Report Shows Ways to Create a 'High-Performance' Government

Report Shows Ways to Create a 'High-Performance' Government

Confidence in the federal government's ability to respond effectively to national and international economic and political problems continues to dwindle. Some of these complaints are a clear reaction to political ideology, deepening polarization, and the recent budget battles, but they all reflect a core of reality.

On Tuesday, June 21, a new national blueprint for reform by Professor Paul Light and Fellows from NYU Wagner -- "Creating High Performance Government: A Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity" -- was released in Washington, D.C. With its specific recommendations, the report is based on the simple premise that the time for small-scale reform has passed, and Congress and the president have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve government for the long-term.

In attendance was U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker, William Robertson of The Robertson Foundation for Government, and Professor Paul Light of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. The report was written by Professor Light, the founding director of the Global Center on Public Service at the Wagner school.

The study, representing a year's work by Prof. Light and the Wagner Fellows, was underwritten by Volcker and the Robertson Foundation.  Among the press coverage was a detailed piece in Government

The full report is available at




C. Nicole Mason Joins Essence Magazine Music Festival 'Empowerment Series'

C. Nicole Mason Joins Essence Magazine Music Festival 'Empowerment Series'

On Saturday, July 2, C. Nicole Mason, executive director of the Women of Color Policy Network (WOCPN) at NYU Wagner, will travel to New Orleans to join Dr. Cornel West, Reverend Al Sharpton, Soledad O'Brien, and other thought leaders, scholars and civil rights trail blazers at Essence magazine's 2011 music festival. The "empowerment series" at this premier cultural event for African Americans attracts more than 10,000 people each day, bringing together dozens of expert speakers to discuss pressing policy issues affecting women of color, their families, and communities.

As part of a panel on the "State of Black Women," Mason will be sharing some of the challenges that Black women face, as well as opportunities that exist to build the economic security of communities of color. Consider the following:

• Black women hold the highest poverty rates of any group. Black women have a poverty rate of 26.5 percent - a rate more than double that of white women and nearly triple that of white men.

• For every dollar earned by white men, Black women earn just 61 cents.

• Nearly half of all Black women have zero or negative wealth.

• Black women have the highest mortality rate of any racial or ethnic group, are 3 to 4 times likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, 15 times more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS, and face greater health disparities and access to care across the board.

• Less than 19 percent of Black women have a bachelor's degree or higher.

Though Black women and girls rank low or last on nearly every social indicator of well-being, we have also made tremendous strides that cannot go unrecognized. Over the last several decades, much has changed about the Black woman's experience in the home, on the job, and in society. From Oprah Winfrey to Ruth Simmons to the presence of Michelle Obama as the first Black First Lady of the United States, Black women, now more than ever, are blazing paths only imagined by their grandmothers or their mothers.

Mason will also be interviewed by CNN on Friday, July 1, at 12:30 pm EST; viewers can visit shortly thereafter to join the conversation on how best to advance the social and economic well-being of all women of color and their families.


Gara LaMarche of The Atlantic Philanthropies To Become NYU Wagner Senior Fellow

Gara LaMarche of The Atlantic Philanthropies To Become NYU Wagner Senior Fellow

Gara LaMarche, President and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies, will take up the position of Senior Fellow at NYU Wagner upon leaving the Atlantic helm in September, 2011.

LaMarche, an adjunct professor of public administration at Wagner, recently announced he will not seek a second five-year term at the helm of The Atlantic Philanthropies, one of the most effective and admired organizations in philanthropy.

Before joining The Atlantic Philanthropies in 2007, LaMarche was Vice President and Director of U.S. Programs for the Open Society Institute (OSI) from 1996 to 2007 and Associate Director of Human Rights Watch and Director of its Free Expression Project from 1990 to 1996.

The Great Recession's Impact on New York City's Budget

The Great Recession's Impact on New York City's Budget

Daniel L. Smith, assistant professor of public budgeting and financial management at NYU Wagner, has co-authored a new paper for the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) Working Paper Series. According to the paper entitled "The Great Recession's Impact on New York City's Budget," New York City has effectively handled the effects of the recession on its budget, but asked lower income residents to "bear a substantial portion of the burden...."

