PhD Student Develops Modeling Program to Help with India’s Housing Problems
By Colleen Kearney Rich
The old saying “the third time’s a charm” is true for Mason doctoral student Amit Patel. That’s how many times he applied for funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) before finally having success.
Patel, who is working on his PhD in public policy, found each step of the grant journey a valuable learning experience and is happy with the funding that will help him continue developing his Slumulation model into his postdoctoral years.
With a background in architecture and urban planning, Patel had worked in slum communities in India before coming to the United States. When he began his policy studies at Mason, he immediately saw ways to combine his two interests.
“I had a research interest in housing issues,” says Patel. “As I was being exposed to modeling techniques and simulation tools in my courses, I realized there must be applications in developing countries, and these [tools] should be able to help us solve problems we see elsewhere.”
The result was “Slumulation: An Integrated Simulation Framework to Explore Spatio-temporal Dynamics of Slum Formation in Ahmedabad, India.” Well, that’s the title of his dissertation. Slumulation is an agent-based software model that explores how slums come into existence, expand, or disappear; pinpoints where and when they will emerge in a city; and shows what processes may improve housing conditions.
Early in the model’s development, Patel traveled to India to collect data and discuss the project with urban planners there. It was at the request of these policy makers that Patel changed the city he was modeling to Ahmedabad.
“They asked me to focus on a second-tier city. That’s where the new urban frontier is for India,” he says. “These cities are on the verge of getting there. Predictive tools and decision support systems are useful in these situations in which preventive action is still possible.”
It was important to Patel that his work, when completed, have a practical application. “Policy is an applied field. We are trying to bring changes to society. Anything we do has to have a practical value.”
Patel says there are only a handful of people doing this kind of work globally. By traveling to conferences to present his work, he has found a few people using the same kinds of tools to do similar analyses on other continents—fellow scholars whom he can bounce ideas off of and share knowledge. He expects the field to grow.
Patel’s faculty mentors, Naoru Koizumi of the School of Public Policy and Andrew Crooks of the Department of Computational Social Science, serve as coprincipal investigators on the NSF grant. The trio has a book chapter and journal article forthcoming about the Slumulation work. Roger Stough, Mason’s vice president of research and economic development, is Patel’s dissertation chair and guided him throughout the process.
“Slumulation enables policy makers to incorporate adaptive human behavior,” he says, “which will help to design effective slum policies to improve housing conditions for urban poor in developing countries.”
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