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.


A study of ridehailing programs for passengers with disabilities in Boston and NYC

Madeleine Parker, PhD Student
City and Regional Planning

Paratransit services in the United States have long provided a vital form of transportation for people with disabilities who are unable to use traditional public transit. However, coverage and high costs have remained key challenges for transportation agencies, and service levels are often limiting for riders. Innovations in the transportation sector, such as e-hailing services, which provide rides requested on-demand, may hold potential to address some of these issues. Over the past several years, transit agencies have been conducting pilot programs to test the feasibility and efficiency of paratransit services provided by ridehailing services. This field research focuses on two of these programs, run by Boston’s MBTA, which has extended their paratransit pilot program using Uber and Lyft since 2015, and New York City’s MTA, which began a limited taxi e-hailing program in 2018. Through interviews with riders, advocacy groups, and government representatives, this research aims to provide a better understanding of the benefits and challenges of ridehailing paratransit programs, and the lessons that the experience holds for increasing transportation access for people with disabilities.

2019 Summer Research funded by Global Metropolitan Studies
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.

Storm water pump station in Miami Beach.

Assembling Urban Resilience in Miami

Savannah Cox, PhD Student
City and Regional Planning

How might various financial technologies—insurance premiums, credit ratings, and bonds—be (re)made to govern cities in an era of climate change? And how might these technologies, along with the physical interventions they have inspired, become sites of intense political, and hyper-local, debate about what life in the climate-changed city should look like? Over the month of June 2019, I traveled to Greater Miami in order to begin to answer these framing questions. I interviewed panicked capital planners who say that a growing part of their job is storytelling: treating investments in climate-resilient infrastructure as key plot devices to change the global (investment) narrative about Miami. I met with incensed middle-class residents of Miami Beach who dismiss the recent installation of resilient storm water pumps and pipes as “worthless crap” meant to appease bond rating agencies and increasingly climate-wary investors, and whose climate activism entails writing these agencies and investors and inform them of the resilience ruse. I observed local grassroots organizations using municipal budgets and debt instruments meant to finance resilience plans as key sites of and for climate justice: treating debt not simply as an object of discipline, punishment, or refusal but as a key political technology for addressing legacies of racialized harm in Miami and advancing more just, climate-changed urban futures. Over the course of the month, I observed how deeply embedded the question and problem of finance is in the everyday lives and practices of Miami residents and officials—especially as climate risks begin to mount and as the global investment class takes an increasingly close look at what these risks might mean for the economy and overall “value” of Miami. In Greater Miami, it may be the case that the problem of resilience is not simply about installing the right infrastructure and financing it appropriately. It is about disputes over the value(s) of resilience and who is best disposed ti account for it; it is about controlling what kinds of stories official investments in resilient infrastructure tell investors—and how long these stories will last.

2019 Summer Research funded by Global Metropolitan Studies
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.


Confronting Experiences of Water Vulnerability and Inequities of Water Management in California’s San Joaquin Valley

Yanin Kramsky, PhD Student
City and Regional Planning

California’s San Joaquin Valley is rife with water management practices that neglect the needs of primarily Latino/a/x residents of Disadvantaged Unincorporated Communities (DUCs). Hundreds of DUCs are scattered across the Valley and confront disproportionate environmental burdens such as contaminated groundwater, dry wells, and insufficient water infrastructure. Municipal and state disinvestment, industrial agriculture, dairy farming, and geological circumstances have, over time, led to perpetual water quality and quantity challenges that are all too common for these residents. That said, state policies aimed at addressing the Valley’s water challenges, such as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014, require proactive outreach and engagement with DUCs. To meet this goal, basin-wide Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) have been tasked with soliciting and incorporating community members’ perspectives into a Sustainable Groundwater Management Plan (SGMP) by 2020. However, residents of DUCs are seldom able to break entrenched and systemic racial and gender barriers that inhibit ongoing access to GSAs. Furthermore, the technical expertise, political savvy, time commitment, and documentation status required to effectively demonstrate DUC needs to GSA board members are impossible for resource-strapped, and at times undocumented, residents to attain. Consequently, marginalized residents risk falling through the cracks of one-size-fits all water management strategies that fail to capture diverse and nuanced experiences accompanying chronic water stress. This research looks at the politics of unincorporation in the Valley, the possibilities and limits of public participation in water management for residents of DUCs as the SGMP unfolds, everyday experiences of water vulnerability in the area, and similarities and differences across DUCs. 