According to the abstract, "Strong property tax growth and proactive policies - including beginning the recession with a substantial surplus of $5.3 billion (9 percent of revenues) - offset a severe contraction in income tax receipts, protecting the City's budget such that it never contracted in absolute terms during or immediately following the Great Recession. Policymakers increased property and sales tax rates, utilized fund balances, cut agency budgets repeatedly, and re-appropriated retiree health benefits in response to the fiscal challenges brought about by the Great Recession.

"Whether one attributes it to compliance with a strong, state-mandated, balanced budget rule or adept leadership, New York City certainly appears to be dealing effectively with the Great Recession's impact on its budget. However, City leaders have asked lower income residents to bear a substantial portion of the burden by favoring more regressive tax policies and by cutting the social service agency's budget substantially. With forecast budget gaps of $3 billion and $4 billion in FY 2012 and FY 2013, the long-term impact of the Great Recession on New York City's budget remains an open question."

The paper was co-authored by Lawrence J. Miller of the Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration.

Twelve NYU Wagner Students Awarded Education Pioneers Scholarship

Twelve NYU Wagner Students Awarded Education Pioneers Scholarship

This year, 25 students from NYU Wagner applied for an Education Pioneers Graduate School Fellowship. Of this group, an overwhelming 48 percent, or 12 in all,  received offers to participate in the highly selective summer fellowship. Eleven of them have accepted the opportunity.

Education Pioneers, a national nonprofit, drew more than 2,000 applicants from across the country who competed for 330 fellowship opportunities. In addition to the NYU fellows chosen from Wagner, additional offers were extended to students from Stern, Steinhardt, and Gallatin.

A network devoted to school reform, Education Pioneers places talented men and women in positions outside of the classroom, partnering with more than 130 key organizations across the country. Partner organizations include school districts, government agencies, charter schools, and leading education groups in Washington, D.C., New York City, Boston, Chicago, Houston, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Los Angeles.

The Fellows, who this year all have at least two years of work experience, will engage in a 10-week summer program. This offers high-impact work experience as a project consultant, a set of professional development workshops, and access to a robust constellation of industry experts and alumni. Almost 70 percent of alumni have gone on to work full-time as leaders and managers in the field of education, according to the network.

Examples of previous Fellowship projects include integrating teacher effectiveness research, the development of a student achievement data system for a school district, management of a facilities-renovation project, and preparation of growth and quality expansion plans for charter schools.

The Wagner students who will be participating in the Fellowship opportunity are: Ana Farinha; Jennifer Sallman; Elizabeth Olsson; Cinthia Ruiz; Antionette Koram; Maelle Fonteneau; Brittany Ebendorf; Meekaelle  Joseph; Calvin Hadley; Megan Kinninger, and Elizabeth Walczak.

More information about Education Pioneers can be found at .

FAI Researching How Low-Income Americans Use Financial Products [Video]

FAI Researching How Low-Income Americans Use Financial Products [Video]

The Financial Access Initiative (FAI) at New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service has launched an important new study to better understand the financial lives of low-income Americans.

FAI, in partnership with Bankable Frontier Associates and The Center for Financial Services Innovation, will track families in four geographic regions in the U.S. over 16 months and collect highly detailed data on household financial activity. The study promises a timely and independent look at how low-income Americans are managing their financial lives. The $3 million project is supported by a grant from the Citi Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

FAI's managing director discusses the launch of the U.S.-centered financial diaries project in this video. The managing director is Jonathan Morduch, professor of public policy and economics at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at NYU.

The "Financial Diaries" methodology employed to conduct this research has been successfully applied in Bangladesh, India and South Africa. The results of that FAI research were detailed in a groundbreaking book Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day (Princeton University Press, 2009). Instrumental in broadening conceptions of global poverty, the book revealed that poor households lead surprisingly active and sophisticated financial lives, driven by the need to cope with irregular and unpredictable incomes but few reliable tools to absorb economic shocks.

"Improving access to reliable, flexible financial products and services is an important step to help poor and low-income households better manage their economic lives," says Professor Morduch. "The Financial Diaries research has proven to be an effective means of gathering important information to inform the design of these kinds of financial tools."

