Tag Archives: Columbia University


Co-PI Orlove Connects Urban Planning and Glacial Flooding

August 25, 2016
SRN Co-PI, Benjamin Orlove, Columbia University,  was a keynote speaker at the International Glacier and Mountain Ecosystems Forum, held 10-12 August in Huaraz, Ancash region, Peru. The event was hosted by a newly formed organization, the National Research Institute on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, whose goals are to promote research and action on these climate change issues.

Professor Orlove’s SRN research and the goals of this group overlap on the topic of urban planning. “Peru is highly unusual in that, in mountain regions, though the towns have higher income and access to government services than the rural areas, the towns are also more vulnerable to glacier lake outburst floods. The towns are concentrated along major rivers. The rural agricultural people live more scattered on hillsides. so there are the issues of promoting early warning systems, despite people’s unwillingness to evacuate even when warnings are issued. They fear that thieves will come to evacuated areas. Weak planning/enforcement leads to rebuilding in flood zones, which are close to transport routes, despite risks,” says Orlove.

Learn more at ABC News.


Virtual Forum: Elliott, Motzny and Foster discuss Water-Wastewater and Stormwater-Green Infrastructure, Pt. 2

April 20, 2016

Join us Friday, 4/21, for a discussion on: Water-Wastewater and Stormwater-Green Infrastructure, Pt.2: Research on Environment, Health, and Well-Being for Urban Green Infrastructure

Led by: Robert Elliott and Amy Motzny (Columbia University, Advisor: Dr. Patricia Culligan) Alec Foster (University of Michigan, Advisor: Josh Newell)

Friday April 21, 2:30 to 4:30 PM Central

To view or join the discussion on Friday: Join Here, Access Code: 383-419-437.

These lectures and discussions are part of a course offered by the MSSTEP Program and the Sustainable Healthy Cities Network, Infrastructure Transformations for Sustainable Healthy Cities: Design and Policy.


Columbia Students and Faculty Complete First Detroit Collaboration

Columbia students and faculty learn of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center’s proposals for the Bloody Run Creek during their site visit to Detroit. Photo credit: Kirk Finkel
January 25, 2016

Written by Kirk Finkel and Richard Plunz, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

The Columbia University Urban Ecology Studio is an advanced design course for students in architecture, engineering, and urban planning, which focuses on urban development and its social and ecological impacts. The Fall Semester 2015 Studio worked in Detroit addressing next generation infrastructural issues within the EHL (Environmental Sustainability, Health, Livability) framework of the Sustainable Healthy Cities Research Network. The first stage of this collaboration was completed with presentations of six urban design projects at Columbia University in December 2015.

The studio comprised six Masters-level architectural students and eight Senior Undergraduate, Masters and PhD engineering students, who formed into interdisciplinary design teams of two to three students each. In October, the studio visited Detroit and met with its local partner; the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC), alongside students and faculty from the University of Michigan’s Urban Design Studio. The Columbia University cohort then returned to New York and began to dissect their on-site experiences and adapt the research ideas that they had initially developed. Over the course of the next few months, each of the six teams honed their topics and presented their work to a rotating internal and external jury through desk critiques, pin-up discussions, and formal reviews. Faculty from the engineering and architecture schools met together several times weekly with the students to facilitate discussion and support the maturing of their proposals.

Building off of Detroit Collaborative Design Center proposal for day lighting the Bloody Run Creek watershed, each interdisciplinary team of students explored strategies and catalysts for new growth in Detroit. Students adopted site-specific and program-driven designs, which were required to resonate at both a local and city-wide scale. An in-depth examination of growth was derived from a past-to-present study of the efficiencies and inefficiencies of the Detroit city-grid, as well as the existing regional fabric. A major challenge for each team was developing a mature and comprehensive proposal, which observed feasibility, scope and phasing in an implementable manner, together with cost-effectiveness and a host of other related challenges. The studio produced six final design proposals, which included proposals for localized stormwater management through soil-aeration and smart planting in vacant lots, a new Detroit-based flower industry in an abandoned auto-plant, a new technology campus of driverless cars and sustainably harvested energy, a new connected multi-modal transportation system for neighborhood development, an extension of existing public markets that focused on local food production and included energy generating bio-digesters for food waste, and an innovative strategy for cost-effective sustainable construction using blighted materials.

