Author Archives: smithls

How do we Move Beyond Rhetoric?

Consider these two scenarios.

Scenario One: President Obama has just finished his inaugural address, discussing the need for citizens to engage in their government. A poll on one of the major broadcasting network websites asks:

Is [President] Obama’s address a call to collective support in society consistent with the foundations of the country?

A) Yes, this country works better when citizens work together through government

B) No, the country was built on a system of individual responsibility

C) There has to be a happy medium

Scenario Two: A local branch of a national nonprofit wants to apply for a federal grant. Because the focus of the aid program is local partnerships and place-based development, the nonprofit works eagerly to forge as many local partnerships and procure as many letters of support as possible. As the grant writing proceeds, however, most partners do not see or seem to care to see the grant or its components. What happens when/if the grant is awarded and these supposed collaborators have to sit down to implement the plan with which they are only vaguely familiar? Continue reading

Posted in Posts, Sarah Lyon-Hill | Leave a comment

Bringing the Benefits of Cycling to the New River Valley and Beyond

The quintessential symbol of the American Frontier, the cowboy, is often depicted riding a sturdy steed in a leather saddle in a pair of worn leather chaps and a ten-gallon hat. Riding on a more contemporary-style saddle, today’s modern “metal cowboys” ride congested streets on two wheels in attire ranging from cycling jerseys to business suits. City cycling is growing throughout North America, including major cities such as Washington D.C., Chicago, New York, and Montréal. Some cyclists are fueled by the same kind of adrenaline their ancestors possessed while living dangerously in the Wild West. However, the typical commuter rides to attain health benefits, time and cost savings, or for the simple enjoyment of biking for recreational use. Continue reading

Posted in Posts, Renee LoSapio | Leave a comment

Is Collective Memory a Myth?

As a Master’s of Landscape Architecture Student at Virginia Tech I have had an opportunity to develop my understanding of the dynamics of the urban landscape. In particular, I am intrigued by the role of urban artifacts within the processes of the evolving city. Aldo Rossi, one of the most significant thinkers in architecture during the second half of the 20th century, has suggested that the city is one of the most dynamic and least understood of human environments. In fact, the urban landscape is typically transformed completely approximately every 40 years. The result of this constant change is a growing number of artifacts left on the margins of development. These objects consisting of, buildings, landscapes and even whole urban districts, are often viewed as barriers to development. I wonder, however, if these supposed relics could possess a more active and positive role in the communities of which they are a part, and if so, what qualities might inform that stance? Continue reading

Posted in Gardner Burg, Posts | Leave a comment

Acting Up: Disruptions in Public Space

This conversation aims to bridge theory and practice on the subject of dialogue in the public sphere. The authors approach the subject from their distinct areas of study, Theatre Directing & Public Dialogue and Natural Resource Management. This collaboration grows from a mutual investment in the research and implementation of the Livability Initiative, a three-year regional planning project in the New River Valley, Virginia. Since this piece concerns itself with democratic deliberation—a practice dependent on deep listening and honest speaking—the authors have chosen to present their thoughts as a dialogue. The topic of “disruptions” of democratic processes factors significantly into this conversation, but—for the reader’s sake—the authors have promised not to interrupt each other (too much). Continue reading

Posted in Jon Catherwood-Ginn, Posts | Leave a comment

Politics, Political Change and International Development

The challenge of poverty reduction as a part of international development initiatives has preoccupied individuals, nonprofit organizations, and governments for more than half a century. Addressing poverty has proved to be a difficult undertaking and one replete with a host of ideological prescriptions, good intentions gone wrong, popularized ‘best practices’ and critics damning the whole enterprise. Making sense of the diverse efforts and arguments that fall under the umbrella of international development is a complex task. Yet critical thinking about those initiatives and their effects on poverty is essential as aid comes under increased political pressure from critics. The continuing global economic malaise and the increasingly desperate fiscal circumstances of many donor countries has put development budgets at risk. Aid critics, such as Dambisa Moyo and William Easterly, have compiled evidence of the failures of international development efforts over the past decades to argue it should be discontinued. Moreover, and as an overarching trend, growing trade volumes, foreign direct investment, and remittances now dwarf aid budgets in many developing countries. Continue reading

Posted in Brendan Halloran, Posts | Leave a comment

Re: Reflections and Explorations

I am delighted that today marks the launch of a new series of commentaries authored by interested Virginia Tech graduate students, irrespective of their disciplinary background, on topics relevant to the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance mission. The new student-run column, Re: Reflections and Explorations, will appear weekly in this space on Thursdays and will feature the thinking of a different author each week. I want to thank the doctoral students who organized this effort and do encourage those interested in contributing an essay to contact Lyusyena Kirakosyan ( to obtain editorial guidelines and to schedule a date for your effort next fall. Meanwhile, as it happens, Lyusyena has written our first commentary to kick-off the series, entitled “Harnessing the Power of Narrative for Social Change.” Thank you for your interest and consideration. Continue reading

Posted in Max Stephenson Jr., Posts | Leave a comment

Harnessing the Power of Narrative for Social Change

Few would argue with the idea that stories represent a universal human activity across history and cultures that has served many different purposes. Bruno Bettelheim believed that through narrative human beings come to know themselves better, becoming more able to understand others and to relate to them in mutually satisfying and meaningful ways. I have been a member of the Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance Community Voices team for several years now, as we invited a number of local, national and international leaders to Blacksburg to share their stories and perspectives on social change. Our guests have used the power of narrative to connect people, stories and resources, to begin conversations around health, arts and culture, economy, technology and community engagement, and perhaps to encourage some of us to take action. Continue reading

Posted in Lyusyena Kirakosyan, Posts | Leave a comment