Research Projects

My approach to research emphasizes collaborative, transdisciplinary efforts that are grounded in 'real world' problems. The project I work on draw on multiple epistimological traditions and a diversity of methods. In this work, I hope to engage students, scholars, citizens, and decision-makers, sometimes all at the same time. I'm currently working on six reserach projects, additional details, publications, and other materials will be available through the newly formed Sustaining Urban Places Research Lab (SUPR Lab). As a center for 'place-based inquiry', the SUPR Lab (website forthcoming) aims to offer a decision support center where community members, decision-makers, and reserachers, work together to plan for an uncertain future.

Urban Sustainablity in the Middle East

Cities in the Middle East represent rapid growth of infrastructure and populations within a natural resource-scarce part of the world. Our urban sustainability project aims to create a new collaborative multinational model for conducting research in sustainable urban development. By studying Doha, Qatar as our case study, we will examine the scales at which land use planning efforts can improve environmental and social conditions.  We address four questions that will help to inform an emerging area of research on ‘scale-based sustainability’: (1) What are the ecological and socio-ecological consequences of local land use and land cover changes at neighborhood and regional scales? (2) How do differing urban development strategies/policies impact social and physical connectivity at local and regional scales? (3) How will varying patterns of urbanization interact with atmospheric conditions across regional gradients of climate and land cover to affect human well-being and ecosystem processes and services (e.g., street-level thermal comfort and air quality, water conservation and quality, energy consumption)? (4) How can decision-making systems effectively adapt and respond to rapid changes within an urban context? In addressing these questions we assume that social and physical processes related to sustainable urbanism operate at multiple scales, and that interventions to improve the effectiveness of urban planning efforts require interventions at multiple points in the system. As a result of addressing these questions, we will develop an one-line mapping portall that describes 'real time' differences in urban heat at neighborhood scales; build local capacity for conducting urban ecological research; and train the next generation of Middle East sustainable scholars. Of particular interest is the opportunity to ‘scale up’ sustainability efforts from neighborhoods to future development of the greater Doha region.  

Funding: Qatar National Research Fund

Ecosystem Services in Urban Regions (ESUR)

Natural ecosystems provide a wide range of economic, environmental and social benefits in support of rapidly growing urban areas, such as food production, drinking water purification and recreational opportunities. The ESUR program will teach future scientists and professionals how to assess the value of these services. Improving this understanding will enable better management and conservation of ecosystems. As part of the National Science Foundation's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, the ESUR project aims to develop theory and methods for valuing ecosystems in the U.S. and several other countries. From 2011 through 2016 we will recruit four to six PhD students (IGERT trainees) to work in teams and across disciplines to understand the role of nature's services. While several faculty from PSU are involved with this project, including Professors David Ervin, Elise Granek, Darrell Brown, Heejun Chang, Veronica Dujon, and Alan Yeakley, the ESUR program will also incorporate extensive community engagement, through collaborations and studies with Heritage University, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, Portland General Electric, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service’s Mt. Hood National Forest and Pacific Northwest Research Station, U.S. Geological Survey, Willamette Partnership and other local, national, and international partners.

Funding: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Coupling of Human and Natural Systems

The emerging science of urban ecology is arguably at the forefront of understanding the dynamics of coupled human and natural systems. This research we study contains two distinct areas of investigation. The first focuses on a pair of cities, Portland (OR) and Vancouver (WA), and examines how the role of local and state-level governance affects the provision of ecosystem services in response to different disturbance factors. Our interdisciplinary team spans three universities, as well as local and federal agencies. The second project examines the impact of rapid urbanization on water qulaity by working with colleagues in the Bangalore, India. As one of the fastest growing urban populations in the world, Bangalore offers a timely and unique opportunity to learn about the temporal impacts of urbanization on water resources. Through our collaboration with the Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Institute of Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, and the Center for Environmental Education, we are deepening the research and education opportunities for conducting comparative urban analysis. By understanding how the spatial and temporal patterns of urbanization impact water systems, we aim to provide urban planners and natural resource managers with information about how the types and pace of urbanization can impact the resiliency of ecosystems.

Funding: National Science Foundation (NSF)

Modeling Land Use and Water Consumption

The integration of land use planning and water resource management offers an exceptionally fruitful mechanism through which urban areas can more effectively conserve regional water resources. However, an empirical understanding of the relationship between land use planning tools and water consumed in urbanizing regions requires further study. This project employs geographic information system (GIS) and multivariate regression models to assess the effect land use planning policies on water consumption in Portland, Oregon (USA). Our approach provides a framework for understanding the extent to which current land use patterns affect water resources, and a means for predicting future water demand.

Funding: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Engaging Communities in the Stewardship of Natural Resources

The emergence of environmental advocacy groups, reactions to top-down decision making, and capacity building at the local level together have given rise to an era of community-based environmental stewardship. Despite the formidable challenges of designing ways to engage citizens effectively, public participation programs addressing environmental challenges are growing and improving worldwide. While an increasing number of environmental projects make citizen participation a central tenet, sometimes even calling environmental stewardship a 'fundamental instrument in any democratic society', much remains unknown about why some individuals or groups actively participate while others don't. By focusing on the challenge of urban stromwater management, we are examine how an extensive integrated stromwater system can engage community members, while improving ecological conditions within the neighborhood and region.

Funding: City of Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services (BES)

Spatially-Explicit Tools for Neighborhood Sustainability

The recent development in geographic information systems, decision support systems, and modeling frameworks has given rise to the field of participatory geographic information systems (PGIS). This ‘revolution’ in the types of tools for decision making is by environmental planners. The aim of this research is to identify the limitations of existing tools, and develop techniques for improving their effectiveness. Our focus is on understanding the extent to which spatial-planning tools are employed in the practice of environmental planning, and whether their use provides an effective means for addressing pressing issues of ecological significance. By working across disciplines at PSU, along with neighborhood associations, private, public, and non-governmental agencies, we examine the concept of EcoDistricts as an organizing framework for developing theories and methods in PGIS. We have developed a spatially survey tool, Sustaining Urban Places Research Map, that aims to support EcoDistrict planning efforts through the generation of local knowledge.

Funding: Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI); Bullitt Foundation

Assessing the Implications of Urban Planning Policies on Human Health

Urban developments in Oregon are caught in an "air pollution squeeze": increasing density of households within an urban growth boundary, while the total number of vehicles on urban roads continues to grow. This squeeze has the potential of exposing a greater number of urban residents to air pollutants, thereby affecting human health. Our research addresses three questions: (1) which urban populations are disproportionately affected by air toxins in the Portland metropolitan area; (2) what is the potential for mitigating mobile sources of air pollutants using vegetation; and (3) how can urban planning and design policies more effectively link air pollution and its impact on human health. The objectives of this research is to explicitly link urban planning policies and air pollution and better understand the mechanisms through which urban form affects human health. Collaborators include: Linda George (Portland State University).

Funding: Portland State University (PSU)


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