"The findings in Portfolios of the Poor provided an eye-opening look at the financial lives of the poor in other countries, and we're excited to use this lens in the U.S. context," says Brandee McHale, Chief Operating Officer at the Citi Foundation. "This research can fill an important gap in the current data on how low-income families in our own backyards are making ends meet and help reduce the barriers to financial well-being that these families currently face."

In the U.S., the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) found that some 17 million adults live in households without any bank accounts. Another 43 million have accounts but are "underbanked," relying on non-bank services such as pay-day lenders and pawn shops. Yet, there is little concrete data about the needs, preferences and use of financial services by low-income families.

"Remarkably, more than 30 million low-income families across the U.S. lack access to traditional banking and financial systems," says Frank DeGiovanni, director of financial assets at the Ford Foundation. "This landmark study will help us to better understand their financial lives, greatly improving the ability the financial industry of nonprofits, and policymakers to meet their needs and increase the quality, affordability, and accessibility of financial services."

To conduct this groundbreaking research, the U.S. Financial Diaries team will spend one-and-a-half years with 300 families, distributed across 4 research sites-in the South, the Northeast, the Midwest and the West. Researchers will meet with families every two weeks to collect highly detailed data on household cash flows.

This methodology of regularly observing household finances over long periods of time allows researchers to identify often-overlooked strategies of financial management, such as the use of informal borrowing and lending with neighbors and family members. The study is designed to capture spending and savings habits that often remain hidden in large surveys. The findings will be published in a series of reports beginning in mid-2012.


Congratulations, NYU Wagner Class of '11! [Slide Show]

Congratulations, NYU Wagner Class of '11! [Slide Show]

A highly spirited, good-humored and at times poignant NYU Wagner convocation ceremony filled the beautiful Brooklyn Academy of Music on May 17, including a keynote address delivered by visiting scholar, best-selling author, and astute social critic Irshad Manji.

Her subject was "moral courage," a matter she teaches at Wagner with great passion and insight. As part of her presentation, several students stood in the auditorium; their faces were beamed onto a jumbo screen and their voices were amplified as they explained to hundreds of asssembled classmates, friends and family members what the phrase "moral courage" means to each of them.

It was just one of many emotional and powerful moments as the more than 350 graduates cheered -- all of them poised to embark on the next step of their amazing careers in public service within and across sectors and disciplines.

In another twist on the standard graduation ceremony, three MPA graduates -- Nilbia Y. Coyote, Chesray L. Dolpha, and Kuo Jeng Yang -- greeted the audience with "Welcome" in dozens of languages that reflect the United Nations-like variety of native tongues embodied by Wagner's student body and its diverse global ties.

Ellen Schall, Wagner's dean, led the ceremonies, while New York University Provost David W. McClauglin offered words of welcome and praise, and Associate Dean and Professor Rogan Kersh recited the Athenian Oath. Faculty and student awards aplenty were yet another highlight of the day.

Congratulations to the Class of '11. Forward!


New York Times piece cites 2006 research on power coauthored by Professor Joe Magee

New York Times piece cites 2006 research on power coauthored by Professor Joe Magee

A reporter's Week in Review piece in The New York Times refers to research co-authored by Professor Joe Magee of NYU Wagner in 2006.

"In one recent study," according to the May 23, 2011, article entitled "A Sexist Pig Myth," "researchers led by Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University primed participants to feel powerful by having them write about an incident in which they had control over others and then distribute lottery tickets to themselves and another study subject. These 'high-powered' people were significantly less accurate in reading emotions from facial photographs than a comparison group of participants who were not primed in the same way. This and other experiments suggest that power can blind people to the emotions of those around them and lead to 'objectifying others in a self-interested way,' " the authors concluded.

Joe Magee is associate professor of management at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. His research is concerned with roles of hierarchy in organizations and society.

Uncommon Street Fest Brings Together New Thinking on Cities

Uncommon Street Fest Brings Together New Thinking on Cities

NYU Wagner's Rogan Kersh shines at Festival of Ideas for the New City. [Photo by Dexter Miranda.]

Instead of face painting and kielbasa, there were brightly colored worm tunnels, and a crocheted room. Italian ices and ferris wheels -- the stuff of traditional street fares everywhere -- were replaced by fresh thinking about environmental sustainability, neighborhood heterogeneity, and cutting-edge networking.

