Oct 12, 201112:41 PMPoint of View

The METROPOLIS Blog

Lab Report - III

Lab Report - III

Because we’re just beginning to learn how we might live in sustainable cities, current research on the topic is bout to provide useful data to policy makers, design and planning professionals, as well as ordinary citizens. So we want to call your attention to the work now being done at our most progressive universities: The Urban Design Lab combines the creative innovation of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation with the research-based rigor of the university’s Earth Institute to investigate and shape the future of sustainable urbanism through integrating statistical data with graphic modeling. Because of its location, the Lab uses New York City and its environs as its “core model”. But its ultimate goal is to provide possible solutions for sustainable urbanism everywhere. The topics are indeed wide reaching, including social issues like poverty and nutrition to more infrastructural ones like urbanization, ecosystems, and access to water. Here we examine projects that exemplify the breadth and scope of the Lab’s investigations.

labreport1Foodshed model, image via www.urbandesignlab.columbia.edu

The issue of food availability is addressed by the Urban Agriculture: Confirming Viable Scenarios for Production study and the New York City Regional Foodshed Initiative. Both use New York as a model for investigating how to develop the agricultural capability of densely populated urban zones. The goal is to increase regional self-sufficiency and food availability while decreasing transportation costs and its environmental impact. Together, these strategies will help reduce areas that are plagued by a lack of access to food. By identifying such factors and potentialities using geospatial and consumption data, these projects provide the basis for both the policies and national strategies in the National Integrated Regional Foodsheds Model, a comprehensive approach for producing and sustaining fresh food supply throughout the U.S. The strategies are regionalized to suit demographic and geographic specificities. It’s clear that increasing agricultural efficiency is achieved by minimizing transportation, processing, and retail infrastructure costs, while emphasizing access to and diversity of fresh produce using sustainable strategies. In so doing, social issues such as poverty, access, water and energy production, as well as infrastructure can be simultaneously addressed.

labreport2 Demographics of the Dominican Republic, image via www.urbandesignlab.columbia.edu

The other major research project is Visualizing Natural Disasters and Earthquake Risks  for the Dominican Republic. Combining research from the Earth Institute and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and coordinating with government and civic organizations, this project examines ways to bolster such urban infrastructure as water, sanitation, food and energy in developing nations. Specifically, the research looks at the shift of populations through internal migration in developing nations to urban centers, and the stress such shifts put on the region’s infrastructure. These vulnerabilities are exposed, often with catastrophic results, when natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis strike.

Using the Dominican Republic as a model, the team examines “critical infrastructures” like roads, bridges, ports, power sources, and food storage. These areas are researched within a demographic framework to examine migration patterns and help identify those regions that might be most vulnerable. The goal? It’s not just to improve disaster response, but to limit deaths and improve the accessibility of basic needs during disasters. Sherin Wing writes on social issues as well as topics in architecture, urbanism, and design. She is a frequent contributor to Archinect, Architect Magazine and other publications. She is also co-author of The Real Architect's Handbook. She received her PhD from UCLA. Follow Sherin on Twitter at @xiaying.

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