2018 Summer Research funded by Global Metropolitan Studies

Constructing Alternative Politics: Emerging Memberships and Identities in Mexico City’s New Urban Peripheries

Francisco Morales, PhD Student

My dissertation research is situated in contemporary explorations of urban social movements, infrastructure, and citizenship, as well as classical anthropological inquiries of everyday life to understand how citizens cobble together a political consciousness in response to precarious urban conditions. I draw upon contemporary discussion of how the production of the city engenders different political formations, and how people’s differing urban practices, particularly their involvement in making the built forms of the city, transform their political subjectivity. My research focuses on a municipality in Mexico City’s metropolitan area that has experienced a radical transformation provoked by the State’s push toward the production of “formal” housing for the working class. This push has induced the creation of massive, single-family housing estates throughout the metropolitan area. The quality of life in the housing estates ranges widely, some providing a comfortable environment for their inhabitants, and others presenting serious deficiencies in services and infrastructure. I study how people inhabit these “formal” spaces, and how they negotiate the many challenges they encounter when they inhabit them. I am particularly interested in how residents respond to the hobbled provision of services in the housing estates, and the forms of protest that emerge as a consequence of the precarious living conditions.      

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.

Rio’s Urban Peripheries

Deviations from Democracy: City-making in Rio’s Urban Peripheries & the Unmaking of Democratic Imaginary

Nicole Rosner, PhD Candidate

My work investigates the unmaking of the procedures and imaginaries that constructed the contemporary project of democracy in Brazil. I do so by following the desvios [deviations/detours] of plans, funds, land, laws, and rights in the urban peripheries of Rio de Janeiro. These areas of the city became the site and substance of bottom-up insurgent mobilizations in the 1970s and 1980s to democratize Brazil from the peripheries. Three decades later they turned into the target of top-down urban interventions aimed at pacification. I investigate the lives and afterlives of public works plans to integrate and pacify these peripheries into the official city and the unplanned deviations that deconstruct their democratic procedures. I draw on ethnographic research in Rio to juxtapose public works experiments in the auto-constructed hillside communities [favelas] of Rio’s wealthy South Zone with those of the working-class North Zone suburbs [subúrbios] to expose entrenched modes of maintaining and manipulating colonial forms of inequality. Specifically, I investigate an experimental city branding strategy that links both sites: the “greening” of these peripheries, a process that subtly upgrades the city-image by projecting the city’s favelas and subúrbios as spaces of peaceful environmentally conscious innovation. To examine this process, I focus primarily on a public park intervention in the North Zone suburb of Madureira and a sustainable favela “urbanization” intervention in the South Zone favelas of Babilônia and Chapéu Mangueira. Although these cases differ in scale, geographic location and mode of intervention, I bring them into conversation in order to reveal a shared experimental aim underlying both top-down municipal interventions and the logic of desvios that quietly diverts and deconstructs their democratic procedures transversally across the city. Such practices deviate from democracy by transforming Rio de Janeiro and the democratic imaginary from the peripheries.

2018 Summer Research funded by Global Metropolitan Studies
Urbanization in China

Ecological State: Science, Nature and the City in China’s Southwest

Jesse Rodenbiker, PhD Candidate

As the world’s most rapidly urbanizing country, China is taking measures to balance urbanization with sustainable development. Jesse’s work explores China’s urban green development at the intersection of environmental science, urban land governance, and social dislocation. Drawing on 15 months of ethnographic, archival, geo-visual, and participatory methods, his research examines the cultural politics and political economies of urban land governance in the context of post-socialist environmental planning across major cities of the China’s Southwest. He makes the case that ecological sciences crucially inform urban land-use classification strategies that allow the local state to transform 20% of city regions into ecological protection zones. Far from neutral, processes of green zoning are remaking state and society through the uneven incorporation of peri-urban land and people. By interrogating the scientific roots and territorializing practices of land and housing dispossession, Jesse's work speaks to state formations and social inequalities underlying green urban development across China. 

2018 Summer Research funded by Global Metropolitan Studies
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.

Manchester stormwater park in Kitsap County, WA

From National Stormwater Regulations to Local Policies and Implementation: Perspectives From Four West Coast Urban Centers

Anneliese Sytsma, PhD Student
Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning

Runoff from urban areas is a leading cause of pollution and decline in ecological health of downstream receiving waters. Mounting water quality issues and the price tags for clean ups have prompted a shift from gray stormwater infrastructure to “green stormwater infrastructure” (GSI) that provides ecological, social, and stormwater benefit. While all cities respond to the federal Clean Water Act, some cities have adopted GSI more than others. My research examines the role of federal stormwater regulation in shaping local policy, planning, and implementation, specifically for GSI. The summer of 2018, I conducted interviews with stormwater experts in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle regions over summer of 2018. The results of my interviews suggest: 1) adoption of GSI is driven in part by the type of existing stormwater infrastructure, 2) high-achieving local municipalities influence state and maybe regional stormwater regulation, and 3) cities without a specific federal mandate to reduce stormwater volume face challenges to prioritize and evaluate trade-offs between GSI’s multiple functions. 