The streets and suites all around NYU Wagner's headquarters in the historic Puck Building were awash in new ideas on urban living May 4 to May 8 at the first-ever Festival of Ideas for the New City. Workshops and discussions, dealing with everything from art and housing to urban planning and public policy, took center stage at multiple locations throughout downtown.

The first-ever brainstorm of its kind, the Festival of Ideas was organized by the New Museum, with assistance provided by NYU Wagner and the Cooper Union, and other major partners.

Participants in the festival events included small businesses, local non-profits, and a raft of arts organizations.

The talks tapped the knowledge of thinkers from a variety of arenas. Artists, urban planners, architects and even musicians like David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) - who opened an event on bicycle transportation called "The Sustainable City" -- populated and energized the discussions.

The events were all aimed at coming up with ways of making city life more beautiful, durable, collective, connective, and innovative.

Two of the discussions were hosted at Wagner's headquarters at Lafayette and Houston streets, with Wagner also dispatching expert participants to other happenings, such as Professor and Associate Dean Rogan Kersh. Wagner's Josh Mandell attended the Downtown Policy Issues World Café, co-hosted at the Puck by NYU Wagner and IDEO, the design firm; he wrote up the lively discussion about new ways to use shared space, solar panels, and even white paint. was also there, picking up intelligence.

Meanwhile, Wagner's Professor Mitchell Moss took part in a Saturday evening conversation on the prospects for a thriving downtown cultural scene, held at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater.

FELPS Hosts NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott

FELPS Hosts NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott

NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott addresses NYU Wagner's Fellowship for Emerging Public Service Leaders on April 27, 2011.

Just three weeks into his role as head of the nation's largest public school system, New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott spoke with NYU Wagner's Fellowship for Emerging Leaders in Public Service (FELPS) on April 27.

He discussed his career path, including founding a youth mentorship program, heading the National Urban League, and serving as Deputy Mayor of Education and Community Development. Chancellor Walcott also talked about leadership lessons he has learned from these experiences, including the importance of recognizing mentorship moments, the growth that comes from hiring people who will challenge you, and strategies for maintaining work-family balance in public service careers.

Obama administration officials eye public-private partnering

Obama administration officials eye public-private partnering

The public and private sectors are becoming interdependent through technology, globalization, and shared services and customers. Yet historically there has been a significant divide between the public and private sectors--with causes spanning from cultural attitudes to legal and political impediments. How can we advance partnerships in the arena of critical infrastructure?

On March 21, two officials from the Obama administration talked about key avenues to greater public-private partnerships in infrastructure protection and overall catastrophe preparedness. The occasion was a forum at NYU Wagner, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Douglas Smith, assistant secretary for the private sector, and Todd M. Keil, assistant secretary for infrastructure protection.

Offering reaction to the officials' comments were respondents Carl Weisbrod, partner in the leading policy, economic development and planning consulting firm HR&A, and Wagner professors John Gershman and Rae Zimmerman. The moderator was William Raisch, Director, International Center for Enterprise Preparedness at NYU.


For Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Whirlwind Day at Wagner

For Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Whirlwind Day at Wagner

Gordon Brown (r.) enjoys light-hearted moment at Henry Hart Rice Forum with Mitchell Moss.

Gordon Brown, the British Labour Party leader who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from June 2007 to May 2010, and is a current Member of Parliament, spent an engaging day at NYU Wagner on April 11 with groups of students, faculty, alumni, staff, and the dean, Ellen Schall. In the evening, he spoke to more than 150 friends of the public-service graduate school as the guest of the Henry Hart Rice Forum moderated by Mitchell Moss, Henry Hart Rice Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Wagner.

The Right Honourable Mr. Brown projected optimism about globalization. He said vast increases in producers and consumers in fast-developing countries such as China, India, Indonesia and Brazil will benefit the West, as long as the U.S. and Europe invest heavily in science, technology and education and keep the doors of global trade open.

In this way, Mr. Brown argued, the West can ensure it will profit and gain new sources of employment from globalization -- and ease the understandable anxiety so rife today about economic change.

"For the first time last year, in almost 200 years, Europe and America are being out-produced, out manufactured, and out-invested by the rest of the world," he said. "...It makes people insecure; it makes people feel, ‘Are we witnessing the decline of the West?...And then people feel insecure about their jobs."

