Sep 27 2013


Reviewed by Danya Rumore, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Moser and Boykoff address the question of what successful adaptation would look like by delving into the various definitions of success (including the economic, political, institutional, ecological, and social dimensions) to help shed light on the complexity of the situation.

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Successful Adaptation to Climate Change: Linking Science and Practice in a Rapidly Changing World, Edited by Susanne Moser and Maxwell Boykoff, Routledge, 2013, 331 pp.

Planning and preparing for the impacts of climate change are among the most pressing concerns of the 21st century. However, while the importance of climate change adaptation is increasingly clear, there is little clear guidance on what “successful adaptation” means. What should planners, policy-makers, and other professionals working on adaptation aim to accomplish? How should we as a society judge our success in managing the risks associated with climate change? What tools, techniques, and processes are crucial to effective adaptation? These are the questions that adaptation scholars and practitioners take up in Susanne Moser’s and Maxwell Boykoff’s edited volume Successful Adaptation to Climate Change.

Through case studies ranging from adaptation efforts in the San Francisco Bay area to risk communication efforts in the Mekong Region, the authors explore the tricky terrain of adaptation. They don’t try to provide a single, concrete answer to the question of “What is adaptation success?” Rather, the contributors try to help readers understand the challenges and opportunities inherent in adaptation decision-making. They make clear that “adaptation success” is context-specific and socially defined. And, they provide encouraging evidence that effective solutions can be found.

With fresh examples and interdisciplinary research from across the world, Successful Adaptation to Climate Change offers a thorough if not entirely comprehensive view of the adaptation landscape. The book’s chapters take on issues spanning from science-policy interactions to effective communication and engagement, drawing on empirical data and experiences to infer lessons learned. From the case studies, a number of valuable themes emerge, such as the importance of meaningfully engaging those likely to be affected by climate change impacts and adaptation decisions; the need for more effective decision-support systems that can feed relevant science and information into planning and decision-making; and the necessity of institutionalizing systems for monitoring, evaluating, and learning from adaptation practice. Perhaps the most striking take away for many readers is the conclusion that—as explicitly stated by Lisa Dilling and Rebecca Romsdahl in their chapter on “Promoting adaptation success in natural resource management through decision support”—investing in people and effective institutions is likely to be as important to successful adaptation as investing in scientific data and technical tools.

Successful Adaptation to Climate Change, while very accessible, is largely academic in tone and provides more in the way of big picture guidance than specific advice for those facing on-the-ground decisions. Hence, it is likely to be more relevant for academics, students, and those working at the science-policy interface than for most planners and policy-makers. However, in providing one of the most comprehensive overviews of adaptation concerns, research, and action on the ground to date, the book has valuable lessons for anyone working to support effective adaptation.



Sep 27 2013


Reviewed by Isabelle Anguelovski, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This book, co-edited by Hernan Casakin and Fátima Bernardo, looks into the role of place identity in shaping a person’s perception, understanding and appreciation of their physical environment.

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The Role of Place Identity in the Perception, Understanding, and Design of Built Environments, Edited by Hernan Casakin and Fátima Bernardo, Bentham Science, 2012, 231 pp.

How are place attachment, sense of belonging, and place identity relevant to the experience of residents, urban planners, and architects in the built environment? A number of disciplines ranging from environmental psychology, geography, urban sociology, architecture, or urban planning have engaged at length with the concept of place identity – that is the part of our personal identity through which people express their belonging to a specific place. However, to date little attention has been paid to the relationships between identity, place, and urban design and planning. This is an important gap in theory, empirical research, and practice-oriented work that the wide diversity of chapters in The Role of Place Identity in the Perception, Understanding, and Design of Built Environments attempt to fill.

Not only does this volume provide insights into the diverse ways through which people experience their city or neighborhood and the ties they weave with it despite disruptions, change, and new developments. The authors also offer in-depth analysis about place (re)creation over time and the specific role of architects, developers, and policies (such as overcrowding ordinances, zoning, urban renewal and redevelopment) as they affect the identity of a place and the local value it has for residents. This intellectual concern is particularly relevant in a context of urban globalization, competition, integration, homogenization, and architecture’s obsession with modernism, together with demands for urban design originality and differentiation.

A few chapters (13,14) analyze those tensions very nicely as they uncover the multiple ways in which architects reshape cities and neighborhoods, and how many new projects and buildings create anonymity, vacuum, and disconnection for traditional residents. As place identity becomes reshaped, the built environment is at risk of losing its vitality and livability. Most of the authors also propose concrete recommendations for creating more holistic and deeper approaches to urban design through a variety of nicely documented cases studies – from the design of welcoming and useful spaces for elderly residents in Israel (Chapter 8) to the protection and enhancement of public spaces in informal settlements in Colombia (Chapter 7).

Despite these compelling insights, the volume is bit repetitive in regards to the theoretical frameworks or definitions offered in each chapter. It would also gain from an Introduction and Conclusion bringing all the chapters together and providing greater cohesion to the volume. It reads more like a – rich and detailed – collection of essays than a true edited volume with an original argument. The argument is not new that urban designers must understand people’s experiences of and expectations from places when they develop, (re)develop, or rebuild them. The book only alludes to the numerous conflicts and forms of contestation that arise over place transformation and place identity disruption, and how urban planners, designers, and architects confront these movements and conflicts. How does place identity in the built environment becomes reshaped and reasserted in light of resistance?

Sep 27 2013


Reviewed by Lawrence Susskind, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dr Brian Stone, Jr. provides new information about the disastrous heat island effects created by urban centers and prescribes various policy frameworks to help correct this increasingly urgent situation.

