2021 Outstanding Thesis Award Winners

Each year, the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP) department recognizes a number of student theses with the UEP Outstanding Thesis Award. This year, the committee of independent and impartial UEP faculty awarded this prize to three students: Yingran Li, Meghan Tenhoff, and Rachel Bowers. These students have been invited to present their work at a UEP thesis Cities@Tufts colloquium in the Spring and will publish blog posts summarizing their research findings in the coming semester.

Review criteria: 

All of the theses submitted to the Thesis Awards Committee for consideration this year were of excellent quality, and make important contributions to the various intersecting fields associated with the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. To judge among them, each thesis was reviewed against the following five criteria: 

  • Quality of writing: Thesis addresses the problem or question posed and constructs a clear, compelling, well-crafted argument using appropriate supports from own data analysis and/or from literature 
  • Organization of dissertation: Thesis did what it said it would do in a logical, thorough, complete, and nuanced way  
  • Use of methods: Thesis utilized methods in appropriate and/or innovative ways
  • Potential for impact: Thesis is likely to have an effect, benefit, or contribution to economic, social, cultural, and other aspects of the lives of citizens and society beyond contributions to academic research 
  • Contribution to the discipline: Thesis advances or extends knowledge in the field 

Each of the award-winning theses are described and linked below:

Exploring the Equity Implications of Green Stormwater Infrastructure Planning in Pittsburgh, PA, Rachel Bowers

Abstract: Green Infrastructure (GI) technologies offer promise in cost-effectively managing stormwater while also addressing existing social, economic, and environmental vulnerabilities. When prioritized in communities of greater privilege or in gentrifying neighborhoods, however, GI can also reinforce and reproduce existing inequities. Drawing from principles of distributive justice, this thesis uses a geospatial analytical approach to explore the equity implications of GI planning in the postindustrial city of Pittsburgh, PA. First, spatial regression models are used to examine how GI has been distributed in relation to social-environmental vulnerability in Pittsburgh census tracts. Second, a multi-criteria evaluation model, called the Green Infrastructure Equity Planning (GIEP) model, uses variables related to GI’s social-environmental benefits to make census-tract-level recommendations for GI distribution that maximizes benefits for disadvantaged populations.

Overall, results suggest that while not consistently inequitable, GI has not been prioritized in communities that could most benefit from its presence. The GIEP model offers a spatial planning framework that counters this by emphasizing social-environmentally vulnerable tracts that could benefit from GI’s functions beyond stormwater remediation. However, the model output indicates that prioritizing GI benefits alone could lead toward investments in gentrifying neighborhoods. These findings shine light on the equity challenges associated with sustainable climate resilience planning. As Pittsburgh begins a stormwater master planning process, this research provides critical insights for considering equity in GI planning efforts while being mindful of potential unintended consequences like Resilience Gentrification.

A Gendered Analysis of Climate Action Plans in Boston and Seattle, Meghan Tenhoff 

Abstract: This thesis discusses how Climate Action Plans contribute to inequalities. I examine Seattle’s and Boston’s Climate Action Plans through a feminist lens to gain an alternative perspective to mainstream climate policy. The research helps resolve what Michael et al. (2020, 800) describe as a “glaring gap in research on understanding the relationship between mitigation and gender justice.” Drawing on feminist and political ecology literature, a discursive analysis of Climate Action Plans and peripheral documents, and interviews with people involved in producing Climate Action Plans, this thesis shows the following: first, the jurisdictional boundaries of the city limit the current climate action plans’ effectiveness; second, the cities’ goal of carbon neutrality relies on green growth and innovation that does not address the root causes of climate change; third, a critical mass of women does provide alternative climate action solutions; and lastly, the community engagement process seems to be more about education on proposed policies rather generating new climate action strategies. This thesis concludes with recommendations for how policy makers might more effectively integrate gender equity into future Climate Action Plans.

Sponge City: Waterlogging Prevention and Control in China, Yingran Li 

Abstract: Climate change, urbanization, and low-quality drainage systems lead to frequent urban waterlogging and serious water pollution in China. Urban water problems are one of the bottlenecks limiting the sustainable development of Chinese cities. To alleviate the urban waterlogging problem, China proposed a sustainable urban stormwater management concept: Sponge City, and started to conduct sponge city pilots across the country in 2015. Wuhan was selected as one of the first pilot cities for sponge city construction in 2015, where sponge city became a key program for urban construction.

This study shows the actions of various levels of government and other stakeholders in China to participate in the sponge city construction. It demonstrates how the central and local governments promote sponge city construction through policy and planning, pilot sponge cities, financial support, organizational systems, and evaluation systems, and how private capital and the public participate in sponge city construction. This study takes Wuhan as an example to show the progress made in the construction of sponge city. However, the practice of sponge city began only a brief period of time ago, and there are still problems such as an incomplete legal system, unsystematic policy planning, lack of long-term mechanism, funding, professionals and technology, and low motivation of public participation.

Based on the current situation and problems, this study recommends a series of measures to promote the construction of sponge cities in Wuhan, such as changing the government’s development concept, improving the policies and regulations related to sponge cities, enhancing the transparency of government decision-making, widening the channels of citizen participation, and strengthening the sponge city supervision mechanism.

Check back later in the semester for blog posts summarizing the winning theses. See the Exemplary Thesis Library for more.