The RENEW focus in Sustainable Urban Environments addresses the critical role of cities on the establishment of sustainable relationships between human society and the planet.
Drawing upon UB’s unique assemblage of academic programs that bridge the human, ecological, and built environments, the focus area engages new partnerships and projects that will broadly impact academic scholarship, UB academic programs, and the western New York community.
This Focus Area is uniquely positioned to develop a comprehensive approach to the grand challenges associated with sustainable cities. The highly ranked UB School of Architecture and Urban Planning are unique within the SUNY system, and growing collaborations with Engineering, Natural/Social Sciences, Law, and Public Health capture the breadth of interdisciplinary expertise needed to effectively address the problems at the core of this focus area.
By 2050, 2/3 of the world’s population will live in cities. This trend is producing significant challenges that are being experienced on a global scale. The challenges are inherently multidimensional and complex, involving a myriad of social, economic, technology, structural, and environmental aspects. Confronting and overcoming these challenges requires innovative approaches to scientific and economic modeling, adoption of emerging technologies, analysis of policy, planning of infrastructure, and the management and design of organizations.
Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering
Alan J. Rabideau, Ph.D., P.E., is Professor of Civil, Structural, and Environmental Engineering at the University at Buffalo (UB). He received a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences and Engineering from the University of North Carolina, and also holds B.S. and M.E. degrees in Civil Engineering and an M.A. in Philosophy. His research in groundwater modeling, subsurface remediation, and decision making for environmental restoration has been supported by the U. S. National Science Foundation (NSF), Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and private corporations. Dr. Rabideau recently directed the UB Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange (ERIE) programs, which include an interdisciplinary doctoral traineeship (IGERT) and summer research experience for undergraduates (REU).
Current research projects include an interdisciplinary oral history investigation of the practices surrounding subsurface remediation, supported by the NSF-INSPIRE program, and a multi-year project to develop improved stormwater modeling capability for the City of Buffalo. In 2011, Dr. Rabideau’s research team supported the design and installation of an innovative permeable treatment wall at the West Demonstration Project nuclear facility, which was awarded the Project of the Year by the National Ground Water Association. He has also served as a technical advisor for a variety of U.S. government and industry projects, including the recently completely Environmental Impact Statement for the Hanford nuclear facility and the 2012 National Research Council study of Future alternatives for managing the nation’s complex contaminated groundwater sites. In 2014, Dr. Rabideau received the New York State Society of Professional Engineer’s Engineering Educator Award.
For many cities in the Northeast U.S., aging stormwater infrastructure and combined sewer overflows (CSOs) continue to threaten the quality of rivers lakes, and other waterways through the release of contaminants during storm events. Green infrastructure practices such as green roofs, porous pavement, rain gardens, and vegetated swales often represents the most cost-effective means of eliminating CSOs, as well as providing additional environmental and social benefits to communities. However, metrics for performance assessment of GI systems are in the early stages of development, and there is a need for a more comprehensive approach to the design, deployment, and evaluation of urban GI components and systems. UB’s Sustainable Urban Systems group brings together expertise from architecture, planning, ecohydrology, civil environmental engineering, and computational science, in an active research program that includes partnerships with the Cities of Buffalo and Cleveland.
