Designing, Planning, and Managing Resilient Cities

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To what disruptions must cities be resilient? How can cities, as complex systems, be resilient? Building a capacity for resilience might be a daunting task when one considers the multitude of components, processes, and interactions that take place within and beyond a city’s physical, logical (e.g. legal), and virtual (cyberspace) boundaries. Planning for resilience to the impacts of stressors within cities requires an evaluation of the vulnerable components of cities, an understanding of the key processes, procedures, and interactions that organize these components and develop the capacity to address various structuring of components and their interactions with the ultimate goal of achieving resilience.

I have co-authored a paper with Trevor Flanery (Urban Affairs and Planning, College of Architecture and Urban StudiesVirginia Tech) that provides a deeper look at resilience in cities, proposes a conceptual resilience framework, and includes a discussion and analysis of the framework. We propose a framework that serves as a holistic approach to designing, planning, and managing for resilience by including an evaluation of cultural and process dynamics within cities as well as their physical elements.

The paper will appear in Cities.

Designing and Planning for Smart(er) Cities – Practicing Planner

aicpsignatureYou can find my article on smart cities in the current issue of Practicing Planner.

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Abstract: Within the past 24 months the concept of smart (and intelligent) cities has been become popular in the media. For instance, Scientific American ran a special issue on smart cities (September 2011). Industry players such as IBM and Siemens have specific programs and practices dedicated to advancing the cause of building smart cities. Despite its intuitive appeal, we have limited knowledge within the design, planning, and policy fields about the dimensions of the concept of smart cities, and limited practical experience regarding the barriers and potential opportunities. The term smart city is still new and appears to mean different things within different fields. In some ways the term is both complex and vague. Some experts use the term smart city to highlight advances in sustainability and greening of the city, while others use the term to portray infusion of information via technologies to better the lives of citizens. Even others consider the presence of high-level citizen engagement in the design and governance of the space as a key attribute of smarter cities. Therefore, no consensus exists within the academy on the characteristics of smart cities and how they fit within existing conceptual frameworks, such as sustainability and policy informatics. Although there is not yet consensus on a definition, I posit the following definition: A smart city is livable, resilient, sustainable, and designed through open and collaborative governance. The objective of this paper is to provide a preliminary conceptual framework for researchers, policymakers, and planners to apply in their design and development of smart cities. In light of the growing popular appeal of smart cities, I hope this essay will serve as a call to action for planners who must confront the day-to-day challenge of designing, developing, and retrofitting cities to make them smarter.

To access the article, please click here.

Recent Visit to IIT-Kanpur – A Summary

Core Team Members (from left to right) Mr. Rahul Yadav, Prof. K.K. Bajpai, Prof. Onkar Dikshit, Prof. Sudhir Misra, Dr. Ralph Hall, Dr. Michael Garvin, Ms. Yehyun An, Dr. Kevin C. Desouza, and Prof. Mukesh Sharma

Ralph Hall has provided a nice summary of our recent visit to IIT Kanpur. I enjoyed my time in Kanpur and look forward to seeing this partnership flourish. To read more about the trip, please click here.

Conference on Community Resilience – Davos, Switzerland

I am headed to Davos for the 3rd Annual Conference on Community Resilience. I am co-chairing the conference along with John R. Harrald and Jim Bohland, both from Virginia Tech. This conference was organized while I was a Director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. I will chair a session on Citizen Engagement & Technology Deployment in Disaster Mitigation Preparedness Response and Recovery. Panelist include:

  • Maggie Cowell, Assistant Professor, Urban Affairs and Planning, School of Public & International Affairs, Virginia Tech
  • Liesel Ritchie, Assistant Director for Research, Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado
  • Georg Frerks, Professor of Disaster Studies, Wageningen University
  • Isabel Ramos, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Information Systems, Minho University

Getting Serious About Resilience in Planning – in Planetizen

I co-authored an article for Planetizen with three students (Trevor Flanery, Jaimy Alex, and Eric Park) who were working at the Metropolitan Institute this summer.

Resilience is a term much bandied about these days in the planning and development professions. Buildings, plans, economies and even cities are expected to be resilient to unforeseen externalities in a world of rapidly changing technologies, climates, and cultures. With this in mind, we at the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech would like to engage you, the planning and development community, in a discussion of what exactly it means to be resilient in a planning context, whether this is a laudable goal, and, if so, how we can achieve it. To read more, please click here.

What is a Smart City?

Within the past 18 months the concept of smart (and intelligent) cities has been become popular in the media. For instance, Scientific American ran a special issue on smart cities. Industry players (e.g. IBM, Siemens, etc) have specific programs and practices dedicated to advancing the cause of building smart cities. Government agencies are dedicating resources and making investments in designing smarter cities (for e.g., see - EU invests $450 million in smart cities). Despite its intuitive appeal, we have limited empirical knowledge within the design, planning, and policy fields about the dimensions of smart cities—its characteristics, the barriers, and the potential opportunities. One reason is the term smart city is still new and it appears to means different things within different fields. In some ways the term is complex and vague. Some experts use the term smart city to highlight advances in sustainability and greening of the city, while others use the term to portray infusion of information via technologies to better the lives of citizens that reside in these spaces. Even others, consider the presence of high-level of citizen engagement in the design and governance of the space as a key attribute of smarter cities.  Therefore, no consensus existing within the academy on the characteristics of smart cities and how they fit within existing conceptual frameworks, such as sustainability and policy informatics.

In a working paper, I propose the following definition: A smart city is livable, resilient, sustainable, and designed through open and collaborative governance.

  • A smart city is resilient in that it possesses the capacity, desire, and opportunity for sensing, responding to, recovering, and learning from natural and man-made disasters.
  • A smart city takes a sustainable approach to the management of its economic, social, and ecological resources to ensure that they have vitality going into the future.
  • A smart city infuses information for automated and human, individual and collective, decision-making on optimal allocation of resources, design of systems and processes, and citizen engagement.
  • A smart city enables intelligent decision-making through leveraging information via technology, platforms, processes, and policies across its environments, infrastructures, systems, resources, and citizens.
  • A smart city operates as a seamlessly integrated platform where information links the various infrastructures, systems, organizations, and citizens’ goals and values.
  • A smart cities engage citizens in planning and design of public spaces and govern use of public resources through open and collaborative governance platforms that generates, and leverages, collective intelligence. 

In some respects the description resembles a vision statement with supporting principles or goals that make the vision of a smart city come to life. First, the overarching goal of having a smart city is that it is livable, resilient, and sustainable. These goals increase the value of the city and contribute positively to the lives of the citizens that interact with, and reside within, the city. Second, we must recognize these goals as a function of infusing information into the fabric of the city. Technological devices enable citizens to leverage information as they conduct their daily activities, while they also enable planners and designers to have accurate situational awareness about the city. Information is infused into the planning and design apparatuses as public sector projects are conducted. For example, the use of computational platforms and simulation technologies can enable city planners and designers think through various alternatives, test assumptions, and visualize the impacts of various interventions on critical outcomes. Through harnessing information, the smart city is able to conduct public projects in a highly effective and efficient manner. Third, smart cities use a wide assortment of information pipelines and platforms to integrate the often disparate physical and human sub-systems, infrastructures, and processes. Through building viable connections, information flows between the various parts of the city seamlessly so as to enable for real-time intelligent decision-making. Fourth, smart cities leverage the collective intelligence of its citizens, residents and, even transients (e.g. people who commute to work in the city) using participatory platforms. The smart city has viable vehicles and platforms through which its citizens can contribute to its governance processes and the future design of the city.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the definition and the elements of a smart city.

Intelligence and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Programs: The Achilles Heel

Kristen Lau (University of Oxford) and I have a paper accepted for publication in Intelligence and National SecurityKristen was my graduate student at the University of Washington and is now pursuing a doctoral degree at Oxford. We began studying information management failures associated with nuclear non-proliferation efforts in 2009. We presented an early version of the paper at  the Centre for Science and Security Studies (CSSS) at King’s College London.

Abstract: Intelligence is a critical component for all counter-proliferation activities.  It allows us to assess and determine what makes up the current threat environment in terms of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology. The intelligence process as it relates to estimating nuclear capabilities or intentions is wrought with many challenges and complications. The denial and deception techniques employed by states running covert weapons programs and the dual-use nature of many weapons components create many difficulties for intelligence organizations. Additionally, illicit transnational networks obscure the situation further by serving as a source, for both nation states and non-state actors, for acquiring dual-use commodities and technologies. These challenges can lead to the miscalculation of a state’s capabilities or intentions. This paper presents a comparative analysis of three cases of nuclear proliferation: India’s 1998 nuclear tests, the exposure of the AQ Khan network, and Iran’s nuclear program. We examine the lessons learned and propose recommendations for future counter proliferation policy and strategy. 

You might find our other paper of interest. It was published in the International Journal of Public Administration.

Presenting at the NSF Workshop on Participatory Challenge Platforms with a Public Intent

I had a wonderful time exchanging ideas with policy makers, researchers, practitioners, and even students at the NSF Workshop on Participatory Challenge Platforms with a Public Intent put on by the Center for Policy Informatics at Arizona State University. My formal remarks during the workshop drew on research results from our study of Challenge.gov. Since the workshop, I have heard from over 30 managers across the public, non-profit, and even private sectors for copies of the draft report. The feedback on the findings has been overwhelmingly positive. I hope to have a revised draft out for circulation by the end of the month.

See for a press release on the events in D.C. - "ASU Concludes White House Initiative in Nation's Capitol," ASU News, June 12, 2012.

Report now Available – Challenge.Gov: Landscape Analysis + Citizen and Agency Perspective

I have just completed the first draft of my report on the Challenge.gov platform. This paper has been a few months in the making and builds on my recent work in community intelligence platforms, citizen apps, and innovation in the public sector. To receive a copy of the report, please send me an email.

Challenge.Gov: Landscape Analysis and Implications from the Citizen and Agency Perspective

To solve complex social and policy challenges we need to broaden the conversations, involve more minds and talent, and collaborate effectively and efficiently. Traditionally, public agencies have felt the burden to tackle challenges by relying on their own internal intellectual capital or through structured contracting with external partners. Seldom could an individual citizen share his or her talent, expertise, and skills with a public agency directly. Today, public agencies are becoming more participatory, inclusive, and transparent in how they engage with citizens as well as with each other. Challenge.gov is the crowdsourcing platform for US federal agencies that seek to engage citizens, leverage collective intelligence, and tackle complex social and technical challenges. In this paper we report on an exploratory landscape analysis of the competitions run on Challege.gov. We interviewed citizens who took part in competitions on Challenge.gov as well as public managers and government executives to understand their motivations, experiences, lessons learned, and future plans. Drawing on these interviews, we arrive at a set of actionable guidelines presented through implications to improve the state of competitions hosted by Challenge.gov. 

Acknowledgments: This project was made possible through funding received from the IBM Center for the Business of Government. Tim Moon and Akshay Bhagwatwar served as research associates for the project. I am grateful to the assistance provided by Eric Park and Lauren Bulka during the project. I also thank all solution contributors to challenges and public managers who designed challenges that participated in our interviews. All errors and omissions are solely my responsibility. I acknowledge the thoughtful discussion and comments from participants at the NSF Workshop on Participatory Challenge Platforms with a Public Intent. The views represented in this paper are our own, and do not represent official positions of IBM, any of its affiliates, or the NSF.