John Rennie Short

UMBC’s John Rennie Short discusses globalization and urban issues in U.S. and international press

John Rennie Short, an expert on globalization, urban and environmental issues, and political geography, recently shared his research and perspective on current global trends in several U.S. and international publications. Most recently, the professor of public policy has commented on topics from shifting political parties to the rapid growth of cities and their roles in society.

In Christian Science Monitor, Short addressed recent seismic shifts in global politics. In this spring’s French election, neither one of the two traditionally-dominant parties’ presidential candidates advanced to the second round of voting, demonstrating “a rupture of the traditional political establishment,” Short said, and reflecting a larger trend in politics seen in Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory.

Short added that “we are in a new political era,” where leaders who hope to preserve Western values must address voters’ very real “economic pain, their cultural uncertainty, and their political anger at the system” and be “aware of the new sensibilities that have been brought to the surface.”

On Radio SputnikShort discussed another course change in politics. The Philippine president announced that the Filipino military would begin to occupy certain islands in the South China Sea, an area to which China lays claim. “This is very strange, because [President] Duterte had spent the last few months encouraging closer ties with China,” Short said, adding that the action was a “provocative move” that would label the Philippines an unpredictable ally for China.

In Smithsonian MagazineShort addressed a historical issue in political geography, commenting on the construction of early maps of North America, where trade priorities could supersede political considerations. In these early maps, “the coastlines were accurate, but they weren’t as concerned about the interiors,” says Short. The attitude was, “as long as you keep bringing the beavers, we don’t care.”

Short has also produced several new publications related to contemporary urbanism, including A Research Agenda for Cities. This volume, which he edited, features case studies from around the world addressing topics such as gentrification, gender, creative economies, and sustainability.

In a piece for the Elgar blog, Short says it’s crucial to research cities because “we are living in an urban moment. The majority of people now lives in cities. Cities are at the very heart of transformations of political economy, civil society and governmentality. They are the setting for progressive politics and the context for new human–nature relations.”

Short also explores how cities can illuminate broader global shifts as “nodes in a global network of flows of people, ideas and practices.” Cities are highly fluid places, Short suggests, constantly “learning from each other and testing policies, with the more successful ones diffused, adopted, and adapted around the global network.”

In Global Citizen, Short adds, “Technology is transferrable, knowledge is transferrable, consultants move around, there’s a global circulation.” That’s part of the reason he believes cities have a major role to play in combating climate change, the focus of the Global Citizen piece. The other reason is much more practical: “Emotionally you can think of the polar bears and the warming Arctic, but when push comes to shove it still seems a bit distant,” he says. “But the air quality in your city is definitely a real issue,” and, he suggests, it can motivate cities to take action to curb pollution.

Short also addresses reasons that public transportation in U.S. cities lags far behind our European counterparts on The Academic Minute. He suggests the relevant factors include an American “love affair with the automobile,” suburban sprawl, and a large-scale dismantling of privately-owned mass transportation companies in the 1950s. However, he also sees younger Americans as more interested than previous generations in accessing public transit options, and less interested in owning cars, which he suggests could soon cause a sea change in U.S. transportation trends and investments. The interview followed up on a previous article Short wrote for The Conversation (“Why is the U.S. unwilling to pay for good public transportation?”), which was republished by Business Insider, Quartz, Slate, Newsweek, and others, and has been read nearly 300,000 times worldwide.

Reaching this kind of a broad public audience is a commitment Short considers central to his work as university researcher and educator. “Research and knowledge needs to be circulated widely and freely available to as many people as possible. If it is just for a small privileged elite it loses its moral center and social purpose,” he suggests. “Those of us lucky to teach in the academy have the responsibility and obligation where, when, and how we can to advance civic debates and enlightened discourse.”