The effects of climate change are frequently intensified by the high population density and coastal proximity of large cities. While most policy efforts have focused on reducing emissions of greenhouses gases, the warming trend will continue for several centuries even if emissions are stabilized because of the inertia of the global climate system. Therefore, city officials, urban planners, architects, and engineers will need to select effective adaptation strategies to build resilience to a changing climate. Although urban environments overlap with many systems (e.g., energy, transportation), most recent research has failed to address these issues in a cross-cutting manner, typically focusing on one issue at a time. To address this siloing, the RENEW-SUS faculty propose three major overlapping tasks:
UB is a core partner in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub (BDHUB), which will enable cross-university networking on an unprecedented scale. The Hub will bring together individuals from a wide variety of disciplines, work environments, and perspectives to share data, data science approaches, software, resources, insights and knowledge about exploiting big data to address society’s challenging problems, including the development of “smart” buildings and cities. The Northeast Hub will create an infrastructure that links institutions across the region to facilitate knowledge sharing and new collaborations through workshops, visiting research positions, student ambassadors, virtual meetings, and other interaction mechanisms that are appropriate for particular applications and challenges. UB is engaged in multiple collaborations associated with the HUB, serving as the lead institution for the energy portion. In conjunction with this effort, researchers in Mechanical Engineering are engaged in research to empower comprehensive smart building operations and achieve considerable savings in energy usage, including
The development and application of “system level” simulation models has great potential to provide bridges across discipline and generate new projects and applications. In the sustainable urban context, the RELU-TRAN (The Regional Economy, Land Use and Transportation) Model is a CGE (computable general equilibrium model) developed in 2000 by UB Professor of Economics Alex Anas. RELU-TRAN simulate the interactions of the major markets is a model at the urban scale, where the urban economy is defined as one or more central cities and their suburbs and relevant exurban area (similar to the definition of a Metropolitan Statistical Area of the U.S. Census). Any new technology or any policy or plan introduced into the urban economy works through the markets to affect the behavior of consumers, businesses and the government, with intended and unintended consequences that must be analyzed to determine the full social benefits and costs to society. The urban sectors included in RELU-TRAN are: a) housing and non-residential floor space markets; b) real estate development and land use; c) labor markets; d) production of goods and services by aggregated SIC sectors; e) personal transportation markets; f) trade within the urban economy and with other regions; g) government. Three operational versions of the model housed at UB, representing the cities of Chicago MSA, Los Angeles, and the Greater Paris Region (France). Ongoing and planned research will expand the model capability to address problems within the domain of energy, environment, and water.
A major research and public policy division of the University at Buffalo, the UB Regional Institute (UBRI) provides objective analysis to drive crucial decisions for its public, private and nonprofit partners across all scales from neighborhoods to municipalities, from regions to states to federal levels and beyond the nation’s borders to the global community. Drawing on diverse experience and a deeply rooted passion for independent research and public engagement, the institute generates clear, actionable insights that advance communities with our partners. In addition to university faculty and academic researchers, the institute’s partners include governments, foundations, businesses, civic groups and nonprofits.
The IDeA Center is dedicated to making environments and products more usable, safer and healthier in response to the needs of an increasingly diverse population. The IDeA Center’s activities are based on the philosophy of Inclusive Design, often called “Universal Design” or “Design for All.” It is a way of thinking that can be applied in any design activity, business practice, program or service involving interaction of people with the physical, social or virtual worlds. The IDeA Center practices human centered design through research, development, service, dissemination and educational activities.
The Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab (‘the Food Lab’) is dedicated to research that critically examines the role of planning and local government policy in facilitating sustainable food systems and healthy communities. The Food Lab’s research unfolds in collaboration with other research groups within and outside UB, as well as in partnership with community and planning organizations and local governments.
The Ecological Practices Graduate Research Group critically engages environmental systems from the perspective of architecture and urbanism. Using seminars, studios, research, design/build and study abroad, faculty and students endeavor to understand the opportunities and responsibilities of creating a more sustainable, healthy, vibrant and resilient world.
A team of UB students earned second place from among 14 intercollegiate teams competing in the 2015 Solar Decathlon, an elite competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy that challenges teams to design, build and operate cost-effective solar dwellings. Led by the School of Architecture and Planning with participation from UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and School of Management, UB’s bid engaged over two hundred students and faculty from more than a dozen departments of the university. UB’s entry, the GRoW Home was designed to give the user agency in the stewardship of energy, promoting a new mode of sustainable living and a building that produces twice as much energy as it consumes. The School will expand upon these efforts and use the zero net energy house as a base of operations for ongoing research and educational efforts, tentatively titled the Multiscalar Energy Research and Education Center (MEREC). The three primary goals of MEREC are to: