Periodically we’ll be interviewing Senior CEME Fellows to check in on their latest research, big questions they’ve been pondering and everything they’re keeping an eye on in the world. Today we spoke with former Tufts University Professor and Chair of Urban and Environmental Planning, Weiping Wu.
Interviewer: What are the questions that keep you up at night around your current research/focus of interest?
WW: My interest is on emerging countries, in particular China, so two things keep me thinking. One is, how do we finance urbanization? You have well-to-do cities on the coast that generally can rely on land transfer to cover revenue shortfalls, but you have a lot of cities that are not so well to do. The concern is poor cities versus well-to-do cities, and that even within the well-to-do cities there is inequality. Second, what really concerns me a great deal both in China and in other emerging economies is the increasing human impact and the impact of development on the environment. Because the pace is so quick and the scope is so large, the impact will be disproportionately felt in a shorter period of time. That is not an area that I work a lot on, but I remain interested in it.
Interviewer: What do you see in the developments and events around the world today that make your work relevant and timely?
WW: About a year ago we began to read about the increasing debts of local governments in China. It kind of reminds you in the 90’s when you would see the Brazilian states and various different local governments go into debts and the debt crisis of Latin American countries in the 80’s and 90’s. That really makes me feel like we have to look into more sustainable ways of financing for cities, which is what I’m working on now, particularly on China, looking at not just physical resources but also financial market resources that could help some cities to be more sustainable in terms of their financing.
Interviewer: Where do you see the greatest opportunities for impact for students who affiliate or work with IBGC?
WW: You probably know about the Inclusive City Conference we organized in early May. I was very excited because in my own field — I come from urban planning — and here the IBGC is much more focused on the private sector, so the combination is terrific exposure for our students. [Dean] Bhaskar [Chakravorti] and I and a few other faculty members, hope to continue this collaboration to get both Fletcher students and our students in the Urban Planning Department to work together. There are different approaches, both market based and public sector based, to open up better access for the poorest segments of the population in cities around the world. So we feel that could be terrific multidisciplinary exposure for students. I think Fletcher students are much more fluent about global issues, international issues and business issues, while our students are much more fluent in sustainability and planning issues, and coming together is a terrific opportunity. I think the whole inclusion series will be opening up opportunities for collaboration. In planning, the focus both in teaching and in our faculty has always been more domestic oriented, or if not developed country oriented, so with the Fletcher broader range of interests and in particular emerging economies I think it will help our students to see more challenges and opportunities.
Interviewer: What is the most interesting book you have read recently?
WW: Triumph of the City by Ed Glaeser, I thought it was a really good way of conceptualizing cities at a more macro level. In our field we tend to go into a more micro understanding. It is an economist view of cities. I feel that Ed’s work adds to the bigger conversation about cities because it is really interesting. Economists have a lot of presence in the World Bank discussions, G8 or World Economic Forum, and to have someone that can speak about cities is a good thing.