When I recruit PhD students, I often to have to listen to them lecture me about how USC’s program “isn’t centered on the environment” or “social justice” but is, rather, a “libertarian” school. This is very bad thinking. It’s based, I suspect, on a reaction to some of our luminary senior faculty–Peter Gordon, Harry Richardson, and Jim Moore–and challenges they raised to the dominant thinking in urban planning about urban density. Peter Gordon’s edited volume, the Voluntary City, with David Beito and Alexender Tabarrak, lays out their worldview and ideas nicely.
By contrast, some of our other luminaries–like Tridib Banerjee, Dowell Myers, and David Sloane–have spent years building up a planning program that does draw on collective visions of social life, including the social contract in Myers’ book, Immigrants and Boomers.
Besides the real diversity of thought at USC, it’s just plain bad thinking to assume that libertarians do not value the environment or social justice; there are libertarian greens and libertarian theorists of social justice. Diversity of thought, thinking about problems from many perspectives–these have always been to me the key to opening new avenues for research. Libertarians may not be terribly supportive of government-sponsored planning, but many planning functions and tasks occur in the “third sector”–that of nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations–anyway.
There are lot people studying the environment at USC, and they are doing rather amazing things. The Viterbi School of Engineering has launched a new Megacities research program which promises to be very interesting and transformative. The USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, focused on both science and policy evaluation of ecosystems, including Catalina Island. The Loker HydroCarbon Research Institute is focused on understanding and transforming human usage of hydrocarbons, including oil, natural gas, and coal. In addition, USC’s Energy Institute has created a large, campus-wide umbrella for the study of cutting-edge energy technologies, issues, and policies. The Metrans Transportation Institute has sponsored a lot of research on the environment and is one of the world leaders in examining the environmental effects of freight transport. The Bedrosian Center has sponsored public events and projects surrounding key environmental issues, including the study of mega-regions.
I’m feeling fortunate in that I am getting to be a part of two new, extremely exciting things happening at USC. First off, the Center for Sustainable Cities–one of the reasons I came to USC–is moving to the School of Policy, Planning and Development where I am faculty. The Center has built up an important presence in both the science and the policy aspects of urban environmentalism. It means that our school will be engaging two new research faculty. Josh Newell studies lifecycle costs associated with a wide variety of industries. Hillary Bradbury studies organizational change and corporate adoption of green policies and practices.
These two will join the many SPPD scholars who do work on urban and regional environments:
Richard Callahan, who was just appointed to advise the California Environmental Protection Agency
Gen Giuliano*, director of the Metrans Transportation Institute;
Dan Mazmanian , Director of the Bedrosian Center
Leonard Mitchell, Director of the Center for Economic Development
Raphael Bostic, who is currently serving the Obama administration in Housing and Urban Development;
Richard Green, Director of the Lusk Center;
Shui Yan Tang;
David Sloane ;
and then there’s me.
Did I forget anybody? I hope not
The Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, associated with top-flight researcher Manual Pastor, will move out of the CSC and become a freestanding program in its own right. It’s a neat program, too, and if you are interested in environmental and regional justice, you may want to sign up for their newsletter. There are always really interesting research reports coming from that center.
The second major campus-wide change has been the possibility of contributing to a new, campus-wide multi-disciplinary program on Spatial Science. This is a very promising set of ideas that might allow for those who do spatial work–both computational and conceptual–to come together in one wheelhouse.
Very exciting stuff!
*I can’t for the life of me get rid of this underlining in the HTML code. So while Gen is really really special, she’s not supposed to be underlined.