Tuesday, January 24, 2012

MRPers in Latin America, Part 1

Over winter break, 1st year MRP students, Maren Hill and Marshall McCormick, continued their research on community health and the Sustainable Rural Cities (SRC) model on local agricultural livelihoods, respectively, in Chiapas, Mexico. Their trip was funded through Tinker Travel grants from the Latin American Studies Department. Maren and Marshall began their research in the International Studies in Planning workshop taught in the fall semester by Marcela González Rivas. Their class's research will be presented throughout the course of the semester in the Seminar in International Planning and LATA/IARD 4010.

First SRC in Nuevo Juan de Grijalva, Chiapas, Mexico
Photo credit: Marshall McCormick

Additionally, Marshall was selected to participate in a CIIFAD SMART trip in the Dominican Republic. He and a group of four other SMART fellows conducted a feasibility study of farmers cooperatives in the San Juan region of the Dominican Republic. Their aim was to help farmers reduce costs or increase productivity. The group encouraged the famers to create a cooperative which would help reduce interest rates, access funds from real banks, and begin to offer loans against group assets such as building, tractors, etc and buy items in larger amounts at a cheaper cost. The SMART fellows also advised on constructing a storage facilities to hold goods for several months when prices are higher.

Marshall with farmers in the DR Photo credit: Marshall McCormick

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sustainable Neighborhoods Nicuragua

1st year MRP student Nora Wright has secured the support of Cornell University Sustainable Design to partner with SosteNica, the Sustainable Development Fund of Nicaragua, to create a new business model for affordable housing and to create the first 30-house house cooperative in Nicaragua to integrate ecological technologies.

This collaborative effort seeks to design innovative affordable housing and neighborhood planning in conjunction with the self-build and cooperative loan fund model. Through this project, CUSD hopes to lead in the field of sustainable design for low-cost ecological housing. The development, when completed, will be the first micro loan fund program to combine sustainable technologies with affordable housing in Nicaragua. Following the research and design phases, CUSD will participate in the construction of the community building and one of the 30 homes with the community in Nicaragua.

Nora is in the process of recruiting a research team for the first segment of the project which will span the course of the spring semester. Those interested should attend one information session (You can't sign up for an interview without attending!)

Information sessions will be given on:

January 25 at 5pm, Kimball B 11

January 30 at 5:00 Mann Lobby 102

January 31 at 5:00 Sibley 157

This is a great opportunity to gain international experience, work on the design of a neighborhood, and work in a collaborative team.

Nora holding Sustainable Neighborhoods Nicaragua brochure
Photo credit: Inna Kitaychik

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tu Ciudad Project

Last semester, 1st MRP student Luis Martinez created the Latino Design and Research Lab (LDR Lab) at Cornell. The group has spent the semester designing a public project which will draw upon the urban experiences of Latinos in the United States. The project will culminate in a publication of photographs, stories, and research which will give insight to life in the United States as lived by Latinos in urban communities.

Luis has created a website housing the project: http://www.tuciudadproject.org/

Submissions are encouraged from Latino Americans all over the country so please feel free to spread this website through your networks.

Tu Ciudad Website Cover
Image credit: Luis Martinez

Friday, January 20, 2012

ULI Competition

The ULI/Gerald D. Hines Urban Design Competition started runs from Tuesday, 1/17 through 1/31.

This year's competition focuses on a site in Houston, Texas which previously housed United States Postal Service facilities. Competing teams are asked to create a redevelopment strategy which introduces new residential development to the area while catalyzing the formation of a new district in downtown Houston.

One team working on the competition is comprised of Andrea Menotti (MBA), Melissa Poulin (MLA), Catherine Xiao Yu Bai (MLA), Hanzi Yang (MLA) and Jacob McNally (MRP).

Jacob's take on the competition:

"The competition is a great exercise in collaboration, imagination, and dedication. Our team has been working day and night to come up with a master plan that will bring people back into downtown Houston and capitalize on a site that has long been underutilized."

Jacob's team working on the ULI Competition in Sibley
Photo Credit: Inna Kitaychik

Other teams working on the competition include:

Kendra Fitzrandolph (MLA), Michael Voelkel (MLA), Hamidreza Pezeshkian (MPS/RE), Zeewan Lee (MRP) and Vidhee Garg (MRP).

Michael, Kendra, Hamidreza, Zeewan and Vidhee working on the ULI competition in Kennedy
Photo Credit: Inna Kitaychik

Logan Axelson (MRP), Rebecca Parelman (MRP), Ryan Wright (MLA), Jesse Nicholson (MLA), Jessica Coulson (MPS/RE) are also working on the competition as a team.

Ryan, Rebecca, Logan, Jessica and Jesse working on the ULI competition at Kennedy
Photo credit: Inna Kitaychik

Good luck, teams!

