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Teaching Urban Development in the Urban South

Matt Ball on August 14, 2013 - in Planning, Projects

SA+P has recently signed an agreement with Malaysia’s leading engineering and science school – the Universiti of Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) – to develop new materials to strengthen the teaching of sustainable city development in the global South and around the world.

Under the direction of MIT planning professor Larry Susskind, the program will seek to shift the way urban development is taught from an emphasis on economic growth to a greater emphasis on sustainable development, using Malaysia as a model.

With a GDP that has grown about 6.5% for the past 50 years, Malaysia has transitioned in just a few decades from a predominantly agrarian and extractive economy to a high-tech, knowledge-oriented economy by reinvesting its oil and gas revenues in public education. The MIT/UTM program is posited on the belief that strategies based on Malaysia’s experience should prove more relevant to the problems facing cities in the global South than approaches developed in the North.

While Malaysia has its share of environmental problems – partially the result of deforestation and rapid urbanization – it is ranked 25th on Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (out of 132 nations) and has made a strong commitment to promoting more sustainable development, especially with regard to air quality and managing maritime resources. It is also a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity – not an insignificant fact for a country that hosts 20% of the world’s animal species – and is working to preserve its important mangrove forests even as the country develops its own international port nearby.

To create new teaching materials based on first-hand accounts of Malaysia’s efforts, the MIT/UTM program will support ten different scholars from different countries every year for the next five years to study development in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru.

After spending their first half-year working with cities, development agencies and faculty at UTM, the scholars will spend their second half-year working with faculty and students at SA+P to translate their findings into video teaching materials. The growing digital library will be distributed free on the web and the ultimate network of 50 scholars will maintain a dedicated website to continue to share their work.

Based at SA+P’s Community Innovators Lab – a research and outreach center in the Department of Urban Studies + Planning, dedicated to the development and use of community knowledge – the entire five-year effort will be funded by the Malaysian government, including $2M to support doctoral students at SA+P and the costs of video production.

Each year, the UTM faculty (and development agencies with whom they work) will collaborate with SA+P faculty and students to organize a two-week practicum in Malaysia, offering 10-12 MIT students the chance to visit Malaysia as part of their graduate studies.

The first ten scholars will begin their residency at UTM in August 2014; the second cohort will be selected in January 2015. Each scholar must be a full-time academic, teaching some aspect of city and regional development at a college or university in the developing world. Those selected will receive full salaries for a year along with a stipend to cover travel and living expenses in Malaysia and at MIT.

The program will be administered by a joint UTM/MIT faculty committee including, from SA+P, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Associate Professor of Law and Development; Gabriella Carolini, Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, J. Phillip Thompson, Associate Professor of Urban Politics and Miho Mazereeuw, Assistant Professor of Architecture.

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