It is this economic "sea change," which surpasses even that of the Industrial Revolution, that holds the seeds of opportunity for a more balanced global economy, according to the former prime minister.

"The people who are producing goods in China, India, and elsewhere - they don't want just to be workers producing goods; they want to be consumers too," he said.

"They want to enjoy some of benefit of the goods that come with a higher standard of living. They want to be part of the industrial society as middle class consumers of the future," and they want to have "houses, electrical goods, better clothes, higher quality food, health care, and education."

"There is a huge opportunity for us in what is about to happen, because we in America and Europe can be the people who are equipped to sell goods and services that are sold in the rest of the world," added Mr. Brown.

Mr. Brown, who has a PhD in History from the University of Edinburg, was introduced by Dean Schall and queried by Professor Moss about his youthful influences (mainly his parents and his school teachers), rapport with U.S. presidents (from Clinton to Bush to Obama), and Scotland's historical impact on the American experiment.

The event was held at the Kimmel Center of New York University. Mr. Brown is the university's inaugural Distinguished Global Leader in Residence.

In his remarks, the former prime minister warned against a "race to the bottom" that will occur if countries are permitted to attract business via deregulation. What is required, he stated, is the development and maintenance of consistent international standards for investment.

Fielding a question from a Wagner student about the environmental impact of burgeoning consumer economies, he said that worldwide treaties, such as the one attempted but not enacted at the recent Copenhagen Climate Summit, are clearly merited .

Katherine O'Regan Receives NYU 2010-11 Distinguished Teaching Award

Katherine O'Regan Receives NYU 2010-11 Distinguished Teaching Award

Congratulations to Katherine M. O'Regan, associate professor of public policy extraordinaire here at NYU Wagner! She has been selected as a recipient of the 2010-2011 Distinguished Teaching Award.

The award recipients include a total of six professors from across the university.

Professor O'Regan will be donating half of her esteemed award to the Wagner Experience Fund, established for the first time this year to fund 50 internships for Wagner students this summer.

Past teaching-award recipients at Wagner include Ingrid Gould Ellen, Steven Finkler, and Ellen Schall.


NYU Wagner and UCLA Luskin Partner on Social Justice Initiative

NYU Wagner and UCLA Luskin Partner on Social Justice Initiative

NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs have partnered to envision how schools of public affairs and administration and related fields can equip emerging and established public service leaders to tackle inequality and advance social justice. In March, the schools held two day-long regional dialogues as part of a joint Social Justice Initiative in Public Service Graduate Programs.

NYU Wagner and UCLA Luskin began partnering in 2008 and hosted inter-school dialogues in 2009 focused on fostering communities in which issues of race and other markers of identity are discussable. Generous new support from the Ford Foundation allowed Wagner and Luskin to expand these dialogues beyond their schools to include teams of students, faculty and administrators from nearly 30 peer schools on the East and West Coasts, as well as representatives from social work schools, law schools, and other institutions interested in promoting social justice.

The East Coast dialogue was hosted by NYU Wagner Dean Ellen Schall on March 11, 2011. Jeannie Oakes, director of the Ford Foundation's Educational Opportunity and Scholarship Programs, was the featured guest speaker. She outlined the Transformative Leadership Initiative the foundation has undertaken with a broad swath of universities and nonprofit organizations across the United States.  At the West Coast dialogue hosted by UCLA Luskin Dean Frank Gilliam, Jr. on March 28, Dr. Gilliam spoke on behalf of the Ford Foundation.

At both events, discussions focused on the integration of social justice into core curricula, electives, extracurricular activities, faculty development, field building, community engagement, and research. Participants shared best practices; generated ideas to advance for advancement within their individual schools, departments and programs; and developed next steps as a community of schools committed to social justice education.

The Initiative builds on a long-standing commitment to advance social justice that runs throughout Wagner and is at the core of the work of NYU Wagner's Research Center for Leadership in Action. Many of the themes that emerged in the dialogues reflect RCLA's work since the Center's inception, including advancing models of leadership that make structures and systems more inclusive, transparent and fair; establishing deep partnerships between academics and practitioners in research and programs; and fostering and supporting diverse leadership at all levels of organizations and within society to leverage a variety of talents and contributions.    
RCLA Executive Director Bethany Godsoe noted, "We are excited to see the Social Justice Initiative gain momentum on both coasts and to have this opportunity to share RCLA's work with social change leaders and other public service partners as a model for leadership development, research and teaching grounded in a social justice approach."


