Written by Liz Pacheco, Environmental Science and Policy Program
When Eva Kassens was starting her master's degree in transportation at MIT, she had an important decision to make. She knew she wanted to focus on large-scale events, but had a choice between studying what she describes as "happy" events, such as planning for festivals and pilgrimages, or "sad" events, such as hazards and disasters.
Kassens decided to pursue the "happy" events first, in hopes of bringing new ideas to emergency management scholarship. For her master's thesis, she helped Athens prepare its airport for the 2004 Olympics. Her bachelor's in business engineering had given Kassens modeling skills that were important to the project's work in helping streamline airport operations and optimize Olympic athletes' travel choices.
Following her master's, Kassens continued her education at MIT, receiving her Ph.D. in urban and regional planning. She extended her master's work to the urban realm, continuing research in Athens while adding Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney -- cities that had previously hosted Olympic Games -- to her dissertation work.
Her research addressed questions like: Are urban transformations sustainable due to or despite the Olympics? Who benefits from Olympic construction? Who doesn't? How does a city use the momentum from the event to maintain the economic growth and infrastructure changes brought by the Games? Kassens would later help Vancouver do similar planning for the 2010 Games.
Now, as a MSU professor with joint appointments in the School of Planning, Design, and Construction and the Global Urban Studies Program, she is shifting her interests toward the "sad" work, specifically issues of climate resilience, hazards and disasters. "I want to get on the ground and help people," she said.
Olympic Games planning and disaster work may not seem very similar, but as Kassens explained, both require the handling of mass movements of people and rapid urban transformations. Airports and public transportation must be able to support athletes and visitors for the Olympic Games, just as cities must have transport options available to residents in case of a natural hazard or disaster.
Kassens' work has taken her all over the world. Following her undergraduate education in her native Germany, she has lived in Greece, Switzerland, Spain, UK, Australia and the Netherlands. Kassens's latest project is in South Africa, which hosted the 2010 World Cup and is a country especially sensitive to climate change impacts. The project will evaluate whether the transport changes made to support the World Cup also help the country maintain economic momentum in sustainable and climate resilient ways.
Back at MSU, Kassens is teaching a course on sustainable and climate-resilient cities. She says that she loves teaching and the opportunity to educate "our future planners."
Outside the classroom, she is working with three students in her Extreme Events Research Group. The group is doing research on extreme event planning, both the planned and positive (i.e. Olympic Games) and the unplanned and negative (i.e. natural disasters). Their work focuses on urban areas and designing plans and policies for transportation and urban systems to adapt to climate change.