The studio’s architectural and engineering partnership generated both responsive and innovative design schemes, which have tremendous prospective value for the City of Detroit. As a whole, the studio has compiled a family of proposals that have the potential to serve as part of a strategic masterplan. In particular, the studio designs explore forms for new distributed infrastructure within the context of a city with diminishing traditional infrastructure needs; and the possibilities for new approaches to infrastructure to foster economic development and social cohesion.

The Urban Ecology Studio is co-taught each year by SRN faculty Patricia Culligan and Richard Plunz. In this studio they were joined by architect Kirk Finkel, landscape architect and Assistant Research Scientist Amy Motzny, and civil engineer and Earth Institute Post-Doctoral Research Scholar Robert Elliott. Professors Culligan and Plunz are currently leading efforts to explore the role of green infrastructure in urban stormwater management and community development in New York City’s Bronx River Sewershed. They decided to focus this year’s Studio on stormwater management and community development ideas for Detroit, in order to begin the integration of new ideas and strategies for distributed infrastructure systems across the SRN testbeds in New York City and Detroit.


Columbia University holds an Interdisciplinary Workshop on Urban Green Infrastructure

credit: Dr. Tyler Carson.
November 24, 2015

On November 6th 2015, Columbia University hosted about fifty researchers, government, industry and non-for-profit stakeholders at a workshop focused on urban green infrastructure solutions in New York City. Workshop, presentations and discussions explored how advances in monitoring, modeling and design are shaping the future role of green infrastructure in urban stormwater management, sustainability and resilience. SRN co-Director Patricia Culligan presented the results of a multi-year research project to quantify the ability of green roofs to capture stormwater volume and reduce pollutant runoff, while SRN faculty Richard Plunz and researchers from Columbia University’s Urban Design Lab proposed innovative solutions to the management and maintenance of green streets and public right-of-way bioswales.

Much of the work presented at the workshop showcased research evolving from an NSF funded interdisciplinary project aimed at developing high performance green infrastructure systems for coastal cities. Learn more at the Urban Design Lab webpage.


CSU Joins Network to Research Sustainable, Livable Cities

August 17, 2015

Colorado State University researchers will be part of a unique network of scientists, industry leaders and policy partners committed to building better cities of the future.

The consortium, supported by a $12 million Sustainability Research Network award from the National Science Foundation and led by the University of Minnesota, Columbia University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, includes nine universities, major metropolitan areas in the U.S. and India, infrastructure firms and policy groups, all focused on creating cities that are highly functional, promote the health of residents and the environment, and have that intangible “vibe” called livability that makes cities desirable places to live and work.

SRN_livable_cityThe network is the first of its size to focus on ways to reimagine our infrastructure — our energy grids, road networks, green spaces, and food and water systems.

Daniel Zimmerle, senior research associate at Colorado State, will bring his expertise in distributed energy grids to the project. He has been instrumental in the research that has created Fort ZED, the net-zero energy district in Fort Collins and is currently researching micro-grid technology designed to bring energy to rural villages in Rwanda.

“We have to think in new ways about a city’s physical infrastructure to develop sustainable solutions,” said Anu Ramaswami of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, who is the lead investigator and director for the project. “Understanding that these systems are interconnected serves as a foundation for this work. For example, urban farms wouldn’t work very well without thinking about water, energy, and transportation infrastructure, as well as people, markets and policies.”

Interconnected energy systems

The CSU team will study energy systems interconnected with transportation, water and other systems. The team will utilize data from multiple communities, including Fort Collins, to create simulation models for innovating new methods of optimizing systems.

