USC Price School of Public Policy

SPPD Students Tackle Policy Issues Abroad

September 11, 2008

Published in USC News

SPPD students visit a favela in Brazil SPPD students visit a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This past summer, more than 40 master’s students representing all programs of study with the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development took part in the school’s international lab program, doing research in either China or Brazil.

In Foshan, China, students were given a unique opportunity to address the critical environmental challenges of Asia’s rapid industrialization. The lab, which resulted from SPPD’s close ties to the World Bank, focused on policy issues linked to World Bank projects there and allowed students to deliver recommendations to city officials.

In Brazil, students acquired hands-on consulting experience dealing with squatter settlements in Rio de Janeiro.

SPPD’s ongoing relationships with organizations that span the globe enable the school to offer students unique, multifaceted labs every year, said professor Eric Heikkila, SPPD’s director of international initiatives. “Ultimately, we want to ‘bring global home’ in a way that a global perspective is a normal perspective,” he said.

Jack H. Knott, the C. Erwin and Ione L. Piper Dean and Professor at SPPD, said of the international labs: “Each student brings the perspective of his or her discipline – public policy, urban planning, real estate development, public administration and health administration – providing a global experience as well as a multidisciplinary experience. Both are requisites in today’s world.”

The China lab involved USC and South China University of Technology students addressing pollution in the Fenjiang River, which has risen steadily in the past decade due to unrestricted discharge of untreated domestic and industrial wastewater. The discharge has decimated wildlife, depreciated land values and adversely affected the quality of life of the 5.79 million citizens of Foshan.

Students augmented a semester of research at SPPD with 12 days of field research and analyses in China. They presented several recommendations to the officials of the city of Foshan and the Foshan Environmental Bureau.

Their aim was to balance the need for economic development with environmental cleanliness, suggesting the creation of a market for buying and selling “allowances to pollute” and the initiation of river restoration projects to increase the value of waterfront property. They also outlined public awareness campaigns targeting youth and urban citizens, pinpointing ways to more effectively enforce existing environmental laws and regulations.

“One of the things I find exciting at USC in general and SPPD in particular are the strong links we have to Asia,” said Richard Little, director of the Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy and leader of the 2008 China lab. “It gives SPPD graduates a leg up in what will be the dominant area in the 21st century and one that will offer tremendous career opportunities.”

For the 2008 lab in Brazil, SPPD partnered with a university in Rio de Janeiro, the Fundação Getulio Vargas, to tackle the policy challenge of better integrating the city’s favelas or squatter settlements. Plagued by drugs, poverty and violence, the favelas crop up spontaneously in pockets throughout the city and its outskirts, usually hillsides, and lack basic infrastructure such as roads, sewage systems and clean water. Between 20 to 30 percent of Rio’s urban population currently lives in these shantytowns, and their number is growing each year.

Students came up with recommendations for their client – the city of Rio de Janeiro – regarding ways to prevent and reduce violence, provide infrastructure and curb the expansion of the favelas. They based their conclusions on an intensive combination of research, background lectures and on-site analysis.

“It’s a great hands-on experience,” said SPPD associate professor Peter Robertson, a faculty participant in this year’s Brazil lab. “For us to go in and get fairly intense input about the country and the problem, go out and gather firsthand information and then spend a number of days really thinking and analyzing all that, it’s as good of an experience as we can really provide students to develop their international awareness.”