2018 Summer Research funded by Global Metropolitan Studies

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.

Laguerre Book Cover

Global City-Twinning in the Digital Age

Michel S. Laguerre, Professor and Director of the Berkeley Center for Globalization and Information Technology
Global Studies

How can twin city arrangements benefit the sister cities?  GMS Executive Committee member Professor Michel Laguerre explores diverse contemporary models of cross-border city-to-city entanglements with a view to promoting friendship, border management, entrepreneurialism, urban development, transnational municipal policy, and digital embeddedness.  In his new book, Global City-Twinning in the Digital Age (University of Michigan Press, 2020), Professor Laguerre selected multiple cities involved in sororal arrangements--including Berkeley, Budapest, Casablanca, Istanbul, Paris, Prague, San Diego, and San Francisco-- for field research and collection of qualitative data for the project. These case studies, or composite urban biographies, allow an opportunity to identify successful sister-city relations that materialize through (1) transfers of technical knowledge, professional skills, capital, and goods; (2) collaboration in terms of joint training and the sharing of best practices of urban governance, urban planning, and local democracy; and (3) understanding emergent forms of transnational municipal management, cross-border administrative cultures, and aspects of global urban politics. These selected aspects of cross-border sister-city practices are deconstructed and interpreted in this study through the disciplinary lens of globalization theory.

Tunis, Tunisia

Governing through Expectation: Territorial Configurations of Democratizing Politics in Post-revolution Tunisia

Lana Salman, PhD Candidate
City and Regional Planning

My research explores how poor urban dwellers politicize the city. I spent approximately two years in Tunisia studying a decentralization program the government set up in response to the 2011 revolution. I observed participatory planning meetings and followed the housing trajectories of poor women who built their homes in far-flung peripheries and enlisted their men and kin networks in bringing services to their neighborhoods. My research shows that these poor dwellers are inventing the institutions of democratic governance by making claims for basic infrastructure – paved roads, water and electricity – at the municipal level. Municipal officials address their claims by extending the promise of infrastructure provision. I develop the concept of governing through expectation to describe this mode of rule. Furthermore, I argue that governing through expectation is a democratic multi-scalar mode of rule. 

2018 Summer Research funded by Global Metropolitan Studies
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.


Planning for the Future of California Salt Marshes

Celina Balderas Guzman, PhD Candidate
Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning

Developing the San Francisco Bay area from a provincial town in the 1800s to a modern metropolis came at the price of destroying 95 percent of the Bay’s coastal wetlands. Since the environmental movement in the 1970s, more than eighty coastal wetlands in the Bay have been restored in some manner. We protect wetlands because the improve water quality, absorb flood waters, buffer storm surges, and provide habitat to endangered species. However, climate change threatens the survival of the Bay’s extant wetlands. Sea level rise models show that the Bay’s wetlands will start to disappear around mid-century with near-total losses by 2100. Yet much uncertainty remains in how wetlands will respond to climate change. This research investigates how restoration planning and management efforts in the Bay led by local, state, and federal agencies are accounting for climate change risks and uncertainties. While focused on San Francisco Bay, this project also examines Humboldt Bay and the Los Angeles region as comparative case studies.

2019 Summer Research funded by Global Metropolitan Studies.
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.


Social Vulnerability and Risk: Water Infrastructure and Earthquake Hazard in Mexico City

Beki McElvain, PhD Student
City and Regional Planning

Centered on two peripheral communities (San Gregorio, Xochimilco and Colonia del Mar, Tláhuac) this study contributes to existing research on disaster risk reduction by looking at community-led, grassroots resilience efforts going on in places operating in the periphery of officially sanctioned programs, where communities don’t experience the same quality of water infrastructure or disaster mitigation and recovery efforts, but adapt in locally specific ways to their changing environments. I’m looking at these neighborhoods to understand the social production of disaster risk in Mexico City, as well as how these risks are being managed by non-state actors. This study examines how existing socioeconomic conditions and the interventions of political, elite, and informal actors—particularly through the implementation of infrastructure projects, political regime shifts, and top-down planning processes—produce and attempt to manage risk in Mexico City. Considering these conditions and interventions both before and after the 2017 Puebla-Morelos earthquake, we can see how risk is produced through infrastructure and public policy in the city, often as a reaction to previous disasters, or as a preventative measure where there are known hazards. While all of Mexico City is prone to earthquake hazards and flooding to some degree, the city’s increased disaster risk is due to poorly maintained infrastructure, poor or inconsistent building code enforcement, neglect by official programs, and higher vulnerability and exposure due to poverty and legacies of socioeconomic inequality. Since the 2017 earthquake, the city’s more affluent central areas are more or less being rebuilt through opaque official programs, while much of Mexico City’s periphery has been neglected. Urbanized along the dried lakebed of Lake Texcoco, the city’s periphery is vast in scale, and is home to the region’s most marginalized communities, many of whom live in autoconstructed houses. These outer areas are subjected to amplified earthquake risk because of below-ground soil conditions due to the lakebed beneath them, which makes them an ideal place to study how risk is produced in comparison to the rest of the city. 

2019 Summer Research funded by Global Metropolitan Studies
Jabal Al Natheef

Spaces of Hospitality: Humanitarian Refugee Camps and Informal Practices of Integration

Heba Alnajada, PhD Student

My research this summer primarily focused on different responses of hosting Syrian refugees in Jordan. To do this, I have conducted research with Syrians hosted among Palestinians living in an "informal" self-built camp in Amman, the capital city to Jordan.  Most of the refugee populations today are not in Europe; they are in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Syrian refugees crossing neighbouring borders find themselves in communities that are largely migrants themselves. These informal camps are not UN operated, in the humanitarian sense, as such they provide a way to understand responses and modalities of hosting refugee inside the histories of migration and movement in the Middle-East and outside of western humanitarian reason. I focused on the practices of three cohorts: refugees, host-communities and workers (non-profit, for-profit, non-governmental and governmental); specifically local entrepreneurial activities of livelihood extension for refugees and Syrian women’s piecework at home in the informal Palestinian camp.

2018 Summer Research funded by Global Metropolitan Studies
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.

Field work in Rio de Janeiro

The rise of new political actors in Brazilian peripheries: The effects on space, politics, and planning

Priscila Coli, PhD Student
City and Regional Planning

Traditionally, cities in the Global South have primarily developed by a production of space referred to by some as peripheral urbanization. In this mode of production, residents are active agents in city making, building their own houses and neighborhoods over time. Among the critical outcomes of this process is the emergence of politically engaged and empowered citizens, as well as the extension of property ownership to the majority of the population. In Brazil, peripheral urbanization resulted in the creation of a differentiated citizenship, and the formulation of inclusive urban planning legislation which sought to reverse the country’s inequitable pattern of urban growth. However, the production of space in Brazilian peripheries has significantly changed due to the rise of new political actors. Among them are evangelical churches, drug cartels and militias. They are modifying peripheral urbanization by taking control over basic services and local real estate markets, thus altering the land tenure pattern and the agency of residents. This transformation also challenges the role of the state and planning institutions in these territories. Although such changes may raise pressing concerns of social and spatial equity, the relationship between the production of space and the new political actors remain understudied, a gap that this research aims to fulfill.

2018 Summer Research funded by Global Metropolitan Studies
Workshop for student collaborators at the National University of Asuncion

Toward Sustainable Mobility: Study on the BRT in Paraguay

Megumi Yamanaka, PhD Student
City and Regional Planning

The main objective of our research is to measure the impact of Asuncion, Paraguay’s first BRT system on travel behavior. Because we will be tracking changes in travel behavior, it is necessary to produce “baseline” knowledge of travel behavior before the completion of the project, which is now underway. From June to August of 2018, we constructed this baseline by disseminating surveys to residents of the Asuncion Metropolitan Area about their travel behaviors, and by using a mobile app, Emission, to collect individual travel data.

Collaborator: Kalyanaraman Shankari, PhD Candidate in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences

2018 Summer Research funded by Global Metropolitan Studies
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)


“Urbanizing” the hinterland: agriculture-led urbanization in the Brazilian Midwest

Giselle Kristina Mendonça Abreu, PhD Candidate
City and Regional Planning

In the past twenty years, some small- and mid-sized cities in interior states of Brazil grew at significantly higher rates than metropolitan areas in the coast, a process that was anchored by the expansion of export-oriented farming. At the same time, the national City Statute (2001) established the requirement that every town with more than 20,000 inhabitants must have a participatory master plan to guide its growth and transformation based on a broader urban reform agenda. My doctoral research is concerned with how this agriculture-led urbanization and the new planning paradigm are connected to—or at odds with—each other. I hope to make a positive contribution by broadening our understanding of urbanization in the global South, offering a counterpoint to our usual narratives focused on metropolitan urban experiences, and by examining the limits and potentialities of participatory planning tools at the interface of rural and urban dynamics.