“I believe in the power of place, both real and imagined. More specifically, I believe in the power of specific geographies, cultures, histories, and languages.”
International Faculty Fellow Victoria Beard is an associate professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning in Cornell's College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. She is a core faculty member in the Southeast Asia Program of Cornell's Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, and she is a faculty fellow in both Cornell's Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, and Center for Community Engaged Learning and Research.
She conducts research and teaching with a focus on international urbanization and planning. She is especially interested in the relationship between community-based planning and poverty in the Global South. Her research explores the intersection of collective action, social movements, transnational processes, and planning.
During the past 15 years, Beard also has worked as a planning practitioner for organizations such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, AusAID, and RAND. Her professional work has focused on three areas: support for community-based organizations that plan and manage sustainable development; design, implementation, and evaluation of programs that address poverty; and applied social science research and evaluation.
“In the broadest sense, international study is like giving someone access to the whole library, instead of just one shelf,” she says. “Exposing Cornell students to new perspectives and ways of knowing has the potential to open them to entirely new realms of creative possibility.”
She explains that in a single lifetime human beings can only have a deep understanding of a limited number of places and the perspectives that are created in those places. “When students are intellectually open and then have an opportunity to learn deeply about a new place, this experience changes their understanding of their place(s) of origin and expands their awareness of the complexities of place that they may never grasp,” she says. “The realization of what they may never grasp and the humility that comes with this realization are as important as the understanding of the new place.”
Beard's research examines how local people engage in collective action to alleviate poverty. Her work addresses questions ranging from how people plan to meet their basic human needs, to how they plan for broader social and political transformation. She has three community-level case studies in Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia, examining how communities form groups, make decisions, build consensus, and find creative ways to improve their lives. For example, she has examined residents’ varying capacities to deliver basic infrastructure and services, such as potable water, waste management, basic health care, and microfinance. She has also looked similar questions in the context of transnational community planning between Oaxaca, Mexico and Southern California.
Her research findings have implications for planners and policy-makers at large international development agencies, such as the World Bank, which, during the past 30 years, have supported community-driven approaches to development. These agencies address broad issues that range from how communities connect to broader systems of infrastructure, to the ways in which global economic forces create and sustain poverty and inequality.
One of the main reasons Beard came to Cornell, she explains, is the Southeast Asia Program. “I regularly participate in the program's diverse activities,” she says. “For several years, I have taken groups of Cornell students to Surakarta, Indonesia, through my International Development Planning Workshop. The course offers students the opportunity to gain an understanding of the complexities and nuances of the urbanization and planning process in another country.”
“The International Faculty Fellowship has allowed me to expand the international scope of my teaching and research, supporting my efforts to take Cornell students to Indonesia to work with local communities and a local non-governmental collaborator,” Beard says. “I would like to use the IFF funding to explore ways that I can continue my transnational research between Mexico and the U.S., and possibly to support intensive language study. Last summer I traveled to Myanmar to explore the possibility of expanding my comparative research in Southeast Asia. I hope to use my fellowship funding to take intellectual risks that would not have been possible otherwise.”