“Many energy problems have interesting interconnections with social systems or other technical systems. This center will bring together all of the necessary expertise to truly study these interconnections,” said Zimmerle.

Patricia Culligan of Columbia University and Armistead Russell from Georgia Technology are co-directors of the project.

Estimates indicate that by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Such growth will exert tremendous pressure on water, energy, and land resources, creating traffic congestion, air pollution, and urban inequity that already affects the health of millions of urban residents today. A majority of the infrastructure required to accommodate that future growth has yet to be built, or will need to be rehabilitated from existing systems.

Until now, development trends have resulted in very large infrastructure systems — large power grids, large roadway networks, complex systems that pipe water from distant rivers, and supply food from faraway states and countries. Emerging trends suggest cities may be better off building more local systems — urban farms, local solar generation, bike share systems, and more. This network will try to identify the best mix of local and large to achieve urban sustainability, health and livability goals, by examining infrastructure in diverse cities in the US and India. The team will also explore the public attitudes and policies that can help achieve such urban transitions.

Three themes

The work of the network is organized into three themes.

Theme 1 will develop science-based methods to track the environmental sustainability, health and livability of cities. The various teams will measure the water and energy footprints of cities, the emotional well-being of people in-the-moment as they experience the city, the influence of urban design on air pollution and health, the impact of cities on natural ecosystems, and modeling extreme climate events such as extreme heat and flooding, that impact the livability of cities.

Theme 2 will identify the innovations needed in infrastructure design and in our social institutions to advance environment, health and livability outcomes in cities. In this thematic area, researchers will draw upon new technologies being incubated in university laboratories, as well as infrastructure innovations being piloted in real-world test-beds in our partner cities. Each university in this network is partnering with their local city to explore innovative infrastructure solutions – the network’s test-beds span energy, water, transportation, green infrastructure and food system innovations being piloted in cities in the US and in India.

In Theme 3 the new knowledge created in Themes 1 and 2 will be used to model various policy and technology scenarios in diverse world cities – ranging from small fast-growing cities like Fort Collins to shrinking cities like Detroit, from stable cities with aging infrastructure cities like New York and Minneapolis to young emerging cites in India trying to leap-frog into next generation infrastructure systems.

Working with diverse cities provides rich learning experiences to students, to faculty and to policymakers, as they compare and contrast infrastructure solutions on the ground.

One strength of this network is that each of the nine universities – University of Minnesota, Columbia University, Georgia Tech, Colorado State University, Florida State University, Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, Ohio State University, University of Michigan, and University of Texas-Austin — is working with its local city, as well as with industry partners such as Ecolab, Xcel Energy, and ICF International. In addition, the network’s policy partners such as ICLEI USA, the National League of Cities and the International City Managers Association bring immense capacity to disseminate the findings of the network to more than 29,000 communities in the U.S. and globally.

For more information and a complete list of network partners, visit sustainablehealthycities.org.

– Kate Jeracki

This article was originally posted by Colorado State University.


The Big City Scaled Down for Sustainability

August 11, 2015

Columbia To Co-Lead $12 Million Livable Cities Research Project.

Two-thirds of people on the planet will live in cities by 2050 but few cities are prepared for the coming population boom. A $12 million research project sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) will explore a new model for urban infrastructure—the roads, pipes and grids that move around people, food, water and energy—to make cities cleaner, healthier and more enjoyable places to live.

A consortium of cities, companies and universities, led by University of Minnesota, Columbia University and Georgia Institute of Technology, will form a Sustainability Research Network to carry out the research, titled “Integrated Urban Infrastructure Solutions for Environmentally Sustainable, Healthy, and Livable Cities.” By 2045, cities will be home to 6 billion people, the United Nations estimates, creating an unprecedented demand for food, water, energy, transportation and housing.

In the past, governments built massive infrastructure projects to meet the public’s needs—interstate highways, regional power plants and centralized sewage treatment systems. But concerns about climate change and the hefty costs of such monumental projects, in dollars, pollution, efficiency and vulnerability during natural disasters, have caused many to reconsider.

