We asked Bart Roberts, research assistant professor of UB's Regional Institute, to tell us about his work in, and thoughts on sustainability.
What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?
A key part of UB’s commitment to sustainability is supporting solutions for more sustainable living in our region and world. This critical transfer of capacity and new knowledge occurs through the university’s many partnerships with sustainability-based organizations and initiatives in Buffalo Niagara. The UB Regional Institute/Urban Design Project in the School of Architecture and Planning plays a vital role in this mission by engaging regional partners in public scholarship and sponsored research around the issue of sustainable planning and development.
As a research professor at UBRI/UDP, I work with faculty and community partners to bring objective research and professional capacity to efforts that create more sustainable and equitable land use, transportation, and economic and community-based systems in Buffalo Niagara. By helping to bring the knowledge of the university to issues impacting the broader community, I believe my colleagues and I are working to make both UB and our region more sustainable.
What kinds of sustainability related research/projects do you pursue at UB?
I primarily work on applied research and planning projects focused on creating more sustainable communities in the region. This broad focus has led me to: provide regular technical assistance on Smart Growth to the WNY Regional Economic Development Council, Co-chaired by President Satish Tripathi; direct research support for the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, a community partnership investing in academic and community supports for schoolchildren and families living in the neighborhood surrounding UB's South Campus; and manage a large regional planning effort funded by a $2 Million grant from US Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the Federal interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities.
You may know the third project I mentioned as One Region Forward, a regional planning initiative to promote more sustainable forms of development. This project is part of one of the most exciting and progressive planning movements occurring across the country today. When the planning period is over, we will be one of a few dozen regions across the country with a federally recognized “Regional Plan for Sustainable Development,” a roadmap for how our region can coordinate Federal, State and local investments for long-term economic, environmental and social sustainability. By producing this plan, our region will be granted priority status for certain Federal funding opportunities today and into the future.
But, we are taking this planning opportunity to create much more than just a plan. Part of the work includes developing tools and resources for civic leaders to implement sustainable practices locally. It includes creating a broad platform for public education around sustainability related to land use, transportation, housing, food access, and climate change. Through all of this, One Region Forward is working to create partnerships from the public, private and nonprofit sectors to sustain collaboration for implementation well beyond completion of the plan.
How are students involved in your sustainability work?
Like many of the research centers across the university, the Regional Institute / Urban Design Project offers excellent opportunities for talented and passionate students to contribute to our research and public policy and planning work. Through the One Region Forward initiative, we have been able to bring on graduate students from the departments of urban and regional planning, architecture, geography, and the Law School to assist on all aspects of the project. Some of the ways students contribute include Geographic Information Systems mapping, precedence and best practice research, data analysis, and community outreach and engagement.
What is the one thing you would like people to know that you do in your personal life to further sustainability?
I live in a walkable neighborhood accessible to my work and where I shop, eat and drink. This allows me to walk to the grocery store, farmer’s market or my neighborhood bar, ride my bike or take the bus to work, or stroll with my wife and son to the park.
Of course, I’d be lying if I said the primary reason I live this way is because it contributes to sustainable environmental outcomes. I live where I do because it offers me a quality of life I couldn't get in a “less sustainable” neighborhood environment. It saves me money by making it possible to not own a car. I am healthier because I am more prone to walk or ride my bike and buy fresh, local produce and food. It also makes it easy for me to spend quality time with my family out in the open air and not in a car. Living sustainably for me in this regard is not a sacrifice, it is a blessing.
How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?
As someone who works at the UB Downtown Gateway building, is part of the South Campus-based School of Architecture and Planning, and frequents offices, services, and events on the North Campus, I am often left wanting more from the public transportation options connecting the three campuses. I typically do not drive to work, so travelling between our three campuses using UB-sponsored transportation or the NFTA system can be very difficult and time consuming.
The Office of Sustainability is doing great work to promote multiple options for transportation, like the new bike sharing program. In the long term, however, I believe for UB to be a true linear campus, we will need seamless and efficient public transportation among the three campuses. If we can get that right, it has the potential to make our university really unique and an even more robust economic engine to the region than it already is.
Learn more about Roberts' research.