Five DUSP Faculty Win MIT Global Seed Funds Grants

DUSP is proud to announce that four of our IDG faculty have been honored with grants from the MISTI Global Seed Funds and other university partners for the following research proposals:

Mobilizing for Adequate, Accessible, and Affordable (A3) Water and Sanitation Services -  Gabriella Carolini

In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), the environmental health research community remains focused on significant problems with the accessibility and/or adequacy of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) – and largely in rural areas. However, especially in the region’s vulnerable urban settlements, where populations are set to grow most rapidly over the coming decades, and where the cost of living is higher on average than in most rural areas, it is also critical to understand the instrumental role played by affordability in defining and addressing WASH challenges. In short, a triple lens – namely of accessibility, adequacy, and affordability (or A3) – better explains how WASH issues are related to and influence the resiliency of vulnerable populations in urban and peri-urban environments in SSA. 

The study envisioned here connects the A3 water and sanitation inquiry with physical planning for public resources and urban governance therein at the neighborhood level by ascertaining relational linkages between costs for water, sanitation, and other neighborhood resources/services (transit, electricity, etc.) and civil society relationships with government at the neighborhood level (perceptions of public responsibility for services and subsidies; familiarity with governing structures, etc.).  I will travel back to the Mozambican capital of Maputo with MIT students, who will work in partnership with faculty and students from the University of Eduardo Mondlane (UEM), as well as a community-based NGO called AJUK, which is dedicated to neighborhood stewardship in Maputo’s peri-urban district of KaTembe. 

For more information, click here.

2. Excavating Subterranean Urbanism:  Mapping Beijing's Underground Housing Market - Annette Kim

It is well known that the scale of China’s current urbanization is unprecedented along many dimensions: urban land area, square meters constructed, urban population growth. Also well known are some of its spatial patterns: the astounding rate of rural to urban land conversions in the urban villages on the periphery of Chinese cities as well as the redevelopment of land in the city center from hutongs into skyscrapers. But, less well studied are the millions of people living underground. For example, of Beijing’s 20 million people, there are an estimated 2 million people living in bomb shelters and basements because it is the best space they can afford.      

This project examines Beijing’s elaborate underground housing market and develops unconventional maps informed by ethnography to excavate Beijing’s subterranean urbanism. 

3. Property Rights from Below: Rethinking Property Rights from Natural Resources - Balakrishnan Rajagopal

 This research project will allow us to initiate a fruitful collaboration between MIT and Université catholique de Louvain through our various research centers, linked by a shared concern for exploring alternative ways of reimagining property rights and securing access to natural resources.  This research aims to address the challenges posed by the globalization of property rights over natural resources – land, water and marine resources and genetic resources. What we observe is a growing commodification of these resources, legitimized by arguments based essentially on allocative efficiency and on the need to reward and encourage productivity (understood as the use of resources as a source of economic profit), but that often disregard the rights and interests of the poorest populations in the global South. This research shall put forward alternatives to the current trend towards increased commodification of resources, based on the identification of emerging alternative property regimes that could be better suited to the needs of the rural and urban poor in developing regions.  

We shall focus primarily on the governance of land tenure. In recent years, pressures on land have dramatically increased due to poor governance arrangements over land, population growth, the promotion of biofuel production, and as a result of policies to mitigate climate change. The resulting phenomenon, often referred to as "land grabbing", has led to the exclusion of rural and sometimes urban dwellers who depend on land for their livelihood. Indeed, land is a central productive resource for a large part of the world’s rural population. It also represents a territory charged with historical, social and symbolic significance.  The land tenure of urban poor is also increasingly tied to the viability of shelter, food and employment and land grabbing in urban areas tend to produce enormous problems of informality, violence and low economic development.  

For more information, click here.

4. Effects of Built Environment and Land Use Factors on Child Pedestrian Crashes in Santiago, Chile - Chris Zegras

Traffic accidents are a major concern for the vast majority of government authorities worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), traffic accidents will become the fifth main cause of death by the year 2030. In Chile, five casualties occur daily as a consequence of traffic accidents, and the associated cost is equivalent to 1.5% of the nation’s GDP. Approximately, 500,000 traffic accidents were reported between 2000 and 2008, 17% of whom represented pedestrian crashes. Nearly 9% of these crashes affected children between 5 and 18 years of age in the Metropolitan Region of Chile. The child pedestrian’s responsibility is the main contributing factor of these crashes by disobeying traffic sign laws or violating crosswalk locations. Our objective is to identify the high child pedestrian crash risk zones in Santiago, Chile by performing a spatial and temporal analysis in a GIS environment, and to understand the effects of built environment and land use characteristics on these risk zones by employing a regression model. As a result, potential child pedestrian crashes and their consequences may be prevented if the appropriate allocation of resources for safety enhancements and decisions are made. 

For more information, click here.

5. Designing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Corridors - Chris Zegras 

This project focuses on the relationship between the design of bus rapid transit (BRT) systems and the planning and design of the urban environments in which they exist, paying particular attention to the design of the street as a complex space that fulfills multiple functions beyond traffic and mobility.  BRT systems represent relatively advantageous transportation interventions in urban spaces: they can be relatively quickly and affordably implemented and, if done well, offer levels of service comparable to more time- and money-intensive projects (like Metros). Nonetheless, these advantages come with challenges: typically occupying pre-existing roadways, BRT systems can be polemic from a transport and urban design perspective; using large buses at high frequencies, they pose challenges like noise pollution and traffic safety that may require particular urban design innovations to enable transit-oriented development (TOD) and equitable urban revitalization more generally. Our working hypothesis is that BRT systems can be a successful driver of urban revitalization, however, subject to the proper, integrated design of the routes, public spaces, real estate projects, and the related policy packages necessary to induce good physical, social and environmental outcomes.

For more information, click here.

6. Formalized Transit Infrastructure and Affects on Public Security at Modal Transfer Stations in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area  - Chris Zegras

The new Modal Transfer Station (CETRAM, for its name in Spanish) Ciudad Azteca, also referred to as the Mexipuerto, designed and operated by Grupo Prodi in the municipality of Ecatepec, has become a point of security for the historically dangerous and poverty stricken area. For various reasons, including improved accessibility, formalization of transit, and the provision of secure public spaces, CETRAM Ciudad Azteca is now a refuge of safety in an otherwise insecure neighborhood. The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), in collaboration with Urban Travel Logistics (UTL), believes that this phenomenon can be extrapolated upon and that a research project focused on city regeneration, mobility improvements, innovative data collection utilizing smartphone technologies, and urban public policy adjustments can develop the following topics:

• Concretely measure the benefits of security provided by CETRAM Ciudad Azteca in the municipality of Ecatepec.

• Utilize advanced communication technologies (i.e., smartphones) for optimized data collection and measurement for real-time, dynamic feedback for urban transit service, public security, etc.

• Define the factors that are the source of these benefits.

• Understand how these factors can be modified to increase the safety benefits of Ciudad Azteca?

• Determine how future CETRAMs can be designed to optimize their security benefits AND how can the neighborhoods surrounding these CETRAM developments can be better incorporated so as to spread the benefits of safety to the surrounding areas.

• Identify the types of architectural or transit features that would be required of the CETRAMs (e.g., Ciudad Azteca) to decrease its isolation from the surrounding neighborhoods.

For more information, click here.


7. Collaborative Decision Making in the Realm of Hydropower Projects in Southern Chile - Phase II  - Larry Susskind

In 2012, MISTI funded the first phase of a partnership between MIT's Science Impact Collaborative and Universidad Austral de Chile (UACh) to find better ways for stakeholders to make decisions together about hydropower development in southern Chile. In the first phase, the team produced three working papers on water governance, civil society participation in environmental decisions, and indigenous peoples’ rights. They also organized a "Devising Seminar" with high-level leaders from the various stakeholder groups in Santiago, and a two-day conference in Valdivia, Chile in January 2013. The Phase II funds from MISTI will be used to build the UACh team's capacity to play a neutral role in convening future multi-stakeholder processes and support research on collaborative natural resource management in Chile. The expected outcomes in the near-term are a scholarly paper for publication and additional Devising Seminars or similar efforts to bring key parties in specific hydropower conflicts together. The teams are already seeing important spinoff benefits, including a partnership with MIT’s CoLab and talks among UACh leadership about the formation of a research center dedicated to collaborative decision making.