Featured Research

Faculty and student research associated with Global Metropolitan Studies address a broad range of urban research topics and methods, and the program often affords the opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration. The below is a sampling of recent projects from both faculty and students.

Road traffic traces

Analyzing Transportation Equity Impacts using Activity-based Travel Demand Models

Joan Walker, Professor
Civil and Environmental Engineering

Activity-based travel demand models can be useful tools for understanding the individual level equity impacts of transportation plans, because of their ability to generate disaggregate transportation measures. However, these capabilities have yet to be fully explored in public practice. In our research we use a general framework for performing transportation equity analysis using activity-based travel demand models, distributional comparisons, and incorporating equity standards. In addition, we demonstrate the advantages of distributional comparisons, relative to average measures. This demonstration uses the 2000 Bay Area Travel Survey and (activity-based) mode choice model. The findings show that distributional comparisons are capable of clearly revealing the winners and losers that result from transportation improvements, in comparison with average measures. The use of these results will likely result in different conclusions on transportation investments.

Contributors: Joan Walker (Professor of Civil Engineering, UC Berkeley), Tierra Bills (Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Michigan).


AppCivist Vallejo header photo

AppCivist: New Social Media Platforms for Democratic Assembly and Participatory Citizenship

James Holston, Professor

The AppCivist research project studies how new social media can support democratic assembly and participatory citizenship. The initiative is further rooted in the principles of social activism in that it aims to provide citizens with software systems that help them articulate projects, deliberate directly among themselves, and mobilize action. AppCivist is a platform for democratic assembly and collaborative decision-making. It helps people tackle problems in their communities, discuss and decide on ideas for solutions, turn ideas into proposals, edit and vote on proposals, and follow their implementation. AppCivist can facilitate ideation and help participants make better arguments through versioning, visualization, and collaborative deliberation. It encourages both on and off-line collaboration, addressing problems of scale in processes of direct democracy for small and large communities. The AppCivist team is currently collaborating with the City of Vallejo to use AppCivist for the city’s 2016 participatory budgeting campaign, available at vallejopb.appcivist.org. Participatory budgeting (PB) is an allocation process used in many cities around the world through which they commit a percentage of their annual budget (often 5%) to implement citizen-proposed projects. In PB, residents brainstorm, develop, and select project proposals that local governments are then committed to fund and implement. AppCivist is the result of a joint research initiative between the Social Apps Lab at CITRIS, UC Berkeley (http://socialappslab.org/), led by Professor Holston, where the project began several years ago, and the MiMove Research Team (https://mimove.inria.fr/) at Inria, Paris. The project received the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Award for Campus-Community Partnership in 2016-2017.

Singapore hawker center

Building Efficiency and Sustainability in the Tropics

Stefano Schiavon, Professor

The Singapore Berkeley Building Efficiency and Sustainability in the Tropics (SinBerBEST, 2012-2022) project involves a multi-disciplinary group of 8-10 faculty at the University of California Berkeley with the objective to radically reduce energy use in tropical commercial buildings. This inter-disciplinary research program proposes a fundamental shift from the current paradigm to one that emphasizes the cooperative integration between the Grid, the Building, and its Occupants all working together as an Ecosystem. Most of the world’s population growth is occurring in tropical areas, but just how to provide comfortable, energy-efficient indoor conditions in warm and humid climates is understudied. Part of the project is aimed at assessing the consequences, on thermal comfort, wellbeing and energy use, of using increased air movement generated by fans, a cost effective low tech alternative to air conditioning.

Mekong River boats

Dams on the Mekong: Cumulative Sediment Starvation

G. Mathias Kondolf, Professor
Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning

The Mekong River, largely undeveloped prior to 1990, is undergoing rapid dam construction. Seven dams are under construction on the upper mainstem in China and 133 are planned for the Lower Mekong River and tributaries. These dams will trap sediment that formerly was transported downstream to the lower river and delta. The delta is dependent on sediment delivered from upstream to balance losses to subsidence and coastal erosion, and if sediment load is reduced, the future of the delta becomes increasingly in doubt. To estimate the cumulative reduction in sediment supply to the delta, we delineated distinct geomorphic regions and estimated sediment yields based on geomorphic characteristics, tectonic history, and available sediment transport data available. We then applied a network model to calculate cumulative sediment trapping by dams, accounting for changing trap efficiency over time and multiple dams on a single river system. Under full build-out of all dams as currently planned, cumulative sediment trapping will be 96%. That is, once in-channel stored sediment is exhausted, only 4% of the pre-dam sediment load would reach the Delta.

