On modeling

The Atlantic’s City Lab blog posted an interview with Josef Konvitz and his comments on modeling and forecasting stuck out to me —

Great projects have dynamic effects, precipitating changes throughout urban regions that are all but impossible to model in advance because no one can anticipate their impact. Projects are often sold on the basis of the number of construction jobs or new housing starts that will follow. This narrow approach to cost-benefit analysis would have led the Victorians to conclude that a major sewer system for London was too expensive. By the same token, bridges and tunnels linking New York and New Jersey would never have been built a century ago. The test of good infrastructure is whether it makes best use of the density, size, and complexity of cities.


On resilient cities

The Atlantic’s City Lab blog posted a conversation with The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Initiative President Michael Berkowitz, and this bit caught my attention —

There’s a difference between resilient infrastructure and infrastructure that builds resilience. Resilient infrastructure is the bridge that doesn’t fall down in the flood. Infrastructure that builds resilience is the piece of infrastructure that promotes transportation or integration, that builds the fabric of the city in the strongest possible way. We’re going to get better at building and valuing resilient infrastructure. You can take your 50- or 100-year risk scenarios and say, does this or doesn’t this meet those standards. That’s an engineering question. …

One of the things we’ve found both in the developed and the developing regions is  that cities, just generally as a rule, are basically fighting fire day in and day out. What a chief resilience officer has is the luxury to think more strategically about some of the wicked problems that they face and set a new course. It’s outside of that fire-fighting ecosystem.

On attention and activism

I came across a recent interview of Rachel Maddow over at Lenny and her comment about what makes for successful activism caught my attention —

RM: Yes. I did my doctoral dissertation on social movements around prison reform, AIDS, and health reform. One of the things that I wrote about is that there are some political issues where mainstream press attention only hurts. We think about activism as being this generic model of consciousness-raising, then hopefully media attention, attraction of new people to your cause, building public support for your cause, then decision-makers reacting to that change in public opinion. That’s true for some types of activism, but it is not true for all of them.

If you’re working on better conditions for prisoners, if you make that a popular issue and you invite mainstream media to weigh in on that subject, you’re going to end up with a much more regressive public-policy environment than if you approach it in a quieter way. It’s not because the public is stupid, it’s just that people with only a cursory interest in something are going to have a knee-jerk reaction to it. That’s impossible to explain in a cable-news media … it doesn’t make sense.

[emphasis added]

Parallels to migration issues? Perhaps. See also: her fascinating conversation with Ezra Klein

On trains, planes, and automobiles

Being married to a civil engineer who spends his days working with mass transit, stories in the news about infrastructure tend to grab my eye. This recent article in the NYT about the human cost of ignoring maintenance is worth reading for its argument alone (notably echoed by a one Mr John Oliver), but the point about only responding when there’s a crisis sounds eerily similar to debates closer to my research —

“My biggest fear is that once this is no longer in the headlines it will fall by the wayside,” said Stephen M. Gensemer, a Maryland lawyer who represented Ms. Dean in a financial settlement with the state. “It concerns me that we have this focus on our aging infrastructure only when you have pieces of concrete falling on a motorist.”

Moral of the story, regardless of discipline: build (and maintain) resilient infrastructure. Please.