Professor of Public Service Paul Light Named to GAO Panel

Professor of Public Service Paul Light Named to GAO Panel

Paul C. Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at NYU Wagner, has accepted an invitation from the Comptroller General of the United States, Gene L. Dodaro, to serve on the principal advisory board of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the "congressional watchdog," it investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. The head of GAO, the Comptroller General of the United States, is appointed to a 15-year term by the President from a slate of candidates Congress proposes.

Dodaro was nominated by President Obama in September 2010. He became Acting Comptroller General of the United States on March 13, 2008, succeeding David M. Walker, who appointed him upon resigning. Dodaro became Comptroller General of the United States on December 22, 2010, when he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Professor Light has written 19 books, including the award-winning Thickening Government and The Tides of Reform. His most recent book is Driving Social Change: How to Solve the World's Toughest Problems, a study of social entrepreneurship. Light is also a co-author of a best-selling American government textbook, Government by the People.

His research interests include: bureaucracy, civil service, Congress, entitlement programs, executive branch, government reform, nonprofit effectiveness, organizational change, and the political appointment process.

The GAO Advisory Board is the most influential panel of its kind at the agency, and meets several times a year.



"Beyond the Wal-Martization of Immigration"

"Beyond the Wal-Martization of Immigration"

In a guest commentary, NYU Wagner Professor Natasha Iskander and fellow researcher Nichola Lowe, of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, writes on the role scholars can play in reshaping the political dialogue and debate about immigration and its impact on the national economy. The piece is hosted by the Institute for the Study of the Americas at UNC-Chapel Hill. (See, too, a recent study coauthored by Iskander, entitled "Hidden Talent: Skill Formation and Labor Market Incorporation of Latino Immigrants in the United States.")

On Friday, April 8, 2011, meanwhile, Professor Iskander visited the World Bank in Washington, D.C., to deliver a lecture about her recently published book, Creative State: Forty Years of Migration and Development Policy in Morocco and Mexico

Measuring Progress in Reducing Poverty [Video]

Measuring Progress in Reducing Poverty [Video]

C. Nicole Mason, executive director of the Women of Color Poverty Network (WOCPN) at NYU Wagner, delivered opening remarks at a major conference on measuring poverty, held March 29 at the Center for American Progress, and co-hosted by WOPCN and the Half in Ten campaign.

She joined with other national experts as they discussed the challenges of developing poverty benchmarks and indicators for progress, how the new measure can be used in tandem with other statistics to assess shared goals, and how agencies and organizations can collaborate to effectively reduce poverty in the next decade. Congressman Jim McDermott (D-Wisconsin) gave the keynote address.

The event, including Mason's opening remarks, can be seen here [Video].

Student Forum Explores Disaster Resilience and Reconstruction

Student Forum Explores Disaster Resilience and Reconstruction

Makeshift store in earthquake-devastated area of Haiti. [Photo by Kylie Davis.]

According to data collected by NYU Wagner Professor Rae Zimmerman, the rate of natural disasters has been on the rise since the early 1970s. Causing the highest fatalities are earthquakes, storms and droughts, and intense heat spells (in that order).

This trend line shows the urgent need for vastly increased attention to disaster planning and preparedness across sectors. But Wagner urban planning students found indications of planning gaps during trips to scenes of devastation in Haiti and Chile, where they participated in reconstruction work. Lack of public-safety preparedness and infrastructure fortification added tragic dimensions, while arduous and complex rebuilding efforts by the state, international aid groups, and local agencies were sometimes found halting or, at times, loosely coordinated.

On March 29, 2011, with the world watching recovery efforts in the wake of the Japan tsunami and nuclear power catastrophe, NYU Wagner's Urban Planning Student Association and International Public Service Association brought together students, faculty and practitioners for a forum entitled "Disaster Resilience and Reconstruction Events."

