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Planning Grant: Engineering Research Center for Cyber-Enabled Public Services to Achieve Healthy Communities in America's Changing City Regions


The Planning Grants for Engineering Research Centers competition was run as a pilot solicitation within the ERC program.  Planning grants are not required as part of the full ERC competition, but intended to build capacity among teams to plan for convergent, center-scale engineering research.

This proposal is focused around developing an Engineering Research Center to advance "smart" public service infrastructure, including water, mobility, power and food, that is locally distributed (units located at or near point of use). The development of these localized public service infrastructure (distributed systems) will enable automation for improved efficiency.  These new distributed systems will interact with existing centralized (a single unit serving a large metropolitan area) systems to create hybrid systems. The ?smart? feature involves adding sensors and controls to connect these systems, making them operate in a more efficient manner.  The planned Center will consider the fact that much of the U.S. public service infrastructure is currently in need of replacement. We aspire to both create and demonstrate new methods and state-of-the-art technologies that are more flexible, efficient, secure and responsive to the needs of those who rely upon them. Furthermore, a centerpiece of our proposed Center is to implement new approaches to governance, management, financing, decision-making and public sector engagement around the selection, management and use of public service infrastructure.  If our planning activities are successful, this Center will transform the landscape of public sector infrastructure toward more efficient resource utilization; increased public understanding of and engagement with public service infrastructure; and create educational approaches that will produce a new generation of engineers, managers, scientists, public service representatives and engaged citizens.

The purpose of this grant is to facilitate deeper planning for an Engineering Research Center concept around Regenerative, Restorative and Resilient Community Infrastructure Systems (R3CIS). The proposed Center's goal is to accelerate innovation, development and adoption of cyber-enabled distributed technologies. Additionally, the proposed Center aims to support institutions (such as government, management, and financial) that transform regenerative and restorative infrastructure systems so that it enhances the well-being of public and planetary health. The proposed Center concept specifically focuses on novel infrastructure systems that support the public-sector (water, power, mobility, food). This focus will shift public sector infrastructure planning from being service-oriented to resource management-oriented. This shift will enhance efficiency, increase resilience, restore city regions, and improve the institutional structures that facilitate the equitable distribution of resources to achieve healthy communities.  Further, it puts decision science methodologies up front to ensure the work is stakeholder-focused and science-based to meet the needs of communities.   In preparing to write an ERC proposal around this concept, this planning grant focuses on several parallel activities: create and engage a stakeholder commission for two test-beds (Detroit Metropolitan Area and Rocky Mountain Front Range) and a science advisory board; define a list of integrated public service infrastructure technologies and refine and prioritize that list during the planning year; develop a strategic plan for our Center concept and, as part of that effort, create a road-mapping process in which we lay out details of the first two years of the proposed Center.  The road-mapping process is designed to be revisited annually to identify priorities for the coming two years, with an emphasis of putting ideas into practice; identify and work closely with those community partners from testbed communities and who work at the national level advocating for communities.  We want to engage community members from the testbed locations from the start and ensure their participation in Center visioning; identify the education and outreach elements that emphasize the integration between academia and practice and create the plan for their development that will be part of a future Center proposal; nurture and further develop core plans with foreign partners.  Together, these activities during this planning year will allow our team to develop an integrated system of systems research vision, detailed plans and partnerships for testbeds, a workforce development plan, methodologies for the innovation ecosystem, and identify additional collaborators and up to one additional institution that can fill expertise gaps.  The broader impact of the proposed Center is that it will ultimately increase public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology.  Our methods will enhance multi-stakeholder partnerships that include academia, industry and other groups.  Using a stakeholder-centered model, we believe our work will improve the well-being of individuals in society. Importantly, this novel approach will allow for enhanced equity across diverse populations and help to reduce environmental injustices in the placement, deployment, use and management of public-sector infrastructure services. The improvements made to critical public-sector infrastructure will improve national security and increase the economic competitiveness of the U.S.  Therefore, the planning grant will create the framework for being able to achieve all these broader impact elements.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment