Research Projects

Research in the Urban Systems Lab is fundamentally interdisciplinary with an explicit understanding of cities as complex social-ecological-technical systems. Our work includes empirical and theoretical research in, of, for and with cities.


Current and Future Green Roofs in NYC

Green roofs are quickly becoming a source of nature-based solutions in cities around the world to address urban heat, stormwater, need for recreational space, urban agriculture, building energy use reduction, and more.  The USL has an expanding research project to examine the state of current green roofs in New York City, the future potential, and social equity analysis to examine who benefits from green roofs in the city.  The Lab is also collaborating with The Nature Conservancy and Columbia University to produce the most comprehensive assessment of green roofs to date in NYC.  

The future potential of green roofs in the city is another aspect that we are exploring through analysis and data visualization.  See this link to explore the Envisioning a New Urban Jungle project lead by Aucher Serr in the Lab. 

On June 7th, 2018 the USL hosted and co-sponsored with NYC Audubon the first The State of Green Roofs in NYC conference ever as an event of the Green Roof Researchers Alliance which the USL has been part of from its inception.  The Green Roof Ecology undergraduate design and ecology coures is another outgrowth of this research in collaboration with local partners at Brooklyn Grange.  See more about the Green Roof Ecology course at our Twitter and Instagram pages.

Urban Resilience to Extreme Weather-Related Events

Climate change is widely considered to be one of the greatest challenges to global sustainability, with extreme events being the most immediate way that people experience this phenomenon. Urban areas are particularly vulnerable to these events given their location, high concentration of people, and increasingly complex and interdependent infrastructure. Our lab is examining urban vulnerability and risk reduction to climate driven extreme events including heat, flooding, and storms in New York City in collaboration with the NYC Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resilience and the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay.

Additionally, we are co-leading the Urban Resilience to Extreme (UREx) Weather-related events, a five-year, $12 Million, National Science Foundation Sustainability Research Network (SRN) project.   The highly interdisciplinary and geographically dispersed UREx SRN team is developing a diverse suite of new methods and tools to assess how infrastructure can be more resilient, provide ecosystem services, improve social well being, and exploit new technologies in ways that benefit all segments of urban populations.   The UREx team will link SRN scientists, students, local practitioners, planners, industry, NGO’s, and other stakeholders across >25 institutions and >60 collaborators to co-produce data, models, images, stories, and on-the-ground projects that show how a new resilient infrastructure can be developed.


Enabling Blue-Green Infrastructure

USL Director Timon McPhearson is Co-Primary Investigator of the ENABLE Project, and co-leads research activities ecological traits, urban resilience, and the role of green and blue infrastructure for climate change adaptation.  

The ENABLE project brings together a diverse, multidisciplinary group of partners from North, South, West and Central Europe and North America to investigate how to unlock the full potential of GBI. It will test possible GBI solutions to urban challenges in the metropolitan regions of Halle (Germany), Barcelona, Łódź (Poland), Stockholm and Oslo, and New York City as a US comparison.

Most cities around the world are interlaced with green and blue infrastructure (GBI) and benefit from the wide range of ecosystem services it provides. In an increasingly urbanized world, GBI has the potential to tackle multiple environmental and social challenges, such as human wellbeing, social inequality, biodiversity loss and climate change impacts such as flooding. However, the successful design and implementation of GBI requires careful consideration of a number of key aspects, including people’s perceptions of the benefits of GBI, barriers to the equitable distribution of benefits and strategies for making the flow of benefits resilient.

Click here for more information.

Resilience to Climate Change in Cities

The USL is a member of the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN), and we have multiple overlapping projects engaging with the UCCRN through Cities IPCC and the Future Earth Urban Knowledge Action Network with research focused on nature-based solutions for increasing climate resilience and adaptation strategies in cities and urban areas. Timon McPhearson is the coordinating lead author for an international team of experts for Chapter 8, Urban Ecosystems and Biodiversity, in the “Second Assessment Report on Climate Change in Cities”, (ARC3-2) a project of the UCCRN, published in Cambridge University Press in 2018.