My first semester as Director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech (MI) is drawing to a close. Similar to my 60 day update, I would like to share with you selected achievements and strategic activities of the institute. The institute is now home to a number of blossoming research efforts, including a policy informatics network, expanding work on citizen engagement, critical looks at development patterns in distressed cities, and the local and global patterns of community resiliency.
Roundup on Grants and Proposals
We continue to diversify our funded research portfolio. Joe Schilling led the Metropolitan Institute’s effort to partner with the German Marshall Fund and Cleveland State to manage, mentor, and evaluate a new executive fellowship program as part of the Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative which seeks to build capacity in six economically distressed cities—Cleveland, Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans, Fresno, and Chester, PA. Joe and his colleagues at Cleveland State will assess the impacts from the fellowship while mentoring roughly 30 professionals over a 3-year period. Maggie Cowell and I received a seed grant from the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment to build a research program on designing resilient networks for local communities. Read more about the project here. We received an IBM Center for the Business of Government grant to study the role of citizen apps and its influence on governance. Read more about the project here. We are hoping to hear positive responses on several grant proposals we currently have under review.
New and Emerging Partnerships
An institute’s strategic alliances are one of its most valuable assets. Building winning partnerships takes time and effort, and the payoffs for both parties are not immediate. We have spent a great deal of time and effort to connect the Metropolitan Institute with our industry, non-profit, and government friends. We have formed a partnership with ACT for Alexandria, a community foundation dedicated to stimulating philanthropic giving on the local level within Alexandria, VA. The ACTion Alexandria project is a new citizen engagement platform with interactive tools to make it easier for residents to take an active role in addressing community problems. The institute will partner with Act for Alexandria and use the ACTion platform to design and test practices that encourage citizen participation using online tools. Read more on this project here. Tentative collaboration agreements are in place or being cultivated with a number of other organizations including the American Red Cross, the US Green Building Council, the International for City/County Managers Association (ICMA), and City and County of San Francisco, among others. Within Virginia Tech, we continue to work closely with our partners in the Northern Capital Region and Blacksburg on a number of collaborative efforts.
Please continue reading for updates on our work in Community Resiliency, Policy Informatics and exciting international outreach and our vision of the future.
We have established a research program that will look at issues of community resilience and the design of resilient networks for governance. One project under this program will study how citizens merge into responsive communities, make an impact, and then dissolve during and after a disaster. It will bring into light locally significant disasters that do not earn national headlines and where the local community turns to their own resources to respond. We will uncover the dynamics of community emergence in response to a disaster. Other efforts under this research program include studying the dynamics of community and urban resilience. Taking a systems-of-systems approach, we are exploring various governing dynamics of designing resilient organizations and urban spaces.
We are home to an emerging global policy informatics network. Members of the network are collaborating to put forth the first book on the topic. Visit our website for chapter abstracts from researchers representing institutions such as University of Oxford, Syracuse University, Australian National University, and MIT among others. Erik Johnston (Assistant Professor, Arizona State University) and I will serve as editors of the book.
Cities in Transition
Our work on cities in transition (also known as ‘shrinking cities’ or more recently ‘legacy cities’ here in the US) continues to gain attention. Associate Director Joe Schilling’s observations were highlighted in Planning Magazine’s November 2011 article, “The Incredible Shrinking City,” which explores the dimensions of planning smaller, better cities. As part of our grant with the Ford Foundation, Joe and our graduate research assistants, working with co-author Alan Mallach, non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, are busy putting the finishing touches on a Planners’ Advisory Service Report (PAS) for the American Planning Association (APA) on cities in transition which is slated for publication in spring 2012. Joe and Alan will be presenting the new report at APA’s annual conference in Los Angeles in April 2012.
The Journal of Housing Policy Debate
The Metropolitan Institute is also home to Housing Policy Debate, the premier journal on housing policy in the US. Tom Sanchez, MI faculty fellow and director of Urban Affairs and Planning (UAP) is the editor with Derek Hyra, MI faculty fellow and associate professor in UAP, serving as the Senior Associate Editor. The editorial team of Housing Policy Debate is pleased to report that the 2010 Impact Factor for the journal has risen to 1.708. The current ranking of the journal is 6th out of 47 among Planning and Development journals and 4th out 36 among Urban Studies journals.
International Outreach and Engagement
As the dynamics of urbanization unfold across the globe, we need to collaborate with international partners. Institute staff and fellows have been active around the globe. In October, I spent time in Paris and Lille to speak with faculty and students at IESEG School of Management. During my visit, I presented on designing innovation programs and explored partnerships for inter-disciplinary collaborations on two possible research projects. In light of her scholarship on economic resiliency, Margaret Cowell, MI faculty fellow and assistant professor in UAP, will also be visiting Paris and Lille this week as part of a two year reciprocal exchange of experts sponsored by the French-America Foundation, the Florence Gould Foundation and the French Ministry of Culture and Communications. The French delegation from this reciprocal exchange visited the institute in November where Joe Schilling facilitated the discussion on the intersection of neighborhood revitalization, the adaption of distressed cities, and the relationship of creative place making (e.g., sustainability, culture and art). Joe also spent a week in the Ruhr Valley in Germany participating in the first of four Trans-Atlantic Urban Energy Dialogues on energy efficiency and urban regeneration along with leaders and staff from the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC), Stuttgart, and Guelph (Ontario, Canada). They identified several cutting-edge energy initiatives that could gain traction here in the US. Read more on this project here.
As Michelangelo (Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni) noted, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” Rest assured that we heed the works of Michelangelo. While we are proud of our achievements to date, we know that we have a lot more that needs to be done. Our aim is to be the preeminent institute that studies metropolitan complexities from the design of urban governance frameworks, to architectingsustainable and resilient urban spaces, and building smart and intelligent cities.
Thank you for your continued support of the Metropolitan Institute. I encourage you to visit our website to stay updated on our work.
Wishing you a joyous holiday season and a happy and prosperous New Year!
Kevin C. Desouza, Ph.D.
Director, Metropolitan Institute
Associate professor, Center for Public Administration and Policy