PEI Awards $374,000 for Innovative Research, Teaching, Mentorship, and Service focused on Urban Sustainability

Joanna M. Foster ’08 for the Princeton Environmental Institute ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Princeton Environmental Institute has announced awards totaling $374,000 to support five faculty research projects as part of the Urban Grand Challenge – one of several long term research cooperatives that comprise its Grand Challenges program. 

With the majority of the world’s population now living in urban areas, there is urgency  to establish models of sustainability, adaptation, and resiliency that are sensitive to environmental issues including global change, water resource management, energy efficiency, technology innovation, human and environmental health, while, at the same time, considering more complex human dimensions such as equity and fairness, poverty and jobs creation, race, ethnicity, and more intangible notions of belonging. Through the Urban Challenge, PEI aims to engage faculty from diverse disciplinary backgrounds to explore the complex and interrelated issues of the urban environment with an eye towards transformative growth, revival, and sustainability.

The newly awarded projects include:

Princeton University Resilient City Lab

Associate Professors of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Sigrid Adriaenssens and Maria Moreyra Garlock, are developing a community-level framework for analyzing extreme event cascading scenarios in urban environments (e.g., the outbreak of fire after an earthquake and infrastructure damages attributable to storm surges following a hurricane). Their project recognizes that communities are developed with interconnected social, economic, and infrastructure networks that are ‘at risk’ of disruption and even failure following extreme events. Their project – the Princeton University Resilient City Lab – will examine complex and interrelated urban systems such as the interdependency of water and electrical systems, the consequences of an earthquake on roadway accessibility for emergency operations, and the reliability of storm surge barriers and the consequences of barrier failure. Garlock and Adriaenssens are engaging with emergency response officials in Seattle, New York and New Jersey to inform their project which is expected to culminate in actionable suggestions for emergency preparedness and risk mitigation policies. Undergraduate students are being hired to work on aspects of the project related to community resilience and a new course devoted to solving real-world urban resiliency challenges will be introduced in 2017-18.  

Urban Tap Water and Human Health

Janet Currie, the Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs and John Higgins, assistant professor of geosciences, have been awarded funds to develop and implement an urban tap water monitoring program in Trenton, NJ.  Working in collaboration with Isles Inc.,  a local community development organization, Currie and Higgins will assess water quality at the point of consumption (‘the tap’) for 1,000 households. The monitoring program will be carried out by teams consisting of Isles employees, trained community volunteers, and Princeton undergraduates as part of a new 300-level course in the Department of Geosciences — Geochemistry of the Human Environment. The course will offer a hands-on opportunity for undergraduates to learn about the analytical and statistical tools used to study the chemistry of the environment and how this data can be applied to questions of human health and well-being.  Water quality data collected as part of this study will be examined in conjunction with data acquired from various New Jersey state agencies in order to explore links between urban water quality and human health.

Urban Adaptation to Climate Change

Bruno Carvalho, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese, and Guy Nordenson, professor of architecture, have received funding to develop new curriculum and an undergraduate course that addresses how cities adapt to changing environmental conditions.  Urban adaptation is an increasingly critical area of examination in light of emerging environmental challenges such as rising sea levels in coastal cities, the increased risk of hurricane-induced flooding, limitations in natural resources, and the need for greater energy efficiency. The Urban Adaptation venture aims to assess the impact of different urbanization models; to address ethical questions related to various adaptation scenarios; and to devise design solutions to cope with the consequences of climate change. A post-doctoral fellow with expertise in urban adaptation to climate change is being hired and will collaborate with faculty on aspects of University curriculum and the new undergraduate course. 

GuyotPhysics: Princeton University as an Urban Science Node

Jessica Irving, assistant professor of geosciences, and Frederik Simons, associate professor of geosciences, have received support to install new geophysical instrumentation on campus and to train undergraduates in its use and application through internships and thesis work. A permanent geodetic beacon and a weather station, have been installed on the roof of Guyot Hall, and will operate in tandem with a pair of broadband seismic stations. The seismometers will be strategically located so that sounds from the built and human-influenced environment can be distinguished from earth sounds. The time-variable positions recorded by the stationary geodetic beacon provide information on weather systems, snowpack, and the total electronic content of the atmosphere and will be studied together with the direct measurements of temperature, barometric pressure, and precipitation as recorded by the weather station. This novel combination of measurement techniques will validate the targeted use of geodetic and seismic instrumentation for environmental monitoring in the urban setting.

Flow: Living with the Mississippi

Jeffrey Whetstone, professor of the visual arts, is receiving support from the Urban Challenge to fund production of a documentary that will examine the work and lives of those who rely on the Mississippi River for survival (food, employment) in order to portray the complex nature of the river and its interconnectedness to the city and its peoples, all under siege from dramatically shifting environmental conditions.  An installation of Whetstone’s work will be shown at Prospect 2017 – New Orleans, an international triennial of contemporary art. Due to simultaneous subsidence and sea level rise, southern Louisiana is experiencing some of the most rapid land loss in the world.  Constriction of the Mississippi for navigation is a major cause of local land subsidence, which leaves New Orleans increasingly unprotected from hurricanes. Professor Whetstone’s work will examine micro and macro economies along the Mississippi – from families fishing for food, to ships supplying international markets.  A new undergraduate course — The Port of New Orleans: Culture and Climate Change – is being developed for fall 2017 in conjunction with this project. The course will examine the environmental issues facing New Orleans and the city’s response to them. The idea that cultural ethos, married to scientific inquiry can be a conduit for sustainable solutions will be a principal underlying theme for the course which will involve a week long field trip to New Orleans.