Case Studies

Each case in our library includes an instructor guide, learning objectives, suggested readings, and a presentation with supporting images and maps. A sample case from India is available below. To access all 15 cases in our library free-of-charge, contact us for a password.

Sample Case: India – Development & Displacement: The East-West Metro Project

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This case discusses development and displacement in the context of Kolkata, India. Compared to other Indian cities, Kolkata’s economy has remained stagnant partly because of insufficient transportation infrastructure. Students will take on the role of a project planner advising the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation Limited, who is building a new subway line in the city connecting the airport, center city, and suburban areas. The East-West Metro Line would be the second subway line in the city and is meant to alleviate automobile traffic and provide much-needed infrastructure to support the urban economy. Despite the positive impact the metro line could make, land needed to construct the subway is to be taken from an informal settlement. This case requires students to explore the social, environmental, and economic concerns that accompany making difficult decisions in development planning.

Planning topics: transportation planning, social justice, informal settlements, economic development, poverty reduction, public transportation

American Samoa – Disaster Aid and Traditional Governance


This case explores the complicated and political nature of aid distribution after disasters. On September 29, 2009 three earthquakes set off a tsunami that struck the US island territory of American Samoa, killing 34 and causing massive damage. American Samoa has a twin governance structure, balanced between a democratic territorial government and traditional, autonomous village councils. In this case, students will take on the role of a program officer who is in charge of aid delivery for a major non-governmental organization. Students must grapple with time-sensitive aid distribution in an unfamiliar political context and must weigh the consequences of competing demands from donors and village leaders in the disaster recovery process.

Planning Topics: disaster management, humanitarian assistance, governance, social justice

Bolivia – National Development vs. Local Priorities: Different Economic Goals and Environmental Concerns


This case explores the decision-making process that goes into planning and implementing large infrastructure projects. The scenario describes a situation where the Bolivian government plans to build a bridge across the Beni River near the town of Rurrenabaque, with the hopes of stimulating regional and national economic development. While national planners are looking for the fastest and cheapest option, the people who live in the community would like to protect the national parks and idyllic scenery that makes Rurrenabaque a tourist destination. Farmers who live in the surrounding rural areas, however, prefer the route proposed by the national government. Students will take on the role of a neutral mediator, tasked with facilitating a final decision on the bridge’s placement considering financial cost, environmental impact, public health concerns, economic development, and political support. The case teaches students about the tensions that often emerge between rural and urban residents, national and local priorities, and differing views of what constitutes “development.”

Planning Topics: economic development, environmental planning, governance, decentralization, participatory planning, infrastructure planning, planning ethics, regional planning, transportation planning, technocratic planning, social justice

Brazil – Food for All: Food Insecurity and Farmers Livelihoods Policy

brazilfarmerThis case focuses on food systems planning in the metropolitan region of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. It highlights the Direct from the Countryside program, a decades long project that attempts to improve urban food access for vulnerable populations and small-farmer livelihoods in a rapidly urbanizing region. Placing themselves in the shoes of the city’s Municipal Food Security Secretariat, students explore the complicated nature of program planning when working across municipal jurisdictions and competing short- and long-term program goals.

Planning topics: food systems planning, health planning, poverty reduction, regional planning, program planning, policy implementation, program evaluation

Brazil – The Point of No Return: Informal Settlement Upgrading


The Porto Alegre Housing Secretariat, serving the capital of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, has received requests to explore the possibilities of upgrading the Vila Itororó informal settlement in the eastern part of the city. This project has been built into the city’s budget through an innovative citizen-initiated Participatory Budgeting process and is therefore a priority.

Planning Topics: informal settlement planning, housing, infrastructure planning, community collaboration, program planning, policy implementation

 China – Better But Not Best:  Incremental Improvements and Bus Rapid Transit Planning

jinanThis case explores the planning and construction of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System in Jinan, China. The rapid rise in auto ownership and debilitating traffic congestion has required Chinese cities to explore the feasibility of auto-alternative transportation systems. After one city in China successfully implemented a BRT system, students act as a foreign consultant tasked with helping to plan a second BRT system in Jinan. They grapple with logistical challenges, the implications of social equity, and political maneuvering. The case is a lesson in what it means to steadfastly pursue the ideal option when attempting to transfer best practices to new contexts, versus the better, adapted option and how concessions may be needed to ensure that projects are implemented.

Planning Topics: transportation planning, social justice, public transportation, economic development, best practices, policy transfer

Colombia – The Politics of Participation: Metropolitan Region Greenbelt Planning

listimageThis case considers the planning process for creating a regional greenbelt to stem metropolitan growth and sprawl in Medellin, Colombia. While Medellin’s smart growth strategy could potentially lead to positive environmental and land use impacts for the region, the land chosen for a pilot greenbelt project happens to include a large informal settlement known as Comuna 8. Students will take on the role of a project planner advising the Medellin Planning Agency. This case explores the role of the short- and long-term political context for planning decisions, the role of advocacy planning, the time constraints involved with collaborative planning, and the positive and negative implications of smart growth strategies for different planning scales.

Planning Topics: land use planning, smart growth, informal settlements, collaborative planning, greenbelts, regional planning, displacement, social justice, environmental planning, advocacy planning

Dominican Republic – Insurgent Environmental Planning: Waste Management In Informal Settlements and Community-University Partnerships


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Planning Topics: solid waste management, informal settlements, collaborative planning, community-university partnerships 

Former Soviet Republic – Priorities with Infrastructure: Protecting Schools From Earthquakes


This case addresses child welfare through an examination of schools and earthquake safety. Many of the school buildings in the former Soviet Republics are not properly engineered to withstand earthquakes. While there is money to rehab school facilities to make them safer, almost every school facility is in poor condition and there is not enough money to ‘retrofit’ every one. In this case, the student takes on the role of a consultant hired to create a prioritization system to determine which schools should receive limited development funds. The student is asked to consider multiple factors influencing the safety of individual schools, including the overall enrollment of the facility, seismic fragility of the structure, exposure to earthquake hazards, and the adequacy of school hygiene facilities. This case requires students to understand the complex determinants of disaster risk and to confront the difficult ethics that often accompany resource allocation.

Planning Topics: disaster management, infrastructure planning, social justice, education, health planning, technocratic planning

Kenya – Persecution and Displacement: Sheltering LGBTI Refugees


This case explores the planning process for creating safe shelter and a stable livelihood for LGBTI refugees who have experienced forced displacement due to criminalization of their identity or war. Kenya houses over a half a million displaced refugees from neighboring Somalia and Uganda. Acting as a human rights advocate, students will need to explore the political, social, and economic consequences of refugee life to determine a long-term shelter option for LGBTI refugees.

Planning topics: displacement, refugees, LGBTI, social justice, housing policy, advocacy planning, poverty reduction, humanitarian assistance

Mozambique – The Authority to Plan: National Health Planning When Evidence and Politics Collide 


This case delves into national health planning in Mozambique. It presents a scenario where the newly elected president has set out to address the “dual” burden of persistent malnutrition and rising obesity country-wide. Students must take on the role of a national health planner who must decide between different programmatic strategies, each of which present unique tradeoffs and the buy-in of different stakeholders. The case requires students to think about how advocacy coalitions can agree on broader planning goals but break down during program implementation decisions, and different perceptions of what “evidence” should count when charting an evidence-based policy solution.

Planning Topics: health planning, program planning, evidence-based policy, best practices, program evaluation, humanitarian assistance, organizational capacity, policy implementation, planning ethics, poverty reduction, governance

Nigeria – The Right to Water:  The Role of the Private Sector in Urban Water Sector Reform

This case focuses on water systems planning in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. It highlights trends in infrastructure systems privatization and the responses of community groups, multinational organizations, state, and local governments. Placing themselves in the shoes of a World Bank planner, students must determine if public, private or some combined approach can best address long-standing issues with the right to water for the urban poor.

Planning Topics: water systems planning, infrastructure planning, public private partnerships, governance, privatization, policy implementation, program evaluation, basic services provision

Sri Lanka – Humanitarian Dilemmas: A Case Study on Organization Building in the Wake of Disaster 


This case explores organizational capacity and decision making through the lens of a humanitarian relief operation. On December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami killed 230,000 people across 14 countries. The island nation of Sri Lanka was severely affected, losing 35,322 lives and suffering damage along its entire coastline. International support and personnel arrived quickly after the tsunami, adding to the local non-governmental development organizations already present in the country. As a young field coordinator for Aid International, a medium-sized international non-government organization, the student must decide how to best establish Aid International’s presence in the country. Students will need to think about the benefits and tradeoffs of partnering with different types of local organizations, the importance of organizational capacity-building, and the pressure on the international aid community to quickly distribute resources after a major disaster.

Planning Topics: disaster management, humanitarian assistance, organizational capacity, policy implementation, social justice

U.S. & Mexico Border – Watersheds Have No Borders: Wastewater Infrastructure Planning Along the Tijuana River

OutflowlistimageThis case explores transboundary natural resource and infrastructure planning along the Mexico-US border . Since the 1950’s, the Tijuana River, which runs from Tijuana, Mexico to San Diego, California, has been extremely polluted and the source of public health concerns for residents on both sides of the border. Several water treatment plants have been constructed over time, but the source of pollution from Tijuana’s industry and growing residential population (spurred by the rise of maquiladoras and NAFTA policies) has persisted, requiring more preventive measures. Students must take on the role of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) planner and weigh the political, technical, and social implications when choosing a primary stakeholder group to engage in a planning process that, hopefully, will put to rest this decades-long planning dilemma.

Planning Topics: environmental planning, governance, economic development, policy implementation, regional planning, transboundary planning, social justice, community engagement, technocratic planning

Yemen – Planning for Whom? Elite-Driven Development in Highly Stratified Urban Environments and the Role of Personal Values

modelThis case explores the ethical planning dilemmas that can arise from client-driven, private sector development. The case takes place in the 2000s in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), during a time of exuberant investment and rapid expansion of luxury urban development, despite the prevalence of extreme poverty and environmental concerns. Students will take on the role of a recent Master of Urban Planning graduate whose first assignment with a US planning firm is to help plan a villa complex in Sana’a, Yemen, targeted to Yemen’s small elite and military class. Students must weigh their long-term career goals and personal ethics when deciding whether to challenge or meet questionable client desires.

Planning Topics: advocacy planning, economic development, environmental planning, social justice, planning ethics, private-sector planning

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