This past week the entire team met at UNAM for our third annual meeting. We began the session with a brief review of what we’ve accomplished in the last year- a functioning model prototype, mental model analyses, findings from the health team, a serious game based on our data from Mexico City (used for model validation from the perspective of residents as well as future potential as a social learning tool), and more. A busy year!
After a brief overview of accomplishments and the meeting agenda we spent some time discussing the challenges and benefits of MEGADAPT’s interdisciplinary, cross-institutional, cross-cultural team. Our complementary funding from the InterAmerican Institute is specifically encouraging this reflection, and this discussion builds on work we have been undertaking with this complementary funding for the last few years. This past year we conducted internal interviews with team members on this theme and found that the primary challenges are associated with difficulty in communication (large team, lack of relationships between team members, poor technology, language differences, vertical vs. horizontal), challenges associated with model integration between those contributing pieces of the model and those integrating the pieces of the model, the constant challenge of having only a limited amount of time to contribute to a project that actually requires a lot of commitment of time to really be able to understand all its moving parts, and differences in institutional context. Given its prominent position in science-policy interaction at the national level, LANCIS is explicitly concerned with the policy impact and utility of our work. As an institution more distant from the local context, ASU researchers may tend to be more strongly focused on academic publications. However, there have been many rewarding experiences associated with the project as well- new colleagues, new methods, new visions of what a socio-ecological system entails, humbling and rewarding experiences with stakeholders, ideas for theses, and more. Additionally, after taking some time to discuss how we might address these problems going forward, the team agreed that the best way to resolve issues was to really focus on re-opening various communication channels and working relationships.
Entering our final year of funding, we’ve also begun to think about how the project might be extended, synthesizing our ideas in publications, and re-engaging with stakeholders to refine and present the model. Additionally, though we have a functioning model prototype, in the words of our modelers, the next step is to transform the code and the programming from an “artisanal chocolate product” (created by our “chocolatier” Andres Baeza-Castro) to a more streamlined and manufactured Hershey chocolate bar with a clear and reproducible recipe…
,Though the water-related challenges of Mexico City have been apparent to residents for decades, they are receiving increased amounts of global recognition. The issues- scarcity, subsidence, flooding, water quality, etc- are clear, but the drivers are not. A recent piece in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/17/world/americas/mexico-city-sinking.html?_r=0) provided an elaboration on the challenges posed by subsidence and the exacerbation of existing problems due to climate change. In fact, the New York Times will be writing an entire series dedicated to understanding how different global cities are responding, or not responding, to climate threats. Mexico City seems trapped on a trajectory towards worsening hydrological scenarios and, although the problems are evident and the unrest is increasing, the system dynamics of a city are of such complexity that insertion points and interventions are unclear. Sustainability science, the interdisciplinary field from which the MEGADAPT project arose, is attempting to find novel, integrated perspectives from which to view these systems. When the present is plagued by complexity and the future with uncertainty, novel research approaches are vital. However, that which will result from these approaches is uncertain. With MEGADAPT we are learning with greater clarity the challenge of modeling the social and environmental complexity of a megacity- in order to model, we have to simplify. Yet, we believe that we can approach simplification not as reductionists and not as an "end all-be all" box and arrow diagram with a straightforward solution, but we approach it as a learning tool. What can we learn from a simplified* demystified attempt to conceptualize reality? What can we learn through the conversations we have with stakeholders to model it? What does it offer as a reflective tool for governance and a boundary object for stakeholder communication? What can academia offer as an institution to start hopeful, productive conversations of change rather than tales of woe? We hope to find out.
*note: technically this is a very complicated project, but nothing can capture the true complexity of reality
Originally Posted 10/21/2016
Habitat III is the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. The first Habitat conference was held in 1976 and the subsequent conferences have been held every 20 years (1996, 2016). In 1976, the concept of “rapid urbanization” was a new idea: mass migration into cities was beginning as a global phenomenon and the provision of shelter for the growing populations was an emerging issue. In 1996, the conference identified the increasing deterioration of shelter in urban centers and called for shelter for all. It also sought to ignite a global effort, based in local participation, to address the sustainability of cities in terms of consumption, production, population size and distribution, poverty, infrastructure, environment, etc.
This year, 2016, according to the Habitat III webpage, the objectives of the conference are “to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development, assess accomplishments to date, address poverty and identify and address new and emerging challenges. The conference will result in a concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented outcome document.” This document is entitled the “New Urban Agenda” and is intended to be a document that will be officially adopted in Quito, Ecuador this week.
In addition to representatives from the 200 UN governments, other stakeholders, governments, researchers, members of the private sector, and non-governmental organizations will be in attendance. But other than the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, what are the intended outcomes of these conferences? The conference intends to act as a forum to get everyone “on the same page” in terms of sustainable development goals, to serve as a public opportunity for nation states to make commitments in their respective countries, and aims to steer funding agencies towards prioritizing and supporting the goals outlined within the New Urban Agenda. However, though the adoption is structured as a participatory conference, it will be interesting to see whether participants have influence or primarily act as observers of the process (see this article for an interesting perspective on the role of scientists in this process:http://www.nature.com/news/scientists-must-have-a-say-in-the-future-of-cities-1.20760).
The New Urban Agenda is highly relevant to the work of MEGADAPT both topically, in terms of water related issues, and in its statements relating to the role of research/researchers. The agenda calls for cities that “provide universal access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation” as well as for the conservation of water. It recognizes that urban centers are increasingly vulnerable to climate change, flooding, extreme weather events, water scarcity, water pollution, and drought — all issues that are encompassed within the scope of the MEGADAPT project.
The agenda commits to “long-term urban and territorial planning processes and spatial development practices that incorporate integrated water resources planning and management, considering the urban-rural continuum at the local and territorial scales, and including the participation of relevant stakeholders and communities.” MEGADAPT’s ambition to incorporate and visualize the different perspectives on the problems and solutions of water related risk in Mexico City will contribute directly to this goal. The New Urban Agenda also promotes sustainable water usage via revitalizing urban water resources, treating waste water, reducing water losses – all issues that are highlighted in MEGADAPT’s synthesis of stakeholder knowledge and experience, and in the scenarios of solutions that are planned in MEGADAPT for the coming year. Additionally, the Agenda proposes investment in all categories of water infrastructure in order to reduce water-related disasters and health risks and to eliminate inequalities related to water provision.
Thinking of infrastructure broadly is critical: cities need to rely on innovative strategies that incorporate green and grey infrastructure as well as “soft” infrastructural solutions that focus on governance and institutions. The Agenda calls upon research organizations to work with governments to improve the governance process and to promote effective participation in decision-making. It supports “science, research, and innovation, including a focus on social, technological, digital and nature-based innovation, robust science-policy interfaces in urban and territorial planning and policy formulation, as well as institutionalized mechanisms for sharing and exchanging information, knowledge and expertise, including the collection, analysis, standardization and dissemination of geographically-based, community-collected, high-quality, timely and reliable data…” We hope that MEGADAPT will play such a role in helping Mexico City meet its water and urbanization challenges.
Ultimately, the challenge at hand requires investment in transdisciplinary research, collaborative implementation, and, an approach to the science-policy interface that helps articulate the disparate meanings, values, and understandings on sustainability and development associated with the inhabitants of the world’s cities. Cities embody the complexity of values, politics and social relations that define society, and circumscribe the relationship of people to place and to the environment. Solutions to the challenges of cities this century must place the nexus of social equity, human rights and environmental integrity in the spotlight. Habitat III will articulate the challenge and outline possible solution pathways, but where do we begin? We hope that MEGADAPT will contribute to the debate, and build on the New Urban Agenda to help articulate some pathways for change. Are you on board to help?
The official website: https://habitat3.org/
The New Urban Agenda:https://www2.habitat3.org/bitcache/97ced11dcecef85d41f74043195e5472836f6291?vid=588897&disposition=inline&op=view
A look at inclusion within the New Urban Agenda by our collaborators at the STEPS Centre:http://steps-centre.org/2016/blog/the-new-urban-agenda-and-its-47-inclusions/
A helpful overview of the history and current events of the UN’s Habitat Conferences:http://citiscope.org/habitatIII/explainer/what-habitat-iii
Originally Posted 10/17/2016
Originally posted 10/03/2016
Over the next few months, we’re going to use our blog to introduce our MEGADAPT team members from ASU and UNAM. We’ll highlight who our team is, why they’ve decided to be a part of MEGADAPT, and their hopes for the project. First, we’re introducing Hallie Eakin. Hallie Eakin is the Principle Investigator (PI) for the MEGADAPT Project and is an associate professor in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University.
1) What motivated you to become a part of MEGADAPT?
The MEGADAPT project grew out of an effort to increase research collaborations between ASU and UNAM. Initially we, ASU and UNAM, had a small joint grant that allowed us to outline common area of interests, problem areas, areas in which we had complimentary strengths, and faculty in both institutions that would be available to address these common interests. We concluded that there was great interest in addressing urban sustainability.
The MEGADAPT project thus emerged out of a combination of my own interests/expertise in vulnerability and risk, others’ interest in focusing on Mexico’s emblematic history of water management , and the common area interest of urban sustainability.
For me, the project has been a new experience because in the past my work has been primarily focused on household level analysis in rural areas, not in an urban context. I’ve learned, however, that many of the same issues that create vulnerability in rural spaces are relevant in the heart of Mexico City.
2) What do you consider to be your specific contribution/role in the MEGADAPT project?
As the PI for the project, I have the designated role of overseeing the project. I make sure it stays on track with the timeline, meets our stated objectives, and produces materials/information/knowledge that addresses the interests and needs of communities with which we are working. The role of coordinator is challenging- I’ve previously only worked with smaller groups of scholars (the MEGADAPT project has had upwards of 20 participants at any given time!).
And because this project seeks to achieve transdisciplinarity, it has been a challenge to keep the project relevant to the actors we have engaged with over time. We are constantly trying to find ways in which to engage stakeholders and make the project salient to them.
3) What do you hope the outcomes from this project will be?
We want to be able to say that the MEGADAPT model is gaining recognition as a useful tool for decision-making in Mexico City (and, even more ambitiously, as a decision-making model for other cities around the world). And, that through using the tool, decision-makers can start to re-think the way that the city works and how vulnerability is produced within it. We hope it inspires innovative ideas to tackle the water issues in the city.
4) Why is Mexico City a special place to work?
One of the things that I love about Mexico City is the incredible diversity of culture and ways of life that are packed together in this massive megalopolis. There is a constant surreal juxtaposition between modern and traditional life. In a street full of traffic there are cars, but there are also street sellers on bikes loaded with balloons or toting giant piñatas. There is incredible beauty in the meticulously balanced carts of street vendors and in the services that the provide – many services that are completely unavailable in cities here in the US. I love this city.
Originally Posted 9/27/2016
This past Sunday was World Rivers Day- a day to celebrate natural waterways around the world and encourage stewardship of these valuable resources. Through the basin of Mexico, where the Mexico City Metropolitan Area is located, there once flowed many rivers. However, as the city grew, most of these rivers were enclosed in drains or transformed into sewers (Legorreta, J. 2009). However, there is one remaining free-flowing river and source of surface water within the city- the Magdalena River.
The Magdalena river is located in the Magdalena Contreras region, on the southwestern edge of the city. Like most rivers that run through urban areas, the Magdalena River was transformed as the city grew. Though the amount of water flowing through the river has not drastically changed, the quality of the water has. Clean water is taken out of the river and replaced with untreated wastewater (Mazari-Hiriart et al, 2014). As the river enters the urban area, the physicochemical and biological indicators such as electirical conductivity, nitrogen, phosphorous, fecal coliforms, and fecal enterococci increase dramatically (Mazari-Hiriart et al., 2014 & Jujnovsky, J., 2010). In many sampling sites within the urban area, researchers have found that the water quality does not meet the criteria required for human consumption (Mazari-Hiriart et al., 2014 & Jujnovsky, J., 2010). Additionally, the river contains concentrations of microbes that parasitize and cause disease in humans and animals (Mazari-Hiriart et al, 2014).
This information is not new to city residents and city officials and there have been conversations about the restoration of the river. A Master Plan was developed with significant public participation, and parts of it have been implemented. Transforming a river within an urban area, however, is challenging. What does restoration look like for an urban river? Knowing that it will never mimic its pre-urbanized state, to what state is it restored to? If you know of or are involved in any restoration projects in Mexico City, or in other urban environments, please comment below! We would love to hear from our readers.
Jujnovsky, J., Almeida-Lenero, L., Bojorge-Garcia, M., Monges, Y.L., Cantoral-Uriza, E., Mazari-Hiriart, J. 2010. Hydrologic ecosystem services: water quality and quantity in the Magdalena River, Mexico City. Hidrobiológica 20(2): 113-126
Legorreta J (2009) Ríos, lagos y manantiales del Valle de México. Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Gobierno del Distrito Federal. Artes Impresas Eón, S.A. de C.V. México, D.F. 365 p.
Mazari-Hiriart M, Pe´rez-Ortiz G, Orta-Ledesma MT, Armas-Vargas F, Tapia MA, et al. (2014) Final Opportunity to Rehabilitate an Urban River as a Water Source for Mexico City. PLoS ONE 9(7): e102081. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102081
A collaborative project seeking to improve capacities for risk management in Mexico City and to serve as a model for climate-change adaptation in developing countries.