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By David Kay
  • Community and Regional Development Institute
  • Department of Global Development
  • Applied Economics
I first stepped off the plane from the San Francisco Bay Area to Ithaca (tiny airport, amazingly green landscape!) on a muggy (intolerably so!) September day in 1978.

The social tailwinds that lofted me here were stirred by the movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Most important was my undergraduate exposure to the debates about global economic growth and the environment following publication of The Limits to Growth (1972). Attending further to the framing ecological systems metaphor of the “web of life”, not to mention the rapid institutionalization of environmentalism into law (and into university curricula), I commenced my graduate study in resource and environmental economics at Cornell.

I had been primed to “think globally and act locally” by two years of study in Wales, UK, at a high school devoted to “promoting international understanding through education”. So when a Cornell job opportunity knocked, it seemed logical to evolve my global interests into research increasingly centered on community-based decision making in New York. In 2006, after working for two-plus decades as an economist researching local land use, energy, and environmental policies in the Department of Agricultural Economics’ Cornell Local Government Program, I transferred to the Department of Development Sociology and a new disciplinary affiliation, moving a few dozen feet down the Warren Hall corridors into my new office in CaRDI (Community and Regional Development Institute).

As a Senior Extension Associate in CaRD,I I have tried my best to grow more deeply into the responsibilities of service embodied in Cornell’s land grant status. My efforts are tailored to fit CaRDI’s mission: helping communities make informed decisions on issues of concern to them. On- and off-campus collaborations and partnerships have enabled every hint of accomplishment I have experienced in this work.

At this late point in the arc of my career, I am centering my applied research and outreach efforts on three primary theme areas: 1) The energy transition that is already underway but poised to accelerate dramatically – eg. work on large scale solar development; 2) individual and community responses to that motley collection of risks to well-being that are associated with climate change – eg. work on estuarine flood risk; and 3) the community governance and democratic process challenges that arise when communities confront significant change animated by controversy, eg. work on “public issues education” and “informed decision making”.  Within each of these thematic areas, I try always to be attentive to the variation in the valence of issues across the rural/urban spectrum, a sensitivity that derives from the conceptual foundations of CaRDI.

In my view, global development is about processes that create and sustain conditions under which all communities and people on the globe are able to meet fundamental human needs without degrading sustaining natural systems. Beyond that, global development processes enable communities and individuals to thrive according to metrics that are both subjectively and objectively definable. Many but by no means all relevant metrics are being developed in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the interacting systems each of these goals engages.

I am excited at the prospect of building connections with my new Department of Global Development colleagues and other partners in order to expand my own horizons while working to more effectively understand and advance sustainable global development.

Header image: David Kay, Sr. Extension Associate, CaRDI, started work at Cornell in 1978 as an economist before transferring to The Community and Regional Development Institute in 2006 where he helps communities make informed decisions. Photo by Justin James Muir

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