Promoting Urban Sustainability in New York City

Carol Peters ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Profile: Lindsay Campbell ’02

As a research scientist for the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, Lindsay Campbell ’02 is developing, supporting, and promoting sustainability initiatives in New York City (NYC). Campbell has conducted environmental policy and science research since she was an undergraduate at Princeton, where she majored in the Woodrow Wilson School and earned a certificate in environmental studies. Following graduation Lindsay earned a Master in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then joined the Forest Service. Below Lindsay discusses her passion for her career and how PEI’s environmental studies courses continue to influence and inspire her.

As a research scientist for the Forest Service, what are your responsibilities and goals?

I work specifically for a new program within the Northern Research Station (which covers a 20 state region) called the New York City Urban Field Station ( Created jointly with the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation, its goal is to foster research partnerships that support and promote urban sustainability initiatives in NYC. I conduct research, publish peer reviewed journal articles and present at conferences. I also develop tools and applications for urban natural resource managers and the public, facilitate others’ research and incubate new research programs. I am also a member of the Scientist Recruitment Initiative, through which the Forest Service supports my studies while I continue as an employee of the agency. I am pursuing a Ph.D. in geography from Rutgers. My dissertation pertains to my Forest Service work as I am researching the politics and discourse of urban forestry and urban agriculture in NYC.

What are some of the most critical and exciting projects or environmental issues you are currently researching?

The Forest Service’s Stewardship Mapping and Assessment Project (STEW-MAP), one of my main research projects, is an effort to better understand and support civic engagement in urban environmental management. In collaboration with my Forest Service colleague Erika Svendsen, Dana Fisher of the University of Maryland, and many others, we conducted an assessment of thousands of civic groups tackling environmental issues in NYC. These groups focus on land, air, water, waste, toxics, and/or energy issues and range from multimillion dollar professionalized nonprofits to informal block associations and kayak clubs. We asked questions about their organizational focus, geographic turf, and social networks, and then we used this data to better understand the network of civic environmentalism in NYC. Since it’s both a research and an application project, we’ve given that data back to natural resource managers, policymakers, funders, and the public in the form of a map: Our colleagues in Chicago, Seattle, and Baltimore are now replicating this research and we plan to repeat it longitudinally in NYC. Our hope is someday it will be standard for all cities, when planning for the future, to refer to a comprehensive map of community and civic environmentalism as well as to maps of existing green infrastructure.

How do you facilitate the work of others through your membership in the NYC Urban Field Station?

One way is through partnering with NYC Parks’ Freshkills site. Once the largest landfill in the world, it is now being converted into a park that, when complete, will be 2.5 times the size of Central Park. One of the Park’s functions will be to serve as an incubator of research, so we are collaborating with the Park’s administrators on three different research projects. These involve Forest Service scientists from all over the country and collaborators from Purdue University, Michigan State University, and Missouri University of Science and Technology. These projects include: a large scale, quantitative assessment of Staten Island residents’ attitudes towards the park, with predictive models of visitation; a qualitative research project using focus groups to understand Staten Island residents’ memories of the site; and a study of the potential to use phytotechnologies to improve and stabilize soil, sediment, sludge, or groundwater that has been compromised or degraded in some way.

Did the ENV Program prepare you to address these challenges?

I remember the environmental studies (ENV) senior thesis prep seminars very clearly, in which we discussed our senior thesis topics and research with our ENV peers and faculty who represented a diverse group that included biophysical scientists, social scientists, and policy students. This sort of interdisciplinary conversation and collaboration remains vital to my research and practice today. For example, I am part of the senior personnel for a National Science Foundation funded research program in NYC entitled “Understanding the Dynamic Connections among Stewardship, Land Cover, and Ecosystem Services in NYC’s Urban Forest.” This study has three principal investigators—a sociologist, an ecologist, and a geophysicist, in addition to representatives from the Forest Service and NYC Parks. We have to work constructively together and be able to dialogue across our disciplines.

Many other courses also influenced me. These include the core ENV courses and labs and the policy courses and labs I took through geosciences as part of the ENV program. Each was fundamental to my understanding of the science and politics of environmental issues. For example, I conducted a fascinating cradle-to-grave assessment of paper versus styrofoam food packaging in a geosciences course, and Frank and Deborah Popper’s class on land use and environmental history was extremely interesting. I recently reconnected with Professor Deborah Popper through her position at College of Staten Island around the Freshkills work I described above. All of these courses shaped the way I conceive of—and work to address—environmental problems and conflicts.

Can you offer advice to current or prospective ENV students pertaining to the ENV program or to a career in the sustainability field?

I recommend undergraduate students develop mentors by using their contacts with faculty, administrators, and graduate students to the fullest. Princeton is such a rich, intellectual environment and undergraduates have amazing access to some of the brightest minds in the country, all of whom are there for the students. Student engagement with mentors shouldn’t start and end in the classroom.

I also encourage students to consider a career in public service. There is great work underway at the federal level at the Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and throughout the Department of the Interior agencies, and they are always looking for bright, new minds—particularly the formal programs like the Presidential Management Fellows. Local government is also a very dynamic area and should be considered. Finally, the diverse, rich, amazing world of nonprofits is another great option.