Harvard President Larry Bacow stressed the importance of research partnerships between universities and municipalities during a roundtable discussion last week with Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego ’04 and other city officials. Such partnerships, he said, can help to solve real-world problems.
The meeting between Bacow and Phoenix’s top officials, including city manager Ed Zuercher and deputy city manager Karen Peters, took place Wednesday at Phoenix City Hall.
Harvard’s relationship with Phoenix, the country’s fifth-largest city, began in 2017, when city officials were part of the inaugural cohort of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, a collaboration among Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), Harvard Business School, and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The initiative offers leadership and management training to 40 mayors from across the nation and around the world to help them find innovative solutions to some of the most urgent problems facing their cities. In Phoenix, whose weather includes some of the nation’s hottest temperatures, the partnership’s efforts included finding ways to help mitigate the effects of the oppressive heat, including an innovative proposal to install misters at bus stops.
“My recent visit to Arizona was especially wonderful because I was able to learn about the good work being done in Phoenix by Mayor Gallego and her team,” said Bacow. “Harvard alumni like Kate are making major contributions to the public good, and I am always interested to hear how the University might enhance or establish partnerships that put more of the knowledge we generate on campus to use in communities across the country.”
“As someone who was fortunate enough to go to college and even graduate school, I know the important role higher education plays in a person’s life,” Gallego said. “Not only can it expand professional horizons, but it provides a greater understanding as to our own place in the world and how we can do the most good for those around us. At Harvard, I was able to develop my passion for policy, and I took this passion into my role as mayor. For many residents, city government is the most tangible form of democracy, and I want to ensure that relationship is a positive one. It was wonderful to discuss my vision for the city with Dr. Bacow and learn more about how Harvard is investing in cities across the nation.”
With temperatures that often surpass 100 degrees, heat is a pressing, ongoing concern in Phoenix. In 2017, then-Mayor Greg Stanton and Peters took advantage of the Harvard Bloomberg program to explore strategies to tackle the issue.
According to Gallego, last year, 181 people died due to heat-related incidents, and city officials are committed to finding new strategies for collaborating to mitigate that.
Located in the Sonoran Desert, Phoenix is besieged by the “urban island effect,” a phenomenon that makes many metropolitan areas experience unusually higher temperatures due to the ubiquitous asphalt and concrete, which tend to retain heat.
As part of the collaboration between the Bloomberg Harvard program and Phoenix, last spring HKS Professor Linda Bilmes, the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and an expert on public finance, led a city field project.
“Phoenix is facing an existential crisis due to climate change and extreme heat,” said Bilmes.
Under Bilmes’ guidance, a group of students from HKS and the Graduate School of Design (GSD) analyzed the impact of heat on bus use and the costs and benefits of heat interventions. The students were struck by their findings.