U-M Joins $12M International Study to Design Healthier Cities


The University of Michigan has joined a $12 million international research effort to build cities as more sustainable, desirable places to live and work. The university will receive nearly $750,000 over four years to research green infrastructure and urban farming.

"We need to consider how these green-infrastructure interventions affect a city's environmental and social-justice fabric," says Joshua Newell, a geographer at the university's natural resources and environment department and the principal investigator for the school's portion of the research. "We need to do a much better job at identifying (optimal sites for green infrastructure) in the urban landscape that offer the potential to maximize benefits for the many, rather than the few."

Green infrastructure includes storm water management projects such as green roofs and rain gardens, as well as parks, urban farms, and protected river basins. Newell, along with other researchers at U-M, will design a model designed to find hotspots for green infrastructure, analyzing factors such as park access, air pollution, and flooding. 

The model will be refined using data collected from case studies in Detroit, New York City, and Minneapolis.

The National Science Foundation awarded the $12 million for the project, which connects universities, cities in the United States and India, infrastructure firms, and policy groups. Other university partners include the University of Minnesota, Columbia University, Georgia Tech, Colorado State, Florida State, Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, Ohio State, and the University of Texas at Austin.

By 2050, it's estimated that 3 billion additional people will live in cities across the world, meaning that two-thirds of the world's population will live in urban areas.​ As it stands, the world population is around 7 billion, but projections show there will be more than 9 billion people living on the planet by 2050. Current farming methods will at this time be unable to feed an additional 2 billion people, meaning much more efficient agricultural techniques must be developed.