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 and for cities.
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.
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, multi-disciplinary 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.
Seeds of a 'Good' Anthropocene
This project "Seeds of a Good Anthropocene" is a collaboration between the Stockholm Resilience Centre and "Bright Spots - Seeds of a Good Anthropocene," a FutureEarth funded project in its first phase. The objective of this project consists of counterbalancing current dystopic visions of the future that may be inhibiting our ability to move towards a positive future for the Earth and humanity. This will be done by soliciting, exploring, and developing a suite of alternative, plausible “Good Anthropocenes” – positive visions of futures that are socially and ecologically desirable, just, and sustainable.
Climate Change in Cities
As members of the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN), the Urban Systems Lab leads 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”, a project of the UCCRN, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press, which will be launched at the Habitat III in Quito in October, 2016.
Networked Urban Ecology
We focus on how to increase connectivity of patchy, fragmented urban green space. Connect-the-Dots is an urban ecology and design project in partnership with design students at Parsons to innovate connections between fragmented, disconnected urban green spaces (dots). Ecological spaces in New York City, like most cities, struggle because of lack of corridors and connections between parks and smaller green spaces that can allow species and genetic material to move. Improving the mobility of urban species and building a networked ecological infrastructure will have benefits far beyond individual species, serving as a source for innovating ways to increase the quality and quantity of green space for the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers, especially in underserved areas of the city. Green spaces are fundamental to livability, equity, resilience and sustainability and corridors and green space connectivity is essential to a healthy urban ecology. Connect-the-Dots will develop ecologically based designed solutions for linking parks, street trees, green streets, green roofs and walls, and micro-urban spaces together in an ecological network to improve the lives of plant and animal species and the many benefits they provide for the city.
Future Earth Urban KAN
Future Earth is a new major international research platform intended to provide the knowledge and support to accelerate transformations to a sustainable world. It serves as the most important international scientific body (and largest) to coordinate new, interdisciplinary approaches to research service as a platform for international engagement to ensure that knowledge is generated in partnership with society and users of science. The Lab is involved in the Urban Knowledge Action Network (UKAN), the Livable Urban Futures project, and as editors and authors of the book, Urban Planet (forthcoming Cambridge University Press), all projects within Future Earth. TM is a member of the UKAN Core Development Team.
Urban Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (URBES) Project
The URBES Project, based on case studies of five European cities plus New York, is designed to address significant scientific knowledge gaps on the role of urban biodiversity and ecosystem services for human well-being to help build cities’ capacity to adapt to climate change. Funded by BiodivERsA through DIVERSITAS with €1 Million for three years, URBES consists of eleven top research institutes in Europe and New York. The project ran from 2012 – 2014, but also resulted in ongoing collaborations especially with colleagues at Stockholm Resilience Center in Stockholm, Dutch Research Institute for Transitions in Rotterdam, and Humboldt University in Berlin.
Valuing Urban Natural Capital
Urban biodiversity and ecosystems are critical natural capital impacting human health and wellbeing. One project the Urban Systems Lab has been working on with colleagues at the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University and University of Minnesota, Stockholm Resilience Center, and the Beijer Institute for Ecological Economic, part of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, is Urban InVEST, an initiative to design and develop an urban natural capital valuation model.
MillionTreesNYC Afforestation Study
The study is a multi-year ecological experiment in 10 different parks across NYC. The NYC Urban Forest Restoration Study led by the Urban Systems Lab with partners Columbia University, Yale University, and the U.S. Forest Service who teamed up in 2008 with NYC Parks and Recreation to study the short and long-term impacts of the MTNYC tree planting strategy on forest ecosystem structure and functioning. The study will also examine the effect of afforestation efforts on carbon dynamics of urban ecosystems in order to evaluate best management strategies for maximizing carbon uptake and storage in complex urban biological systems.