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The City and the Coming Climate: Climate Change in the Places We Live, by Brian Stone, Jr., Cambridge University Press, 2012, 187 pp.

In his incredibly important book, Professor Brian Stone and his team at Georgia Institute of Technology show in no uncertain terms that CO2 emissions are not the only cause of climate change. Thus, reducing CO2 emissions won’t address the heat waves and frightening heat island threats that kill more people than any other climate-related risk each year. The “loss of trees and other vegetative cover combined with the emission of waste heat from industries, vehicles and buildings” is causing dangerous heat island effects in cities all over the world. Climate science has tended to ignore the fact that cities are getting hotter than the countryside that surrounds them. And adaptation strategies that don’t reduce the causes of urban heat islands are beside the point.

In an easily accessible but scientifically scrupulous way, Stone explains why climate skeptics no longer have any basis for doubting that human actions are the cause of current worldwide temperatures increases. And, he provides persuasive modeling evidence to show that temperature increases in cities represent a serious health hazard.

Stone argues for (1) broadening the definition of climate change to encompass land-surface drivers; (2) a regional scale approach to monitoring and explaining temperature changes; (3) a commitment to forest protection and reforestation, particularly in developing countries like Brazil and Indonesia; and (4) adaptive mitigation (e.g. ways of reducing climate change impacts that help cities achieve other objectives at the same time).

In my view, Stone doesn’t get the international relations behind climate change treaty-making right; and, because he doesn’t put climate change treaty-making in the broader context of other global negotiations (e.g. perpetual North-South disagreements, the difficulties of getting any country to relinquish any of it sovereignty, enforcement problems with all international law, the principle of differentiated responsibility that was the key to getting developing countries to sign the original 1992 Framework Convention, etc.), his proposed reforms are less than compelling. Nevertheless, after reading this book it is impossible to think about climate change as a problem we can pass on to future generations. Cities need to do something now. Moreover, we don’t need international mandates to force us to implement land-based mitigation. The health and welfare of current residents depends on cities restoring vegetation and reducing (and capturing) the thermal radiation created by urban development.

Mar 22 2013


Reviewed by Leah Stokes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Putting Social Movements in their Place: Explaining Opposition to Energy Projects in the United States, 2000–2005, by Doug McAdam and Hilary Schaffer Boudet, Cambridge University Press, 280pp

Social movement theory has typically focused on what many would call the dependent variable: successful mobilization. As a result, it is unclear how often mobilization occurs and whether or not it is successful. Instead of following this pattern, McAdam and Boudet seek to understand whether mobilization against energy infrastructure is a common or a rare phenomenon. They develop a unique research method, rooted in fuzzy set theory and qualitative comparative analysis (QCA). Focusing on energy infrastructure proposals, they randomly selected 20 cases, and after imposing some constraints, study 18 projects across 12 American states between 2001 and 2008. These include liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, nuclear power plants, cogeneration facilities, hydroelectricity projects and a wind farm. The authors are trying to find a middle ground between rigorous case research and large N statistical work.

Overall, they find very little mobilization: only one energy project out of 18 triggered a sustained social movement. A mere 50% of the projects experienced a single protest event. They suggest that three key factors affect social mobilization against energy projects: risk, political opportunity and civic capacity. In addition, they think context matters, including whether a community is experiencing economic hardship, has previously mobilized against a land-use project or already hosts a similar industry. Finally, they argue that political opportunity and civic capacity provide objective measures of whether a community could mobilize, while context helps people interpret whether or not they should mobilize.

The book presents a unique research approach and very rich findings. Future work could examine networked social movements against wind turbines, which seem to be increasing in prevalence.

Feb 1 2013


Reviewed by Nicholas Marantz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Collaborative Governance: Private Roles for Public Goals in Turbulent Times, by John D. Donahue and Richard J. Zeckhauser, Princeton University Press, 305pp

In recent decades, U.S. government has relied increasingly on private corporations (including non-profits) to provide an array of services. John Donahue and Richard Zeckhauser call this phenomenon “collaborative governance,” and their book describes strategies to increase the public benefits from such arrangements. Donahue and Zeckhauser present over a dozen cases of collaborative governance in action, in domains ranging from education to national security. They explain how administrators can determine when to delegate tasks to private organizations, how to assess potential collaborators, and how to evaluate ongoing projects. But, while Donahue and Zeckhauser provide much clear technical guidance for government officials and concerned citizens, their evidence suggests that collaborative governance may be inherently upwardly distributive, an issue which they do not clearly address.

Donahue and Zeckhauser contend that, among other advantages, collaborative governance can increase public benefits by inducing private actors to commit additional resources. To illustrate this potential, the authors invoke examples from three New York City parks. While these collaborations all resulted in the commitment of additional funds and talent, they also entailed the upward distribution of public resources. In the case of Central Park, Donahue and Zeckhauser note that collaboration has produced “an upscale tilt to the park’s image, amenities, and regulations.” Bryant Park “represents a relatively large investment of public funds to create an asset with quite focused private benefits.” Private investment in Harlem’s Swindler Cove Park yielded a $3 million dollar boathouse, used mostly by rowers who live far from the surrounding disadvantaged community.

The authors acknowledge these distributive consequences without addressing whether they are intrinsic to “collaboration for resources,” as they term the relevant arrangements. Given the consistency of their evidence, the question merits attention. Collaborative Governance would have been more successful if Donahue and Zeckhauser had addressed this possibility with the same zeal and insight that they bring to other aspects of their topic.