Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Doubleheader at USC

Today, I presented two different papers at USC. Neither was on football. In the morning, I participated in a Megacities conference that was held in downtown Los Angeles. Before my session, I heard a 30 min presentation by the new Dean of the USC School of Architecture. Qingyun Ma gave a fascinating talk on his work in China. He is helping to build some very funky "green" Universities in China. While the Chinese officials had hoped that he would build a "Princeton" style campus for them, he has planned something better. He presented amazing visuals of buildings that looked like they were from Star Wars III (Revenge of the Sith). He had more imagination that George Lucas. His buildings are "green" in how they take advantage of lighting and cooling from being located on a mountain range to reduce their electricity consumption. Whether students will learn more on this "vertical" campus with a really small land area, remains an open question. But, I was very impressed. I asked him whether there are people at UCLA Architecture who he is working with. He politely told me that he is new to USC and that the answer is no. I'm hoping (but I'm not optimistic) that my UCLA architecture colleagues are as productive as Mr. Ma.

After his presentation, Paul Torrens of Arizona State University presented a "agent based" modeling framework of mega-cities. In one demonstration, he showed a street scene where 14 different types of agents try to navigate through a very busy intersection (think of broadway in New York City). Some of the agents are drunk and are randomly moving around, others are disabled and walk slowly, while others are determined economists hoping to cut through the clutter and get home. He then detonated a bomb in his video and the 14 types of people tried to get away from the debris. Congestion and chaos ensued. My 7 year old son would have found this to be the highpoint of this conference.

I spoke next for 15 minutes about my optimism that quality of life is improving in mega-cities as smog and crime decline. But, looking ahead to the future I pointed out the challenges that climate change adaptation poses for mega-cities and the issues of mega-city contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.

At the end of my talk, I shook hands with some new friends and ran off to get to the main USC campus. Once there, Richard Green and I had a nice lunch where we talked about real estate research. The USC faculty club is nicer than the UCLA faculty club and this made me sad.

At my 2pm real estate seminar, I gave a power point presentation of a new paper on the consequences of housing and environmental regulation that I'm writing with Jonathan Zasloff and Ryan Vaughn. The USC economists beat up on this paper hard and made a number of excellent points. Our paper revision will be much better because of the comments I received. I was so impressed with this crew that I thought about simply staying at USC and never returning to UCLA but then I remembered that I hadn't brought a change of clothes.