SMART Trips: Kenya

This winter, CRP PhD candidate George Homsy was selected to travel to Kenya to help a non-profit teach sustainable development ideas through the CIFAD SMART Program.

To do this George worked with producers of an "edu-tainment" program that embeds sustainable development messages in a soap opera called Makutano Junction. The producers, a non-profit in UK, enlisted the help of SMART fellows to help with script ideas for a new show. As part of this project George spent five days in rural villages talking to farmers about what themes would work for the show and learning about their farming practices. George focused on asking questions about popular conceptions of climate change within the culture. George noted: "We wanted to gauge the extent of climate knowledge - causes, results, remedies. We also wanted to see if there was conflict with traditional or cultural practices."

SMART fellow Hajra Hafeez-ur-Rehman (CIPA), farmer, and George holding melons

Photo credit: George Homsy

Group Photo with SMART fellows and farmers

Photo credit: George Homsy

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Environmental Policy Course in DC

This winter Eva Birk, Jennifer Pierce (1st year CRP masters students) and Alyson Fletcher (2nd year CRP Masters student) were selected to take the Environmental Policy Processes course in Washington D.C.

The course involved interviewing members of the federal government and associated political organizations on a specific issue.

Eva Birk explored the partnership between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department called the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Eva explored why the Partnership's budget had been cut this year. She found that concepts like "livability" do not attract congressional support. Instead, programs need to be advocated for with the use of arguments based on economics.

Jennifer Pierce worked on Roadless Areas, a categorization of federal lands which is slightly less strict than wilderness (the most strict land use category). Jennifer found that environmental policies enacted on a nation-wide level are difficult to implement on a local level due to regional variations. Jennifer found that some solutions to this problem include:

(1) mandating minimums rather than ideals

(2) allowing for flexibility of solutions, or

(3) allowing exceptions for particular states.

Alyson Fletcher worked on policies on sustainability in urban revitalization. She specifically examined polices and programs as they pertain to brownfields, urban waters, and vacant lots/abandoned properties. She discovered that there were differing perspectives on the roles and degrees of involvement the federal government should play in urban policy. She was encouraged by a new partnership modeled off of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities that creates an inter-agency collaboration on solving urban water issues.

The ladies mentioned the following as being highlights of trip:

1. A class meeting with Deputy Secretary of the EPA, Bob Perciasepe
2. One-on-one meeting with Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, Beth Osborne
3. Meeting Cornell Alums (like Peter Rizzo).
4. Being able to speak in depth with important people about how policy is actually made-- I feel like because we are students people really opened up and gave us the real "dirt".

The course is highly recommended to anyone interested in environmental affairs in the United States- it teaches how Washington D.C. really works. The course is informative in both helping students understand how agencies shape particular subjects and in understanding how federal decisions play out in the local contexts in which planners will likely be working.

Eva Birk, Alyson Fletcher and Jennifer Pierce in front of the National Archives Gallery
Photo credit: Alyson Fletcher

Monday, January 9, 2012

Transportation Camp & Livable Communities Code-A-Thon

This winter break CRP students are partaking in a wide variety of planning related activies outside the scope of the University.

Boris Suchkov, a second year Masters student, is participating in the third TransportationCamp - a transportation planning conference in D.C. on January 21. This meeting is called an"unconference" because all of its participants have the opportunity to organize a session and there is a high level of informal interactivity. The most common topics of discussion include best practices and technical challenges of open data, means of decreasing tech costs for transportation agencies, and creative new solutions to transportation issues.

Transportation Camp Logo

The Livable Communities Code-a-thon is a competition, funded by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, to create software to solve planning problems (two are stated in the problem description, but others can be specified as well) that uses government data sets and promotes sustainability and livability principles. Boris made a small contribution to planning this when he was an intern at DOT over the summer which involved going to meetings and partaking in a presentation that introduced the idea of the competition to some DOT senior staff).

Partnership for Sustainable Communities

Boris is organizing a Cornell team together for the event which will work from campus. If you are interested please contact him by January 14 at bvs2@cornell.edu.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Design for the Other 90%

Cornell CRP Students who are staying in New York City over winter break have been giving great reviews for the exhibit put on by the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt and the National Design Museum at the United Nations:

"Design with the Other 90%: CITIES features sixty projects, proposals, and solutions that address the complex issues arising from the unprecedented rise of informal settlements in emerging and developing economies. Divided into six themes—Exchange, Reveal, Adapt, Include, Prosper and Access—to help orient the visitor, the exhibition shines the spotlight on communities, designers, architects, and private, civic, and public organizations that are working together to formulate innovative approaches to urban planning, affordable housing, entrepreneurship, nonformal education, public health, and more. The United Nations offers an ideal setting to examine these complex issues and connect with stakeholders who can impart real change (http://designother90.org)."

Favela Painting

The exhibit offers innovative ideas to pressing issues surrounding urbanization on a global level. Great food for thought for Cornell CRP students.