Featured Faculty: Kris Hartley
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"As an academic, I am not only concerned with what we know, but how we discover it."

Kris Hartley is a Lecturer in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University, where he teaches quantitative methods and public sector economics. He is also a Faculty Fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center and a Nonresident Fellow for Global Cities at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He holds research appointments at the Center for New Structural Economics at Peking University, the Institute of Water Policy at National University of Singapore, and the Center for Government Competitiveness at Seoul National University. In the past four years Kris has held academic appointments throughout Asia, including Visiting Researcher at the University of Hong Kong, Visiting Lecturer in economics at Vietnam National University, Visiting Researcher at Seoul National University, Visiting Research Fellow at the University of the Philippines, and research and teaching assistant at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Kris focuses on economic policy, urban planning, and environmental management.

With over a decade of public and private sector experience, Kris has worked with central and local government agencies in the United States, New Zealand, and Thailand, research institutes in Japan, China, South Korea, and Singapore, and community development corporations in California. He has consulted on a variety of topics including urban growth strategies, transport planning, earthquake recovery, and infrastructure asset management. Kris is currently engaged in research about domestic resource mobilization and growth governance in Africa (through the Center for New Structural Economics at Peking University), climate change adaptation in Hong Kong and southern China (through the Institute of Water Policy at National University of Singapore), and ASEAN economic integration. His projects are connected by the overarching theme of new public policy models for the 21st century.

Kris’s first book, entitled Can Government Think? Flexible Economic Opportunism and the Pursuit of Global Competitiveness (Routledge 2014), addresses innovative economic policy and institutional reform through a variety of international cases. His second book, co-authored with NUS Associate Professor Vu Ming Khuong, is forthcoming (Edward Elgar Publishing 2016) and addresses drivers of economic growth in ASEAN countries. Kris has also authored over 80 press articles and commentaries appearing in publications such as the The Diplomat, The Business Times, Bangkok Post, and China Daily, and he regularly delivers presentations at academic conferences around the world.

An avid global traveler, Kris has visited 50 countries and resided in ten on three continents. He received a B.A. in classics (Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of Tennessee, an M.B.A. from Baylor University, a Master of City Planning from the University of California–Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the National University of Singapore. Kris is originally from Nashville, Tennessee.

Q: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on?
A: In 2009, I traveled with a team of researchers to rural Thailand to conduct fieldwork on the impacts of rapid industrialization. This project pulled together many narratives - social, environmental, and economic - and revealed a powerful story about the unexpected costs of growth in developing regions. Talking to local residents and witnessing firsthand the environmental degradation was illuminating to me, and has shaped my perspective on development ever since.

Q: What future goals do you have in your field?
A: Broadly, I seek to be a part of the conversation about 21st century urbanization in its many forms, from uncontrolled sprawl in developing countries to post-industrial revitalization in developed countries. As an academic, I am not only concerned with what we know, but how we discover it. As such, I also hope to be involved in the development of new research methods for measuring the impact of particular types of urban governance, such as collaboration, on issues like sprawl and revitalization. Better integrating quantitative and qualitative methods is probably where this frontier lies. 

Q: How has planning school changed your daily habits? 
A: Planning school very much changed the way I view cities. I had previously paid attention only to the appearance of the built form - infrastructure, buildings, etc. I was taken in, as many people are, by big, showy projects. This was how I compared cities, and I took the built environment for granted assuming it was the product only of economic trends or high-level politics. In planning school, I learned that behind every project, parcel of land, or building, there may be a dramatic story of power dynamics among competing groups, ideologies, and development visions. I understand now that complexity can be invisible; even seemingly simple projects or alterations can mask long histories of conflict or cooperation. This is how a policy person might view urban issues.

Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A: I knew I wanted to design cities, but I thought I had to be a civil engineer to do so. That sounded boring, so I wanted to be a pilot instead. I did not "discover" planning as an academic field until after college, and it was illuminating to me that planners were not all civil engineers. I felt liberated to jump into the profession. 

Q: How many different cities have you lived in and which was your favorite?
A: I move a lot, and I consider that part of my continuing education. In the past 25 years, I have lived in 19 cities in 8 countries. My favorite is Singapore. From the perspective of a planner, it is a fascinating display of big infrastructure and calculated urban design. Behind the sleek veneer sits an intricate urban governance system that is amazingly efficient but not without drama. Aside from that, the food is wonderful, the transit convenient, and the weather never cold!

Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? 
A: I have crossed many places off my list over the years, but I have yet to visit the Australian Outback. There is something about the vast emptiness that attracts me. I would also like to see Namibia and Central Asia, for the same reasons. The place I would most love to return to is Johannesburg, whose troubled history is recent enough to read in the urban landscape and to hear about from people who lived through it. I find Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City fascinating for the same reasons.

Q: What is the title of the last book you read? What did you learn from it? 
A: The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway. I learned that, in the case of this book at least, Hemingway would have been better off simply describing beautiful scenes than telling stories. More broadly I learned - by viewing the opposite in his characters - that happiness comes from having purpose and letting go of the past. It has little to do with material wealth.

Q: What’s your favorite color and how would you creatively incorporate it into a planning project?
A: My favorite color is orange, because it is the color of my undergraduate university football team. It is also the color of the sunset (I rarely see sunrises). It is difficult to imagine what role orange could play in an urban planning project. Traffic lights are red, yellow, and green. Perhaps we could add orange to say "slow down and enjoy the neighborhood you're speeding through."

 

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