The city of the future may well favor small, local and decentralized solutions—what some planners call “distributed” infrastructure. Think roads geared towards bicycles instead of cars; Houses powered by a neighborhood solar grid instead of a distant power plant; Food grown on rooftops instead of shipped cross-country; and waste composted locally rather than piped to a sewage treatment plant.

By studying the infrastructure of cities in the United States and India, the Sustainability Research Network will identify the best mix of local and regional systems to meet city dwellers’ needs. The team will also explore the community attitudes and public policies that allow cities to evolve and adapt. Over the next four years, it will develop a framework for change based on new technologies and trends already underway, including district energy systems, community solar energy, light-rail, bike share systems and urban farms.

The cities to be analyzed include, among others, New York, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit and Atlanta, as well as cities in India with minimal infrastructure. The university researchers, in collaboration with their partners in the public, private and nonprofit sector, will focus on developing practical solutions that can be scaled and immediately put into action.

In New York City, Columbia has worked with City Hall, property owners and local community groups to measure the impact of city initiatives to green the urban landscape by planting more trees and vegetation, including on rooftops and roadways. Trees and plants absorb rain and snow, reducing the amount of stormwater runoff that sewage treatment plants need to process. They also cool the air, helping to bring down temperatures on hot days. In addition to measuring the benefits of green infrastructure, Columbia researchers are studying the psychological factors that lead communities to care for city-planted trees and vegetation in their midst, protecting the public’s investment.

The research is still in progress, but initial results highlight the importance of involving neighbors in the stewardship of green infrastructure. Tree-pits, for example, can absorb more stormwater if soils remain loose and uncompacted. Planting flowers in the tree-pits and putting up guards have proven effective at keeping foot traffic away.

Columbia’s role in the Sustainability Research Network will be to look at the potential for designated cities to scale various sustainability solutions, be it planting rooftop farms or rewiring buildings for solar. How much capacity is there, and how big are the benefits? The Columbia researchers involved are: Patricia Culligan, a civil engineer who is deputy director of Columbia’s Data Science Institute; Upmanu Lall, a civil engineer who heads the Columbia Water Center; Vijay Modi, a mechanical engineer who heads Columbia’s Sustainable Engineering Lab; Ben Orlove, an anthropologist who heads Columbia’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions; and Richard Plunz, an architect who heads Columbia’s Urban Design Lab.

The shift to a city with local and decentralized services will require technology—sensors to pull in data from solar panels, weather stations and so on—and systems to analyze it, make decisions and coordinate with other systems. “The internet-of-things, where sensors talk to sensors, and make decisions without any human involvement, is going to be key for the city of the future,” said Culligan. “Sensors on green roofs will tell sensors controlling irrigation when plants are thirsty and need to be watered.”

“When it rains, green roof sensors will tell stormwater pipe sensors how much rainfall has left the rooftop so flows can be redirected to prevent flooding,” she added. “Big data and data science will be central to all of this.”

The Sustainability Research Network’s “Integrated Urban Infrastructure Solutions for Environmentally Sustainable, Healthy, and Livable Cities” project includes researchers in academia, industry and policy organizations that work with more than 29,000 cities in the U.S. and globally. They are: the University of Texas at Austin, Florida State University, University of Michigan, Colorado State University, Ohio State University and Indian Institute of Technology-Madras; Ecolab, Xcel Energy, ICF International; and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, National League of Cities and the International City/County Management Association.

Directing the project is Anu Ramaswami, who heads the University of Minnesota’s Science, Technology & Environmental Policy Program at the Humphrey School. Her co-investigators are Culligan, at Columbia, and Amistead Russell, an environmental engineer at Georgia Tech who specializes in air quality and health.

Please see Sustainable Healthy Cities for a full list of project partners.

— Kim Martineau

This article was originally posted by Columbia University.