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Institutional dimensions of urbanization and the environment

My primary interest on the human dimensions of global environmental change focuses on interdisciplinary views on institutions and contemporary political economy that has considerable implications for the understanding of bidirectional interactions and feedback loops between urban systems and global environmental change. At the local scale, I’m interested in five issues on how cities respond to global environmental change through their institutions (especially political institutions): the initial choice of institutions and the process of institutional change in cities; the maintenance of institutions and institutional robustness; effective urban governance and government failures; effects and cross-scale effects of national political institutions; and the connections of institutions with belief systems as a research frontier.

At the global scale, I’m interested in the effectiveness of international institutions, such as environmental agreements and treaties, in regulating the effects of social and biophysical “teleconnections” of urban areas – the zones of influence of urban systems. For example, urban lifestyles and consumer demands have led to a dramatic increase in aquaculture production, threatening mangrove forests (a dominant type of wetland in tropical regions of the world) through unsustainable practices. To date, satellite images have been used primarily for visualization, but not for systematic monitoring of treaty compliance. In Global Environmental Change journal article, published in 2007, we propose a methodology to operationalize the use of satellite imagery to assess the impact of the most important international environmental agreements on wetlands, the Ramsar Convention. The approach uses time series analysis of landscape pattern metrics to assess land cover conditions before and after designation of Ramsar status to monitor compliance with the Convention in two wetland nature reserves in Vietnam. Results indicate that the Ramsar Convention did not slow the development of aquaculture in the region, but total mangrove extent has remained relatively constant, primarily due to replanting efforts. Yet despite these restoration efforts, the mangroves have become fragmented and survival rates for replanting efforts are low. With the appropriate satellite record, in situ measurements and field observations, remote sensing is a promising technology that can help monitor compliance with international environmental agreements.