MI’s Director, Kevin Desouza, outlines five guidelines to consider for Leveraging the Wisdom of Crowds through Participatory Platforms was published on Planetizen. The future of design and planning is certain to be around participatory platforms, designers and planners should embrace these platforms and leverage their potential towards designing smart(er) cities through open, inclusive, and collaborative approaches. Planners need to learn how to orchestrate participation on these platforms so as to arrive at plans that are representative of community needs and within scope, budget, and resource constraints. Failure to achieve this will result in plans that fall prey to the foolishness or the rowdiness of crowds. I outline five simple guidelines to consider. To read more, click here - LINK
Professor Margaret Cowell, assistant professor in the Urban Affairs and Planning program in the School of Public and International Affairs and Faculty Fellow to the Metropolitan Institute, shared some of her background and research highlights recently.
Q: Please tell us a bit about your academic background.
I attended Brown University in Providence, RI, with the intention of becoming a medical doctor, however an undergraduate urban studies course sparked my curiosity and I quickly became obsessed with the subject and took every city-based course I could. I had the opportunity to study abroad in Cork, Ireland, a post-industrial city that felt much like the towns I’d grown up near in upstate New York, and a little like Buffalo or Cleveland. During my time abroad, Cork was seeing some growth with the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and my time there showed me another face of urban development in distressed areas. I then pursued a Masters degree in planning at the University of Buffalo – another excellent location for studying urban development in shrinking cities. Several years working and conducting research at the Federal Reserve Bank cemented my love for research. Driven by a desire to develop my own research agenda, I went back to school to pursue a PhD at Cornell University, working with Rolf Pendall and Susan Christopherson on transitional economies and regional resilience.
Q: What are your main research projects at the present time?
Currently, I’m working on a book manuscript to help us better understand how larger cities of the Midwest responded to deindustrialization in the 1970s and 1980s. The research is built on interviews I conducted with development officials, civic leaders, public officials, and private sector representatives in Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh to get a sense on the decision-making process and the economic development planning response crafted in each of these places. Continue reading
Kevin Desouza, Director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, and Maggie Cowell, Assistant Professor in Urban Affairs and Planning, School of Public and International Affairs), have received a seed grant of $20,000 from the Institute for Society, Culture and Environment (ISCE) at Virginia Tech for a project titled “Resilience of Citizen Engagement to Local Disasters: Studying the Emergence and Dissolution of Community Networks.”
This research project 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. Too often these local disasters and citizen responses are not studied but they are vital to deepening of our understanding of community resilience and the dynamics of citizen engagement. We will uncover the dynamics of community emergence in response to a disaster. Questions considered will include: who organizes citizens into a community, how, and why? How do they respond to the disaster? How is technology, especially social media, mobilized for community organization and relief operations? And finally, what leads to the disbanding of these communities and is there any institutional memory preserved? Consisting of a series of in-depth case studies, made up of first-person accounts and interviews together with a review of secondary sources, the research will look at three stages of a spontaneous community response: the assemblage; the action and impact; and the dissolution of the community. We will study how these emergent communities use technology creatively in the various stages of the community formation as a catalyst to overcome the lack of formal response mechanisms or response planning.
This project will provide valuable insights for citizen activists, planners, and policy makers on the functions and impacts of community response and improve our understanding of citizen engagement. Understanding the emergence, and impacts of local community response can inform the efficiency of more widespread responses. We will construct a web-based platform to share results from the research project (including video interviews with citizens, case studies, and community planning tools). In addition, the web-based platform will support networking and community building among citizens who are interested in building resilient community networks.
It is time for me to catch my breath and take a few minutes to report on what we have been up to at the Metropolitan Institute. Depending on how you count, I have been working in my role as the Director of the Metropolitan Institute for about 60 days, or since June of 2011 (when I began serving on the President’s Long Range Planning Task Force). As I do not want to bore you with all the details of what we have been up to at the Metropolitan Institute, I will give you the CliffsNotes version:
- I have had the pleasure to meet with leaders across Virginia Tech. These leaders have included the President, Provost, several Vice Provosts and Vice Presidents, heads of academic units (e.g. Electrical Engineering, Management, etc), Development Officers, directors of research institutes, faculty, staff, and graduate students. During these meetings, I spent time listening to their thoughts about the future of Virginia Tech, their impressions of the Institute, their ideas on how to grow the Institute, and exploring avenues for collaboration.
- Joe Schilling (Associate Director of the Metropolitan Institute) and I have met with leaders from various organizations including, among others, the US Green Building Council, IBM Center for the Business of Government, and IBM Smarter Cities Program, to explore collaborative research relationships.
- We have done a lot of work to build a viable infrastructure for the Institute. The faculty of the School of Public and International Affairs have been open and receptive to the new vision for the Institute. For the first time, we now have seven fellows of the Institute (Ralph Buehler, Margaret Cowell, Matt Dull, Ralph P. Hall, Derek S. Hyra, Paul Knox, and Kris Wernstedt). The Institute will work to support these researchers as they collaborate on projects, outreach efforts, and preparation of grants. We look forward to welcoming even more faculty to the Institute. Much effort has gone into envisioning the future of the Institute. One outcome of this effort is that we now have six research themes that bring researchers, practitioners, and students together to solve the most pressing problems facing metropolitans. These research themes are: Megacities and the New Metropolis, Resilience, Sustainability, Policy Informatics, Transportation, and Urban Regeneration. We also have a new website. While we still have more to do in terms of setting up an infrastructure, we are off to a wonderful start.
- Of course, we have submitted grant proposals and journal papers for publication. We also have been active participants in conferences and workshops (e.g. Second Conference on Community Resiliency) and a number of outreach activities.
- The Institute launched the Policy Informatics Initiative, which is gaining momentum. We are starting a few collaborative research projects, planning a workshop, forming a book proposal, and exploring funding opportunities.
One of my favorite quotes is by my football idol, Pelé who noted “Enthusiasm is everything. It must be taut and vibrating like a guitar string.” In my role as the Director, I have to be enthusiastic. Being enthusiastic is easy when you are surrounded by good people who work hard and bring positive energy. My staff has been wonderful. They have welcomed me to the Institute, have bought into the new vision and strategy, and have supported me in all endeavors. They deserve a lot of credit for the things we have accomplished to date. I will continue to count on them as we take the Institute to greater heights.
I guarantee you that things are not going to slow down in the near future. We are hoping to develop new research collaborations, select visiting fellows and postdoctoral associates, submit several research proposals, and build mutually beneficial academic-industry partnerships. I am looking forward to my upcoming visit to the Blacksburg, the main campus of Virginia Tech, later this month. I will be briefing the Urban Affairs and Planning faculty about the Institute, meeting with leaders of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, collaborating with researchers on proposals, and participating in meetings as part of the President’s Long Range Planning Task Force.
I want to thank all of you. You are sources of enthusiasm, counsel, and friendship. I thank you for your patience, as well as your generosity with time and resources. You have been vital sources of energy that I have drawn upon (and I will continue to do so).
Tomorrow I am off to Paris to give several talks at IÉSEG School of Management. One is on designing innovation programs and the other is on building a capacity for interdisciplinary research.
It is a privilege to introduce myself as the new director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. I look forward to growing the Metropolitan Institute in the rich history of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, fueled by the dynamism of the School of Public and International Affairs. As we chart a new course for the Institute, I invite members of the Virginia Tech family (students, professors, and administrators) and past/future partner organizations from the Washington, DC metropolitan region and beyond, to visit our web site, review our upcoming work, and contact us as we explore new collaborations.
For the past decade, my intellectual curiosity has focused on designing more resilient and innovative organizations. Critical to this endeavor is understanding how information is managed within and beyond the organization’s borders. As part of my explorations, I have employed numerous research methodologies from behavioral to computational, and have collaborated with industry and academic partners across a range of disciplines from engineering to public administration and management.
A necessary reality of conducting my research was traveling to various parts of the globe to study organizations, the leaders and managers who were responsible for them, and the employees who supported their mission. Over the course of last five years, I have had the privilege of traveling to over 20 cities, including Mumbai, Madrid, Rome, Ljubljana, Johannesburg, Bangkok, London, and Prague. Observing and experiencing the diversity of metropolitan forms led me to consider the design and consequences of how information traversed urban systems across infrastructures, organizations, and social networks.
Urbanization is a major force of change in our world today and will impact the future of the planet on a number of dimensions from resiliency to sustainability and economic vitality. The need to become more effective and aware of the design and implementation of policies has never been more critical. Central to developing new and more effective models of urban policy are the needs to:
1. Innovate the policy setting process, making it more dynamic, inclusive, cost effective, and timely.
2. Leverage information through the deployment of computational systems, simulation platforms, and participatory platforms that allow for crowdsourcing of solutions to local problems
3. Facilitate multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder approaches to framing, studying, and solving, the most complex urban problems.
I envision the future of the Metropolitan Institute as an open collaborative platform that brings together diverse expertise to solve complex urban issues. The Metropolitan Institute will fold together the best and brightest in the fields of informatics, urban planning, international affairs, engineering, and public policy to forge a new set of solutions for today’s urbanizing world. The Metropolitan Institute is a space that is open for all of you to connect and collaborate.
In the near-term, I plan to meet with stakeholders across Virginia Tech and also community partners, industry, and government to listen to your ideas. I have been humbled by the warm welcomes I have received from the various scholars and leaders at Virginia Tech. An esteemed university like Virginia Tech has many friends in public and private organizations across the 50 states and the world beyond. I look forward to meeting with the many friends of the University and welcoming them to the Institute. I am excited to begin designing a new future for Metropolitan Institute.
I look forward to meeting with you and hearing your ideas.
Kevin C. Desouza, PhDDirector, Metropolitan Institute
Associate Professor, Center for Public Administration and Policy
School of Public and International Affairs
College of Architecture and Urban Studies