Collaboration
Universities Partnering With Cities to Research More Sustainable Urban Environments

The University of Minnesota has received a $12 million dollar award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to bring together a network of scientists, industry leaders and policy partners committed to building better cities of the future, according to a recent announcement.

The network will connect across nine research universities, major metropolitan cities in the U.S. and India, as well as infrastructure firms and policy groups. The project includes 25 faculty members across the nine universities, and will involve more than 40 graduate students conducting research in cross-university interdisciplinary teams.

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

Funded by the NSF’s Sustainability Research Network (SRN) program, the project, titled “Integrated Urban Infrastructure Solutions for Environmentally Sustainable, Healthy, and Livable Cities,” will focus on a new movement gaining momentum in cities around the world toward “distributed,” or more local, infrastructure.

The new 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 U.S. and India. The team will also explore the public attitudes and policies that can help achieve such urban transitions.

The university researchers will collaborate with cities, policy organizations, and industry partners, so that the solutions developed are practical, and can immediately be put into action in cities around the globe. Each of the nine universities — UMN, 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 their 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/County Management Association will assist with disseminating research findings to more than 29,000 partners in the U.S. and globally.

By 2050, three billion more people are expected to live in cities, resulting in two-thirds of the world’s population inhabiting urban areas. A majority of the future infrastructure required to accommodate that growth has yet to be built, or will need to be rehabilitated from existing systems.

The majority of the world’s major cities have disclosed that climate change presents a physical risk to the businesses operating in their cities and are taking concrete action in response, according to a 2014 report from CDP. Some cities already are achieving millions in annual savings from programs aimed at countering climate change.

Air pollution is another major problem afflicting cities around the world. To help measure and monitor air pollution in cities, Google and environmental sensor networks firm Aclima recently partnered to map and better understand urban air quality.

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