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NSF grant aims to build more livable cities

Richard Feiock, the Jerry Collins Eminent Scholar of Public Administration and Policy in the Askew School within the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy.

Florida State University is among nine universities who will share a $12 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a unique network of scientists, industry leaders and policy partners committed to building better cities.

The network will include major metropolitan cities in the United States and India, infrastructure firms, and policy groups that will focus on ways to reimagine energy grids, road networks, green spaces and food and water systems. The research seeks to determine how cities can become more highly functional, better promote the health of residents and the environment, and be more desirable places to live and work — that intangible “vibe” known as livability.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Florida State University to partner with scholars from other leading research institutions and with community, industry and policy partners to create meaningful urban infrastructure solutions for the next generation of cities,” said Gary K. Ostrander, vice president for Research at Florida State.

Funded by the NSF Sustainability Research Network program, the project, “Integrated Urban Infrastructure Solutions for Environmentally Sustainable, Healthy and Livable Cities,” will be anchored at the University of Minnesota and directed by Professor Anu Ramaswami. Florida State University’s lead investigator is Richard Feiock, the Jerry Collins Eminent Scholar of Public Administration and Policy in the Askew School within the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy.

Feiock received $500,000 of the total to conduct national-scale surveys of city governments, investigate energy and transportation collaboration to promote sustainability within urban regions, and support research on the innovative energy efficiency programs that have been implemented by the city of Tallahassee.

“We look forward to working with FSU and others in the network to better understand how cities can support actions by their residents to reduce energy consumption,” said Cynthia Barber, director of Environmental Policy and Energy Resources for the city of Tallahassee, one of the network’s city partners.

Feiock also will lead local government outreach efforts with city partners, the National League of Cities and the International City Managers Association. The project is unique in that it focuses on linking research with concrete actions in partner cities to translate the network’s findings well beyond a research setting, enabling real-world impact and paving the way for future research endeavors in urban sustainability, according to Feiock.

“We have to think in new ways about a city’s physical infrastructure to develop sustainable solutions,” Feiock said. “Understanding that these systems are interconnected serves as a foundation. We also need solutions that connect individuals to neighborhoods to cities and beyond.”

Until now, development trends have resulted in very large infrastructure systems — large power grids and roadway networks and complex systems that pipe water from distant rivers and supply food from faraway states and countries. Emerging trends suggest cities may be better off building more local systems — urban farms, local solar generation, bike share systems and more. This project network will work to identify the best mix of local systems and large infrastructures to achieve urban sustainability, health and livability. The research also will explore the public attitudes and policies that can help achieve such urban transitions.

Each of the nine universities — Florida State, the University of Minnesota, Columbia University, Georgia Tech, Colorado State University, the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, Ohio State University, the University of Michigan and the University of Texas-Austin — is working with their local city and industry partners. The network’s policy partners will disseminate the findings to more than 29,000 cities across the nation and around the globe.

For more information and a complete list of network partners, visit sustainablehealthycities.org.