Sink with handwashing promotion

Education, Development, and Cultural Practices in Marginal Communities in Indonesia

Jenny Zhang, PhD Candidate

Jenny Zhang researches education, development interventions, and textual practice in Indonesia. Her research takes me to two sites: a densely-populated area in North Jakarta, and a rural area in Eastern Indonesia. In both places, she meets with teachers, parents of students, school administrators, development workers, and community members, to better understand how education works, what it represents, and efforts to change systems, practices, and beliefs.

Fungible Life: Ethnicity and Experimentation in Biomedical Asia

Aihwa Ong, Professor

The Singapore National Institute of Health (NIH) policy of racialization-as-inclusion in research was a critical factor in the building of Asian DNA databases at Biopolis, an emerging biomedical hub in Singapore. Citing variability in DNA and populations in the Asian region, Singaporean biostatisticians challenge DeCode Genetics of Iceland as an exemplary model of genomic research. They claim that genetic traits among populations in Asia that are relatively new to medical genomics – and being gathered "in the wild" – gain value from being calculated and databased. The infrastructure deploys the ethnic heuristic in different registers. First, the network of ethnicity becomes a supple membrane coextensive with the network of genetic data points. Second, ethnicity is rendered an immutable mobile that circulates databases beyond tiny Singapore, making the infrastructure at once situated, flexible, and expansive. Third, the ethnic signifier carries affective value that enhances a sense of what is at stake in the building, mobilization and implications of such Asian databases. In short the origami-like folding together of multiple, flowable and perfomative data points shapes a unilateral topological space of biomedical "Asia."

Housing model in Jakarta mall

Future Islands: Speculation and the Making of the Middle Class Modern in Jakarta

Matt Wade, PhD Candidate
City and Regional Planning

In the early 1980s, new real estate magnates began building suburbs, or new towns, and an emergent middle class began purchasing tract housing and spending their free time in malls. As the finance economy grew in the late 1980s and early 1990s, city planners strategized new ways to open up central city land markets, ushering in new territorial strategies and opening up new land markets in the kampung (“urban villages”) and state-owned lands. Developers moved the suburban real estate model to the center of the city, as all-inclusive real estate products called “superblocks,” modern campuses of middle-class residences, office towers, and malls. Raising money through residential “presales,” developers enlisted the investment of middle-class residents, often directed at the perceived wealth and desires of ethnically Chinese families. The new urban enclaves that continue to be constructed around Jakarta also enabled new geopolitical identities for the city and the nation, and the discourse of Asian “global city” rose in the political economy of real estate development. In this dissertation, I argue that speculating developers, politicians, planners, and families alike were critical in transforming the city by building and inhabiting these architectural spectacles of middle class living and corporate finance. However, the territorialization of the city resulting from this development has also transformed Jakarta into an archipelago of urban enclaves, a city characterized by islands of wealth and commerce, and the traffic and floods that impede flows between these islands.

Children working on community arsenic treatment plant

Groundwater Arsenic Remediation Pilot Plant in West Bengal

Ashok Gadgil, Professor
Civil and Environmental Engineering

Close to 100 million people in rural South Asia are exposed to high levels of arsenic through groundwater used for drinking. Many deployed arsenic remediation technologies quickly fail because they are not maintained, repaired, accepted, or affordable. It is therefore imperative that arsenic remediation technologies be evaluated for their ability to perform within a sustainable and scalable business model that addresses these challenges. In January 2017, we completed field trials in West Bengal, India, of a full-scale pilot plant deploying a technology developed at Berkeley. This technology, called Electro-Chemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR) operates as community-scale arsenic-remediation plant for groundwater. The ECAR pilot plant with a capacity to treat 10,000 Liters per day, was designed, built, commissioned, and then operated at a High School in West Bengal from April 2016 to January 2017, after which it has been handed over to an industrial partner. Results of close measurements of arsenic content of treated water, as well as measurements of all parameters applicable to drinking water, are excellent. ECAR's consistently remediated arsenic concentrations of ~ 250 μg/L to  < 5 μg/L in real groundwater, simultaneously meeting the standards for all other contaminants in drinking water. ECAR treatment costs (amortized capital plus consumables, but excluding salaries, management, and marketing) are estimated to be on the order of $1/m3 under realistic local conditions. This preliminary economic analysis suggests that community-scale micro-utility business model would be a sustainable and scalable safe water solution for arsenic-affected communities in South Asia.

Central European empty street

Local Government in Transition in Post-Socialist European Cities

Matthew Stenberg, PhD Candidate
Political Science

Local governments throughout Central and Eastern Europe have faced a number of struggles in their dual transformation towards democratic governance and a market economy. Many post-Socialist cities face deindustrialization, declining populations, and limited incoming investment; however, some cities have weathered these challenges more effectively than others. Matthew Stenberg’s dissertation research examines the ways that important decisions, policies, and relationships made early in the transition period may have long-term effects that might affect outcomes today, focusing especially on local government administration. He looks at how variation (both within and across countries) in the transition process in the early 1990s may ultimately impact contemporary local state capacity in post-Socialist EU cities, with particular focus on mid-sized cities in East Germany and Poland.

Standing in line for homeless services

No Shelter: Criminalization, Medicalization, and Socialization of Homelessness in San Francisco

Chris Herring, PhD Candidate

This research focuses on the restructuring of homeless regulation in the American city from 1983 to the present through ethnographic and archival methods. The project deploys a unique double-edged enactive ethnography in the city of San Francisco. He lived alongside those experiencing homelessness in encampments, shelters, and residential hotels, and also worked alongside bureaucrats, activists, and service providers addressing homelessness. In tracing the logics and practices at the interface of the local state and its homeless subjects his research exposes how a new blend of criminalization, medicalization, and socialization of homelessness perpetuates poverty. Rather than taking homelessness as simply the outcome of poverty and inequality, he elaborates how institutions of homeless management that stratify, sort, and separate the poorest of the poor in a context of chronic scarcity fuel inequality from below. While these institutions provide for and assist some, they simultaneously systematically deprive and dispossess others. This not only keeps some unhoused longer than others, but also reproduces and fossilizes poverty for many even after they exit homelessness.

Prison interior

Performing Hope: Re-Socialization Programs in Rio de Janeiro Prisons

David Thompson, PhD Candidate

This research focuses on the "re-socialization" programs for those incarcerated in Rio de Janeiro's prison system. These programs work to reform and transform the lives of the imprisoned by providing narratives of the future, narratives that build on broader notions of a "reformed" city and nation free of their perceived social ills. Yet they also place the incarcerated in a bind, legitimating only a narrow, conservative vision of work, family and social life that is often impossible for poor, black and queer inmates, even though they must perform these narratives of change to secure parole and other benefits. David works with both inmates and prison workers (public defenders, church groups, psychologists and others) who carry out this re-socialization work. He asks how prisons become sites of hope - a hope that is at once liberating and confining, and that is enmeshed in conflicts over the future of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil.

Solar panels

Photovoltaics Investment and California’s Property Assessed Clean Energy Program

Daniel Kammen, Professor
Energy and Resources Group

Growing global awareness of climate change has ushered in a new era demanding policy, financial and behavioral innovations to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. Dramatic price decreases in solar photovoltaics (PV) and public policy have underwritten the expansion of solar power, now accounting for the largest share of renewable energy in California and rising fast in other countries, such as Germany and Italy. Governments' efforts to expand solar generation base and integrate it into municipal, regional, and national energy systems, have spawned several programs that require rigorous policy evaluations to assess their effectiveness, costs and contribution to Paris Agreement's goals. In this study, we exploit a natural experiment in northern California to test the capacity of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) to promote PV investment. PACE has been highly cost effective by more than doubling residential PV installations.

Refugee camp with NGO signs

Refugees and Communitees of Care in Dar es Salaam

Amelia Hays, PhD Student
City and Regional Planning

This research focuses on the complex and often tense relationships between individual refugees and the legal and humanitarian apparatuses put in place to serve them. Amelia focuses on communities of urban refugees living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, most of whom lack official refugee status. She investigates how individual refugees and refugee communities build and maintain agency and connectivity in ways that challenge the discursive, legal, and spatial boundaries set by refugee and humanitarian institutions. Her research aims to expose nuanced experiences of displacement and to bring this critical, theoretical perspective into closer dialogue with the applied work of humanitarians and policy-makers.


Remaking The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

Karen Trapenberg Frick, Associate Professor
City & Regional Planning

On 17 October 1989 one of the largest earthquakes since 1906 struck Northern California. Damage was extensive, none more so than the partial collapse of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge’s eastern span. What ensued over the next 25 years is the extraordinary cautionary tale to which any governing authority should pay heed.In her new book, Trapenberg Frick describes the process by which the bridge was replaced as an exercise in shadowboxing which pitted the combined talents and shortcomings of the State’s leading elected officials, engineers, and architects against a collectively imagined future catastrophe of unknown proportions and highlights three key questions:

  • If safety was the reason to replace the bridge, why did it take almost 25 years to do so?
  • How did an original estimate of $250 million in 1995 soar to $6.5 billion by 2014?
  • And why was such a complex design chosen?

Her final chapter provides recommendations to improve megaproject delivery and design.

Sao Paolo periphery

São Paulo's Peripheries: Transformations in Modes of Collective Life

Teresa Caldeira, Professor
City and Regional Planning

Paulo’s peripheries were once exclusively the spaces where the poor working classes inhabited their autoconstructed houses and organized themselves into insurgent social movements. In the last two decades, these spaces have changed considerably. The mode of collective life that was based on autoconstruction, industrialism, migration, the dignity of labor, a certain hierarchy of gender roles, and the articulation of urban social movements is being profoundly challenged by new modes of consumption in what are now much improved and heterogeneous urban spaces. This consumption is aligned with new kinds of cultural production, protest, and circulation from the peripheries to the rest of the city. This project analyzes the emerging collective life and its consumption-fueled everyday dynamics, in which new arrangements of domestic life and gender roles are at the core of mutations. It also suggests that these peripheral transformations happen not only in São Paulo, but also in many other autconstructed metropolises across the global south.

Thailand precarious housing on stilts over river

Secure Housing for the Urban Poor in Thailand

Hayden Shelby , PhD Candidate
City and Regional Planning

This research focuses on the origins and effects of a housing policy called Baan Mankong (“Secure Housing”) in Thailand. The goal of Baan Mankong is to give poor urban residents threatened with eviction the opportunity to gain legal access to land as a community. Hayden’s research looks into how a variety of different actors, from the community members themselves to land rights activists to intergovernmental organizations, have shaped this policy. The ultimate goal of the research is to better understand how being part of a Baan Mankong community changes the lives of individual residents participating in the policy.

NYC subway

Subways and Urban Air Pollution

Marco Gonzalez-Navarro, Professor
Agriculture and Resource Economics

We investigate the relationship between the opening of a city’s subway network and its air quality. We find that particulate concentrations drop by about 4% in a 10km radius disk surrounding a city center during the year following a subway system opening. This reduction in particulates is larger nearer the city center, but extends over the whole metropolitan area. It persists over the longest time horizon that we can measure with our data, about eight years, although these estimates are less reliable further from the subway opening date. Subway expansions have smaller effects on particulates and ridership than openings. Using estimates from the literature on the relationship between particulates and infant mortality suggests that each subway system provides an external mortality benefit of about $21m per year. This external benefit increases to about $594m per system per year if we consider mortality reduction effects for all city residents rather than just infants. Although available subway capital costs are crude, the estimated external mortality effects represent a significant fraction of construction costs.

Trash haulers in Nairobi

Tenuous Wires, Covert Excreta Flows, and a Formal/Informal Interface: Uncovering New Facets of Informality in Nairobi

Alice Sverdlik, PhD
City and Regional Planning

This research focuses on sanitation, electricity, and food vending in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Urban policymakers and sanitation practitioners have often overlooked shared on-site sanitation, despite the predominance of such toilets in African slums and rising concern over paltry access to sanitation. Pit latrines can quickly fill up in high-density settlements, and past research in African cities has focused on latrines’ filling times, insect infestation, gas formation, and design considerations but has rarely analyzed the governance of these toilets. Moreover, urban on-site provision has fallen through the cracks in African sanitation policies, since it is assumed that rural areas have on-site sanitation but cities have sewers. By exploring latrine maintenance and waste flows in a Nairobi slum, Alice shows that on-site sanitation is a gendered, spatial, and governance concern best understood from the vantage point of informal settlements.

street scape telephone wires

“Transparency Fixes” for Local Public Services: Field Experimental and Ethnographic Evidence from Bangalore’s Water Sector

Alison Post, Professor
Political Science

Worldwide, 400 million people rely on intermittent water, often receiving services only a few days a week for a few hours. While addressing the underlying causes of water intermittency and unpredictability tends to be very costly, low-cost informational interventions can potentially help households to cope with service unpredictability. Alleviating coping costs may also change the way in which citizens relate to their local governments. In this project, we analyze a text-message based notification scheme providing households with advance warning of the timing of water services and supply cancellations provided by the social enterprise NextDrop. Through a cluster-randomized experiment involving 3000 households in Bangalore, we evaluate whether the notification system reduces: a) the time spent waiting for water; b) expenditures on substitutes for piped water services; and c) stress levels on account of uncertain and irregular deliveries and uncertainty. We also examine if, and how, the receipt of real-time information changes how citizens “see the state,” whom they hold responsible for service quality and problems, and whom they approach about service concerns. A second project component examines the circumstances under which the frontline workers responsible for contributing water timing information complied with the intervention through ethnographic observation and the analysis of an original dataset.

Contributors:  Alison E. Post (Associate Professor, Political Science), Isha Ray (Associate Professor, Energy and Resources Group), Tanu Kumar (Ph.D. Candidate, Political Science), Christopher Hyun (Ph.D. Student, Energy and Resources Group)