April 21, 2021
UCalgary Political Science interviews our own Sessional Lecturer Dr. Jacqueline Peterson
Dr. Jacqueline Peterson is a Sessional Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary
You are a recent graduate Ph.D.—Congratulations! Your work is broadly on infrastructure, financing, and cities. How did you become interested in this area?
After working for a Calgary city councillor for two years, I was amazed at how much local infrastructure shapes our lives and our communities, and wanted to learn more about what drives these investments, and why some cities are so successful at building sustainable, vibrant, and welcoming built environments. After starting my Ph.D. research at the University of Toronto, I quickly found that money was a central factor. Interestingly, Canadian and U.S. cities have different tools and revenue sources for funding infrastructure, so I wanted to know whether (and how) these different financial setups impacted cities' investment decisions.
Can you tell us a bit about your dissertation? What were its main arguments and findings?
How cities generate revenue for infrastructure is largely dependent on the rules and policies set by higher levels of government, so these dynamics are very multilevel in nature and can vary from one jurisdiction to the next. In Canada, for instance, cities rely quite a bit on intergovernmental grants to fund infrastructure, whereas voter-approved municipal bonds are the norm in many U.S. cities.
Drawing on the cases of Calgary, Edmonton, San Antonio, and Austin, I found that how cities pay for infrastructure shapes what they build. Cities don’t just set a list of infrastructure priorities and then figure out how they’re going to pay for them. Rather, cities privilege projects that are most likely to receive funding, effectively integrating the politics of different fiscal models into their decision-making processes. By shaping policy processes, these financial arrangements (which I label “multilevel fiscal institutions”) impact what cities build and where they build it (with big implications for local sustainability).
What’s the next big thing you're thinking about?
I’m currently working on turning my dissertation into a book with McGill Queens University Press and also conducting research on municipal-provincial relations under the current UCP government. I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into the Biden administration’s massive infrastructure plan, as well as better understanding the financing arrangements underpinning “smart cities.”
Finally, people might not know, but you also lived in Asia for two years. Tell us about that!
My BA and Master’s in Political Science were focused on International Development, and I spent a few years working with local NGOs in Thailand (women’s rights) and Mongolia (freedom of information/privacy laws), followed by a few research stints in Tanzania and NYC. It was only after moving back to Calgary that I discovered my passion for cities! As cliche as it sounds, everything is local, and there’s still so much to learn, right here at home.
Thanks to Dr. Jacqueline Peterson for sharing with us!