The first panel was composed of students whose recent visits to Haiti and Chile arose from their enrollment in "Post Catastrophe Reconstruction" (co-taught by James P. Stuckey, division dean, NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate) or "Preparing for Emergencies" (with Professor Zimmerman). These students -- including Kylie Davis, Sapna Bhatt, Amy Southworth, Mat Sanders, and Iria Touzon, who said she was visiting Japan when the tsunami hit --offered observations of what worked well, where relief and rebuilding fell short, and why.

In the wake of any natural disaster, such as t Hurricane Katrina in Sanders' hometown of New Orleans, "What you see is survivors adapt to the new reality," he said. "But when you adapt, you're not ‘building back better.' The role of government is to see the big picture and rebuild in a resilient way. If you leave it to individuals, you get haphazard development."

Kylie said, "In reality, people really know how to take care of themselves in certain ways," and the goal of reconstruction participants from the public and private sectors should be to help them to do so, and learn from it.

Problems can actually begin, said Bhatt, when displaced persons are separated from their devastated communities by necessity. While transitional housing is provided on an urgent basis, the urgency wanes, and temporary housing becomes virtually permanent.

A second panel focused on the importance of building pre-disaster resilience and the many forms that it should assume but  rarely does; in the U.S, for instance, some of the largest population growth has occurred in coastal areas threatened by rising sea levels due to global warming.

"Resilience," said Zimmerman, "starts before disasters as well as afterward - that is, building that resilience into the community and the infrastructure."

Magarita Pajaro (MUP '05), who has worked at the World Bank and is now with CB Emmanual Partners, moderated the panel. Participants also included Amy Stroud of Build.Found, and Donald Watson of EarthRise design. A former professor of architecture at Rensselaer, Watson said: "The next disaster is the one we failed to plan for." We can't rely on disaster response, he added - for by then "it's already too late.

"Designing for resilience is about reducing the cost of disasters. It is so important - you need to engage yourself, family, community in this discussion," he said.

The event at Wagner was put together principally by urban planning graduate students Amy Faust and Angel Chen, who was moderator for the student panel.

NYU Wagner Joins the Newly Launched “New Cities Foundation”

NYU Wagner Joins the Newly Launched “New Cities Foundation”

Partnering with leading global companies, research institutions and nonprofits, the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University has become a Member of The New Cities Foundation, a newly established non-profit Swiss institution dedicated to improving the quality of life and work in the 21st century global city.

The Foundation, launched on March 28, 2011, will perform a unique role in developing new models of collaboration between the public, private and academic sectors that will benefit cities around the world. Through its Task Force and the annual New Cities Summit, the Foundation will be a true "laboratory of ideas," leveraging its members' leadership, expertise, innovations, relationships and products to ensure that the urban future is a more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable one. It will be chaired by John Rossant, the executive chairman of Geneva-based PublicisLive, which produces major international conferences such as the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The Foundation's first Founding Members are GE, Cisco, and Ericsson. In addition to NYU Wagner, the Members include global leaders such as Orange (France Telecome), GDF Suez, and the Gateway House think tank in India. The first Summit, a premier global event for high-level exchange and innovation on the future of urbanization, will be held in late 2011 or early 2012 in an Asian city.

"NYU Wagner and New Cities Foundation share a common belief in the power of collaboration - the need to unite sectors to jointly develop fresh, bold solutions to increasingly complex problems facing cities around the world," said Ellen Schall, Dean of NYU Wagner.

For more information, see the press release here.

Class on Design Thinking Makes Its Debut [Video]

Class on Design Thinking Makes Its Debut [Video]

Mike Peng, adjunct professor, "Design Thinking: A Creative Approach to Problem Solving," Fall, 2010.

A new course at NYU Wagner taught by Mike Peng of IDEO, an adjunct professor, introduced students to the concept of design thinking. In their final projects, student teams employed design thinking, an approach most commonly used in the development of consumer products, to effect policy change and social impact. The challenge was to come up with people-centered improvements for New York City schools, subways, hospital care, or other services. In this NYU Wagner video, Peng discusses design thinking and its relevance for change makers. The students presented their final presentations, also excerpted here, at the close of last semester (Fall, 2010). The course title was "Design Thinking: A Creative Approach to Problem Solving."


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