Northeastern University founded the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs 10 years ago to provide a space for applied interdisciplinary research. Since then, the School has created a tradition of high-impact research, education and engagement with communities of practitioners in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
To celebrate this milestone, we shine the spotlight on our service-oriented initiatives and research centers and labs, which have advanced public policy and urban affairs theory and practice not just in Boston, but around the nation and the globe.
Michael and Kitty Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy
Founded in 1999, the Dukakis Center is a “think and do tank” that conducts interdisciplinary research, in collaboration with civic leaders, to identify and implement solutions to a broad spectrum of critical challenges facing urban areas throughout the Commonwealth.
Since its inception, the center has been involved in a wide array of research focusing on housing in Greater Boston. Each year staff dive into data and publish an annual edition of the “Greater Boston Housing Report Card,” which keeps track of home prices, rents, housing production and policy, and other matters related to housing availability and affordability.
“Each annual report takes a deep dive into specific topics,” said Barry Bluestone, senior research associate and founding director, 1999 to 2015. “In the past these have ranged from homelessness to student housing, from the need for zoning reform to the cost of producing new housing.”
The Dukakis Center is deeply involved with housing advocacy groups and its senior staff and consultants have been responsible for developing new housing legislation that has been successfully implemented in the Commonwealth.
In 2005, the center created the “Economic Development Self-Assessment Tool” (EDSAT), which provides guidance to cities and towns on how to generate a strategy for attracting business investment. EDSAT has now been implemented in more than 110 cities and towns throughout Massachusetts and New England.
Led by former Associate Director Stephanie Pollack, who is now secretary of transportation in the Commonwealth, the Dukakis Center has carried out extensive research on a range of transportation issues, focusing on accessibility and equity.
Most recently, the center published a number of market studies related to projecting labor force needs in the Commonwealth and the role of vocational schools in meeting the future employment needs across businesses in the state.
The Dukakis Center has also focused attention on the role of manufacturing and completed an evaluation of the state’s life sciences sector. Its two “Staying Power” studies, published in 2008 and 2012, called attention to the continuing viability of manufacturing in Massachusetts and helped lead to the creation of the state’s Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative.
The center’s most recent report, “State of the Built Environment: Greater Boston’s Infrastructure,” released in June 2016, is the first report that provides a comprehensive review of all of Greater Boston’s infrastructure needs, from highways, mass transit, airport facilities, and the Boston Seaport to the demand for electricity, gas, water, and sanitation. By projecting population and economic growth to 2030, the report provides a guide to the additional infrastructure and efficiency measures that will be needed to maintain the region’s prosperity.
“As I meet with policy makers from Massachusetts and other New England states it is clear how much the Dukakis Center is relied upon for timely and accurate research on the housing, transportation and infrastructure challenges facing states across New England,” Interim Director Jack McDevitt said. “The respect and appreciation for the work of the Dukakis Center by such a broad cross section of policy leaders is very rewarding to hear.”
Resilient Cities Lab
The Resilient Cities Lab, founded in 2013, connects disciplinary research on pressing social, economic, environmental, and engineering challenges in the urban environment, and links this research with education and practice.
“Cities always are confronted by external shocks—be they in the form of a rapid influx of new people, an economic downturn or some extreme weather event. Bouncing back from such shocks is key to maintain quality of life in cities. What creates that ability to bounce back, and perhaps even perform better than before the shock? How can that ability be enhanced through innovation of technology and innovation in governance? These are just some of the questions the Resilient Cities Lab addresses,” said Matthias Ruth, founding director of the Lab. “The answers must be informed by methods and approaches from multiple disciplines and be connected to the world of practitioners.”
Functioning as a hub that brings together people and academic disciplines, the lab thus serves as the “middle piece” between urban investment and policy making, and cooperative and experiential learning.
Presently, the lab has 21 faculty members from across different academic disciplines. For example, professor Joan Fitzgerald’s research focuses on urban climate governance and the connections between urban sustainability and economic development and innovation. She is currently working on a book, Greenovation: Urban Leadership on Climate Action, which examines how cities advance green technologies and organize city government to more effectively implement climate plans. She also is investigating governance of green storm water infrastructure.
Professor Gavin Shatkin investigates globalization and urban poverty in Southeast Asian cities. He has recently partnered with faculty in Northeastern’s School of Architecture and the departments of Art and Design and Anthropology to examine projections of flood risk in rapidly growing coastal megacities.
Professor Christopher Bosso, on the other hand, is interested in how societies try to balance the benefits of producing goods and services with needs to protect public health and the environment. His areas of interest include food and environmental policy, science and technology policy, and the governance of emerging technologies. He is currently working with Northeastern’s Dining Services on ideas to reduce food waste at the university, and he just finished a book on the 2014 farm bill.
Social Impact Lab
The Social Impact Lab (SIL), founded in 2014, is a student service-oriented initiative and serves as an innovation hub that combines experiential learning, civic engagement, and collaboration to empower social change. It uses experiential teaching methodologies to help students understand the complex systems from which social problems and their solutions emerge, serving as a bridge between the classroom and the community.
“Our flagship program, Northeastern Students4Giving, challenges students to grapple with the conceptual, ethical, and practical dilemmas of awarding real-dollar grants to nonprofit organizations addressing social issues in Boston,” Director Rebecca Riccio said.
Through the Global Philanthropy Initiative, SIL shares the lessons it has learned about experiential philanthropy education with partners around the world and collaborates with them to develop courses that are socially, culturally, economically, and legally appropriate in their local contexts. SIL has already helped Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia, create an experiential philanthropy course, and expects to launch a new course with partners in Saudi Arabia this year. The lab will also host the first Zameli Family Global Philanthropy and Social Impact Visiting Fellow this year.
SIL designs and curates dynamic, interactive events that enable social change agents to share knowledge across sectors, disciplines, and generations. Its premier event is the Social Impact Conference, an annual gathering of students, faculty, nonprofit and philanthropy leaders, social entrepreneurs, and policymakers to discuss emergent topics in the social impact arena.
Along with the NuLawLab, Social Justice Resource Center, and Social Enterprise Institute, SIL is a co-anchor of Northeastern’s new designation as an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus and it will help expand and strengthen the university’s robust social innovation education ecosystem.