Sept. 22, 1998
Contact: Mary Bridget Reilly


Cincinnati -- While the rest of us simply read about the chaotic downturn among Asian economies and the ripple effect worldwide over the summer, University of Cincinnati faculty from across campus - planning, geography, nursing, business, architecture and biology - were 'researchers on the spot' in Thailand.

Sixteen faculty and four graduate students pooled professional potential this summer for hands-on research focusing on sustaining economic development without straining the environment in Pacific Rim cities. Their efforts correspond with the university's globalization initiative seeking to internationalize curriculum, faculty research and student opportunities to better prepare our region for changing business, cultural and communications realities.

Chiang Mai, Thailand's second-largest city, served as the living laboratory for the UC team joined by faculty from the University of Gadjah Mada, Indonesia's oldest and largest higher education institution, and from Chulalongkorn University, Thailand's premiere campus.

"The Asian cityscape is a real pressure cooker. Rapid population growth and economic boom-and-bust cycles do bring opportunity but also sanitation and waste disposal problems, congestion and pollution. This urgent focus on a specific area brings lessons that can be applied elsewhere, including U.S. inner cities," said Michael Romanos, professor of planning, who organized the research team.

Workforce training, small business development and community health were all targeted by the UC team, including:

  • Christopher Auffrey, assistant professor of planning, the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, researched how public and private decisions about land use and infrastructure affected the environmental quality of residential areas.

  • Roger Barry, professor of planning, DAAP, interviewed industrial employers to determine how the education system was preparing potential employees. He found that employers must provide significant amounts of training to workers, most of whom are literate but who generally stop formal eduction at the sixth grade. Thailand, according to Barry, must implement it proposals to provide compulsory education to the ninth-grade level to best advance the Thai economy.

  • Carla Chifos, research associate in engineering, College of Engineering, partnered with Johanna Looye, assistant professor of planning, DAAP, to study the local handicrafts industry which is expanding because of a tourism boom.

  • L. Sue Davis, associate professor of nursing, College of Nursing, examined occupational health and safety in multi- national corporations, smaller industries as well as among entrepreneurs and farmers. She also consulted with faculty at Chiang Mai University about starting an occupational health nursing program and made preliminary plans for collaborative research between UC, the University of Minnesota and Chiang Mai University.

  • Jon Hughes, professor of English, chronicled the project through photography.

  • Lin Liu, assistant professor of geography, A&S, studied the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in Chiang Mai. (GIS is the electronic integration of sophisticated maps with numerous, complex data systems to quickly evaluate actual or potential business, environmental, economic, political and transportation scenarios.) He completed a case study of the city's use of GIS for tax collection, finding the information exchange between different governmental offices to be slow and unwieldy. He is currently preparing a proposal outlining how the Thai city can better use GIS which will be forwarded to the local university and the local government. Collaborating with Howard Stafford, professor of geography, Liu also developed a "localness" index that can be used to rate Chiang Mai manufacturers in terms of their ties and economic impact both within and outside of the city limits.

  • Raj Mehta, associate professor of marketing, College of Business Administration, examined "green" marketing and brand identification. He found that most companies, especially the smaller ones, flout environmental laws regularly in order to compete economically. Pirating of brand names is common as is evidenced by the fake watch, compact disk and t-shirt brands he brought back. Mehta also brought back telling examples of the power of brand logos as a language without barriers. For example, though written in Thai, the color and symbol of the Pepsi logo communicated across culture and language. He plans to ask his students, "What do you think that is worth in the marketplace?"

  • Byron Miller, assistant professor of geography, McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, examined the role of citizen input, and found that Thailand, like many other developing nations, has a highly centralized decision-making process. An elite in Bangkok has traditionally made infrastructure and other plans for the whole country. That is slowly changing, and Chiang Mai is leading the way for the rest of Thailand in this regard. However, vote buying and corruption is common, and oftentimes, when power devolves to the local level, it simply devolves from a national elite to a local elite. Miller hopes to conduct comparative research between Thailand and other Southeastern Asian countries.

  • Michael Romanos, professor of planning, DAAP, looked at Chiang Mai's tourism boom and how the city could prevent "dying from success." The very amenities that make the city attractive to tourists - a (literally) cool mountain location and medieval moat and walls - may make the city unliveable if growth continues unrestrained. Romanos looked at how the city can use its tools more effectively to benefit from the tourist trade without losing its character.

  • Brenda Scheer, associate professor of planning, DAAP, and David Scheer, adjunct assistant professor of architecture, DAAP, researched the historic building and street patterns of Chiang Mai to determine whether these patterns might aid or hinder growth.

  • Judith Meyer Schultz, professor of biology and environmental sciences, Raymond Walters College, examined solid waste and water quality management, identifying barriers to change as well as steps needed to achieve sustainable development practices.

  • Howard Stafford, professor of geography, A&S, mapped the spatial arrangment of industrial plants and examined their compatibility with surrounding land uses. Stafford explored how the location of an industry aided or impeded competitiveness. Eventually, the Chiang Mai results will be compared with those from the Cincinnati area.

  • Thomas Wagner, professor of planning, DAAP, looked at citizen participation in national and local decision making. Both administrators and citizens need training and education on how they can work together in decision making as a cooperative approach is a relatively new pattern for the country.
  • Also participating was Xinhao Wang, assistant professor of planning, DAAP. UC graduate students participating in the project are Krista Kahle, Hugo Rincon, Kris Taylor and Michelle DiGulio-Matz.

    Funding for the Chiang Mai projects is provided by the United States Information Agency, by a UC faculty development grant and by grants from UC's Office of the Provost; College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning; and School of Planning.

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