Rob Silverman


Rob Silverman, UB associate professor of urban and regional planning

What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?

Through my teaching, research, and public advocacy I argue for a broader view of sustainability. At its core, a broader view of sustainability focuses on designing systems that advance social justice and equity in society. This is distinct from a narrower focus on promoting sustainability through the mere application of technology in areas like energy, the environment, and building design to reduce costs and environmental impacts. Although these are important components of sustainable systems, a broader view emphasizes the need for the foundation of sustainability to be built on egalitarian social and political systems.

UB is doing a good job at making its infrastructure more sustainable with investments in clean energy, renewables, and other environmentally friendly practices. To remain relevant and flourish in the future added attention can be paid to the cultivation of a more sustainable social environment on campus and with the communities surrounding it. This would include strengthening linkages between UB and residents in neighborhood adjacent to its three campuses, expanding opportunities for employment and education to those historically underrepresented on campus, and expanding the voice of a broader spectrum of community members in campus governance. 

What kinds of sustainability related research/projects do you pursue at UB?

My research has a strong focus on neighborhood planning and community development. I am particularly interested in developing policies that empower minorities and the poor in society. I am currently working on a project funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that examines the siting of affordable housing in the ten fastest shrinking cities in the US. The basic premise of that project is that in declining cities, like Buffalo, economic development happens in some neighborhoods while others continue to lose population and decline. In order to promote equitable outcomes, there is a need to identify pockets of growth in shrinking cities and create affordable housing in them that is sustainable. This would allow the poor to access resources in growing areas that can promote upward mobility. For example, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC) is a pocket of growth in Buffalo, but there are serious questions about how sustainable that type of growth is, particularly if it happens without addressing the housing, employment, educational, and healthcare needs of the low-income and minority residents who currently live in the surrounding neighborhoods. My research examines neighborhoods like the ones surrounding the BNMC and designs policies to link them to the resources of universities, hospitals, and other institutions in order to turn them into neighborhoods of opportunity.   

How are students involved in your sustainability work?

At UB, I have had the privilege to work with students who are concerned with some of the most pressing issues related to sustainability, the design of sustainable social and political systems. I work with some students as an advisor on their theses and dissertations. Other students tackle issues of sustainability and social equity while working on projects and in studio courses offered in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. In addition to those activities, students work on applied public policy project with me and other faculty affiliated with the Center for Urban Studies. Some of those projects have included the development of neighborhood plans, collaborations with the public schools, advocacy for fair housing, and the other applied urban research. A theme that cuts across all of the work that students are involved with is the link between sustainability and policies that promote social equity, community empowerment, and the redistribution of resources in society. 

What is the one thing you would like people to know that you do in your personal life to further sustainability?

Like most people today, I try to promote sustainability in my daily life. For example, I put thing in the recycle bin, I buy CFL light bulbs, and do other thing that are environmentally friendly. As Greeks said, “nothing in excess.” I also appreciate how the flip-side of sustainability is portrayed in popular culture, whether it is via an old movie like the Road Warrior or current TV shows like the Walking Dead. All things considered, a sustainable future seems like a better option from that vantage point. 

How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?

There are a lot of things UB does on campus to promote sustainability. Yet, more can be done to broaden the scope of discussion about sustainability. For example, UB is situated in a metropolitan area with housing, public school, health care, transportation, local government and other systems that are unsustainable. Addressing those concrete problems is of paramount importance. UB should assume a leadership role in discussions about rightsizing our neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and other systems in an equitable manner. Encouraging critical dialogue on these topics is somewhat controversial, but necessary, in western New York. 

Learn more about Silverman's research.