A Message for the 2020 SPIA Undergraduates

15 05 2020

Since I was unable to celebrate with the class of 2020 today, I tasked my children with helping me record a video message for our graduating seniors. I even managed to find enough courage to record myself playing the guitar 🙂

The online VT commencement ceremony will start at 6:30pm (EDT) this evening and can be accessed here: https://commencement.vt.edu

Congratulations to all of our 2020 graduates!





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.




Faculty Fellow Five

25 04 2020

I was recently asked the five questions below for the “Faculty Fellow Five” section of the Leadership and Social Change Residential College (LSCRC) newsletter. Over the past year I have had the pleasure of serving as faculty fellow for the LSCRC, which is one of the newest living learning communities on campus and a community that has close connections with the SPIA undergraduate program.

1) How did you get to where you are now?

Someday I hope to write this story for my children so they know why I moved my life from the UK to the US. At this point, I have spent half of my life in each country, with my formative years in the UK and most of my higher education and professional life here. Both of my parents were teachers at a comprehensive school (a high school) in the county of Wiltshire and I grew up in a small village surrounded by farmland. One of the oldest houses in the village was built in the fifteenth century, and my family house was built around a hundred years later. When I arrived in Boston as a graduate student in 2000, I often found myself reflecting on the fact that the oldest parts of the city were probably built after my family house. I believe this intergenerational perspective has played a significant role in shaping my research and professional activities that center around sustainability. My education and training as a young civil engineer also provided me with a global perspective – by taking me to Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and Ecuador – revealing our ability to shape (for good and bad) the environment that surrounds us. During my graduate studies in the US, my focus shifted to technology, management, and policy. While my civil engineering roots provided me with knowledge on how to build things, my graduate studies allowed me to explore the policy, law, and economic frameworks that shape why we build things. The legacy of this interdisciplinary education continues today through my research on sustainable water supply/sanitation and transportation systems and macro policies/strategies focused on how we can transform industrial states towards sustainability. I also think it is important to recognize that none of this would have been possible without the support I received over the years from university scholarship programs, professional organizations such as the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the US Transportation Research Board, and mentors who continue to inspire my work.

2) What are your favorite things to do outside of work? 

We live in a beautiful area and I love riding my ElliptiGO around the town and rural roads. Yes, I am that person on the black standup/elliptical bike wearing the luminous yellow bib that you see around town!

3) If you could pick one person who you admire the most, who would it be and why?

I’m going to be a little cheeky here and change this question to … “If you could pick one type of person who you admire the most, who would it be and why?” The people I most admire at this moment in time are those who are using their voices/platforms to advocate for transformative change. People who fall into this group include Andrew Yang, Scott Stantens, Marjorie Kelly, Mariana Mazzucato, Jason Hickel, Giorgos Kallis, Steve Keen, and Grace Blakely to name a few. What they have in common are a set of ideas that challenge the status quo and advance visions that could benefit all members of society. While these ideas/visions vary, they are starting to shape narratives and agendas around the world that could form a new era of change.

4) If you could give one piece of advice to any student, what would it be?

When making any decision about your future, pay attention to what makes you the most excited/energized, and lean into this. When you do lean in, work collaboratively and strategically, and focus on what is truly important. I would also add the need to take risks and be adaptable when things don’t quite work as planned.

5) How does your work intersect with leadership and social change? 

I would say the core of my work is connected with the need for visionary leadership to advance sustainability. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic we were facing two crises – one environmental and one social. The pandemic has temporarily eased the environmental crisis, but has dramatically worsened the social inequality crisis. Millions of people will struggle to recover from the economic shutdown and some may never recover. My work is focused on how do we change the structure of the systems we create so they directly address environmental and social crises, and could help minimize the impact of global shocks such as pandemics.





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?

CaitlĂ­n 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”




SuperStudio – Spring 2020

16 10 2019

This spring I will be taking part in the new Honors College SuperStudio, where five advanced undergraduate courses (described below) will 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.

The SuperStudio will consist of the following five courses:

  • UH 4504: Environmental Policy and Social Change (20945)
  • UH 4504: “Medicare for All!”: Data Analysis for Health Reform (20946)
  • UH 4504: “Drone-Age” Innovation for the Public Good (20947)
  • UH 4504: The Future of Higher Education (20948)
  • UAP 4914: The Future of Employment (19367)

All five courses will meet at the same time and place to facilitate collaboration within and across the classes: Tuesday/Thursday, 2:00 – 3:15, in the Honors College’s new SuperStudio space in Squires Student Center (formerly the Old Dominion Ballroom). Students will have swipe-card access to the studio and dedicated project-development spaces.

In addition to enrolling in one of these five courses, students will also enroll in UH 4984: Honors SuperStudio (20958), a 1-credit corequisite that will meet on Wednesday, 11:15-12:05, to explore connections among their subjects and approaches, interrogate the Green New Deal, and pursue coordinated transdisciplinary responses to its potentials and challenges.

There are no prerequisite courses, but junior standing is required. All honors and honors-eligible students (3.6 GPA or better) are encouraged to participate in the SuperStudio, which we intend to make a vibrant community of practice.

UH 4504: Environmental Policy and Social Change – Dr. Velez

Public policy encompasses not just laws, but regulations, funding priorities, and decision-making in public institutions. In this course, we will study the National Environmental Policy Act to understand policy process; ethics, accountability, and diversity in policy making; and how sectoral differences affect policy decisions.

UH 4504: “Medicare for all!”: Data Analysis for Health Reform – Dr. Lewis

National and global health agencies mine patient data to determine trends in health care and make predictions about health crises. But does that data accurately reflect the health of all citizens? Moreover, does that data suggest how we might pay for universal healthcare as described in the Green New Deal?

UH 4504: “Drone-Age” Innovation for the Public Good – Prof. Banks-Hunt

Drone technology has tremendous potential for social and environmental public good. In this course, we will engage in problem-finding and design thinking for real-world applications of drone technology.

UH 4504: The Future of Higher Education – Dr. Underwood and Prof. Williams

How will higher education change in a world of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and distance education? In light of policies such as the Green New Deal, how will access, affordability, and innovation change learning and higher education?

UAP 4914: Public & Urban Seminar – The Future of Employment – Dr. Hall

In this seminar, we will study the Green New Deal from a variety of perspectives – industrial, academic, governmental, civil, and socio-ecological – paying close attention to how the proposed initiatives might advance or undermine meaningful and well-paid employment in the future.