems, which in turn can help them prioritize their actions and investments, look for support for aspects beyond their immediate capabilities, and self‐mobilize for improvements that can be performed without external support.

A key takeaway from this story behind the paper is the joy of reconnecting with someone who helped me early in my career and be able to return the favor.

The paper and its extensive supplementary material can be accessed by selecting the images below.





New Paper in Water

24 09 2019

In 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting Raj GC at a Multiple-Use Water Services (MUS) retreat at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy. Raj is located on the top right of the picture below that was taken during the retreat. Four years later, Raj left his home in Nepal to join our PhD program in Planning, Governance, and Globalization (PGG) at Virginia Tech, to study the impacts of MUS in Nepal. On Monday, the first paper of his dissertation was published that explores whether the design of rural water systems in the mid-hills of Nepal impacts how households use water. The paper is open access (thanks to Virginia Tech’s Open Access Subvention Fund) and can be accessed by selecting the title of the paper below.

Abstract

In Nepal, rural water systems (RWS) are classified by practitioners as single-use domestic water systems (SUS) or multiple-use water systems (MUS). In the rural hills of Nepal, subsistence farming communities typically use RWS to support income-generating productive activities that can enhance rural livelihoods. However, there is limited research on the extent of existing productive activity and the factors enabling these activities. This paper examines the extent of water-related productive activities and the factors driving these activities based on a study, undertaken between October 2017 to June 2018, of 202 households served from five single-use domestic water systems and five multiple use water systems in the mid-hills of Nepal. The research found that a majority (94%) of these households engaged in two or more productive activities including growing vegetables and horticulture crops, raising livestock, and producing biogas and Rakshi (locally-produced alcohol), regardless of the system design, i.e., SUS vs. MUS. Around 90% of the households were engaged in productive activities that contributed to over 10% of their mean annual household income ($4,375). Since the SUS vs. MUS classification was not found to be a significant determinant of the extent of productive activity, the households were reclassified as having high or low levels of productive activity based on the quantity of water used for these activities and the associated earned income. A multinomial logistic regression model was developed to measure the relative significance of various predictors of high productive activity households. Five dominant predictors were identified: households that farm as a primary occupation, use productive technologies, are motivated to pursue productive activities, have received water-related productive activity training, and have received external support related to productive activities. Whereas MUS are designed for productive activity, nearly every household in SUS communities was involved in productive activities making them ‘de-facto’ MUS. These results challenge the current approach to rural water provision that views SUS and MUS as functionally different services.