Urban Resilience to Extreme Weather

Climate change is widely considered the most significant threat to human existence, and we increasingly experience its effects through weather-related hazards such as extreme heat, storms, and flooding. Urban areas are especially vulnerable due to their geographic locations and complex, interdependent infrastructure.

USL is co-leading the Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network (UREx SRN), a five-year project funded through a $12 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The highly interdisciplinary UREx team includes scientists, students, planners, NGOs, industry, and other stakeholders in cities throughout the Americas. We are developing an innovative set of methods to assess how infrastructure can be more resilient, provide ecosystem services, and incorporate new technologies that strengthen ecosystems.

As part of the UREx project, USL is producing 3D visualizations that examine the equity implications of urban vulnerability. These interactive maps of nine cities integrate social, ecological, and technological data from a variety of sources. The map for New York City has played an important role in our collaboration with the Mayor's Office of Recovery & Resiliency and the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay to reduce the city’s vulnerability to flooding.

For the latest updates from UREx, follow @URExSRN.

Current and Future Green Roofs

In cities around the world, green roofs are providing nature-based solutions for reducing heat, managing stormwater, providing recreational space, supporting local agriculture, increasing energy efficiency, and more. USL has an expanding research project on the current state and future potential of green roofs in New York City, which includes a focus on their relationships with social equity.

We are collaborating with The Nature Conservancy and Columbia University to produce the most comprehensive assessment of New York City’s green roofs to date. Projects such as Aucher Serr’s Envisioning a New Urban Jungle explore the future of New York’s green roofs through data analysis and visualization.

Our research on green roofs is closely linked with teaching and outreach. The New School’s Green Roof Ecology course — a collaboration with local partners at Brooklyn Grange — gives students a chance to study actual sites and develop related design projects. As part of the Green Roof Researchers Alliance since its inception, USL cosponsored the organization’s State of Green Roofs in NYC Conference with the Audubon Society.

Seeds of Good Anthropocenes 

The Seeds of Good Anthropocenes project is a collaboration with the Stockholm Resilience Centre funded initially through Future Earth. Our aim is to counterbalance dystopian visions of the future that may be inhibiting the ability to cooperate effectively on problem solving.

USL is working with project participants to solicit, explore, and develop a suite of alternative, plausible “good anthropocenes” — future scenarios that are socially and environmentally desirable, just, and sustainable.

See papers related to this project in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment and Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability listed on our Publications page. More information about this project can be found at the Seeds of Good Anthropocenes website.

MillionTreesNYC Afforestation Study

The MillionTreesNYC Afforestation Study is a multiyear ecological research project focused on succession, soil-plant interactions, and native-invasive species dynamics in 10 parks across New York City. The purpose is to assess the short- and long-term impacts of the MillionTreesNYC tree-planting strategy on the structure and functions of new forest ecosystems.

Led by USL in collaboration with Columbia University and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, the study involves collecting data on soils, plants, and microbes at 38 permanent afforestation plots since 2008. It also includes evaluating forest-management practices for realizing the long-term goals of MillionTreesNYC.

Other participants include the United States Forest Service, Brooklyn College, the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Rutgers University, Pace University, Hofstra University, and the New York Restoration Project.

Resilience to Climate Change in Cities

USL has participated in an array of overlapping projects with the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the Future Earth Urban Knowledge-Action Network. This work combines research, analysis, and planning for climate resilience in cities. USL director Timon McPhearson served as the coordinating lead author for an international team of experts tasked with writing “Urban Ecosystems and Biodiversity,” Chapter 8 of Climate Change and Cities: Second Assessment Report of the Urban Climate Change Research Network.

Enabling Green and Blue Infrastructure

For the ENABLE project, USL is working with an international and transdisciplinary group to advance Green and Blue Infrastructure (GBI) in urban areas. GBI refers to infrastructure composed of vegetation, water, and other elements that minimize pollution. ENABLE researchers are testing GBI solutions in the metropolitan regions of Halle, Barcelona, Łódź, Stockholm, Oslo, and New York. Timon McPhearson is primary investigator for the New York case study and co-lead for research modules that address ecosystem services, climate resilience, and impacts of GBI on local communities.

Urban Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

From 2012 to 2015, the Urban Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (URBES) project generated a variety of science-based contributions to improving the quality and sustainability of life in cities. It generated data on biodiversity and ecosystem services through case studies in Berlin, Stockholm, Rotterdam, Salzburg, Helsinki, and New York. Funded by BiodivERsA through DIVERSITAS with €1 Million over three years, the URBES team represented 11 leading research institutions in Europe and the United States. The project gave rise to ongoing collaborations between USL and colleagues at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions, and Humboldt University in Berlin.

For more information on URBES, see Ambio, Ecosystem Services, Ecological Indicators, and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Networked Urban Ecology

Like most cities, New York struggles with a lack of connectivity between parks and smaller green spaces. The Networked Urban Ecology project is dedicated to linking fragmented habitats that promote biodiversity and provide important services to society. Through a program called Connect the Dots, it merges ecological research with participatory design to build innovative corridors between parkland, street vegetation, green roofs/walls, and other elements throughout the city — with emphasis on places where greenery is lacking. This network has the potential to significantly improve public health, livability, equity, resilience, and sustainability.

Future Earth Knowledge-Action Network

Future Earth is an international research platform that helps accelerate transformations to a sustainable world. Its aim is to ensure that scientific understanding is generated in partnership with people throughout society to develop long-term solutions to environmental problems. USL has provided leadership as a member of the core development team, helping to launch the Urban Knowledge-Action Network (UKAN) and the Livable Urban Futures project. We also served as authors and editors of Urban Planet: Knowledge towards Sustainable Cities.

Valuing Urban Natural Capital

Urban ecosystems and biodiversity are forms of natural capital with profound influence on human wellbeing. As part of the Natural Capital Project, USL is developing the Urban InVEST valuation model with colleagues from Stanford University, University of Minnesota, the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and the Beijer Institute for Ecological Economics. Urban InVEST integrates spatially explicit biophysical and socio-economic data to allow users to quantify and map the impacts of alternative urban designs on ecosystem services — showing their associated benefits and costs for different communities.