Price students present research to global poverty reduction group Cities Alliance

June 15, 2016

MPL students present their research to Cities Alliance Director William Cobbett. (Photos by Ginger Li)

By Matthew Kredell

Graduate students from USC Price School of Public Policy Professor Eric Heikkila’s spring course on Comparative International Development had the opportunity to present their research to William Cobbett, director of Cities Alliance, a global organization with a focus on reducing poverty and promoting the role of cities in sustainable development.

Established in 1999, Cities Alliance was organized by the World Bank and UN-Habitat. Heikkila borrowed the template Cities Alliance uses to have his students create city development strategies as a term project.

The 55 students broke into 10 groups of five or six with each group choosing a city, limited to two from each of World Bank’s seven regions. This created a wide variety of cities featured: Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Delhi, India; Hangzhou, China; Iquitos, Peru; Istanbul, Turkey; Johannesburg, South Africa; Luanda, Angola; Panama City, Panama; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Valparaiso, Chile.

The students voted on which group made the best presentation, and Heikkila – who noted that there were several presentations he thought were of comparable quality – accepted their choice to represent the class in a video conference call to Belgium with Cobbett and lead urban specialist Serge Allou of Cities Alliance.

“The common features among the exemplary presentations were that they developed and conveyed a sense of what the place is about,” Heikkila said. “For me, one of the most important criteria I had was that the strategy makes sense for that particular place. It’s not an off-the-shelf set of principles that might apply equally in every city, but really reflects the particular conditions that one finds in Abidjan or Istanbul, or wherever it may be.”

The winning team representing Abidjan included Master of Planning students Cody Egan, Jess Jaworski, Michael Maulano, Gwen von Klan and Emily Ware.

“It was very interesting to learn about the music, fashion and rich culture of Abidjan, yet at the same time learn about the civil wars and constant political turmoil,” said von Klan, who is seeking a dual Master of Public Administration degree at USC Price.

The group recommended that Abidjan increase transparency and community involvement in local government; foster greater connection between the economy, local community and culture; increase connectivity to the surrounding region and rest of the world; and install sustainable infrastructure.

“It was a pleasure to be invited by Professor Heikkila to participate as a distant peer-reviewer of USC students’ attempts to come to grips with some of the challenges of running a modern city,” Cobbett said. “The winning team did a great job of forging a credible strategy for Abidjan. The world is going to need a whole new generation of professionals to run cities of all sizes.”