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SRN: Integrated Urban Infrastructure Solutions for Environmentally Sustainable, Healthy and Livable Cities


Several hundred cities in the US and abroad, including 40 of the world's most populous cities (the C40 cities) have announced goals that include environmental sustainability, health, climate-resiliency and livability. Engineered infrastructures - defined broadly to include the seven key sectors that provide water, energy, food, sanitation/waste management, transportation (connectivity and access) and public spaces to more than half the world's people living in cities today - are essential in achieving these multi-faceted societal goals. Increasingly, cities are exploring the proposition that movement from large centralized systems toward local or distributed infrastructure, combined with changes in user-behavior and corresponding changes in institutions and policy in all the above sectors - is a critical pathway in achieving the triple goals of environment, health and livability (EHL goals). However, this proposition has never been verified on the ground due to three key gaps in the science of developing EHL focused cities, namely: (i) lack of standard metrics for monitoring EHL urban outcomes; (ii) lack of understanding of the role of social actors - across multiple scales from the household to city/ regional government - in the adoption and stewardship of distributed infrastructure solutions, and (iii) lack of dynamic urban models that can represent the EHL outcomes associated with distributed infrastructure systems and explore city futures. This SRN will bring together a network of universities, cities and industry partners who, jointly, will co-develop the science of sustainability, practical knowledge and policy innovations that will enable urban infrastructure transformation toward environmentally-sustainable, healthy and livable (EHL) cities.

Three primary research thrusts will support this transformation of urban infrastructure. Theme 1 of the SRN will develop the science of integrated measurement of environmental sustainability, health and livability (EHL), capturing linkages, synergies and trade-offs, considering human-environment interactions with all the seven infrastructure sectors together. Theme 2 of the SRN will develop new principles for designing integrated social-infrastructural solutions, with engineering and social science fully assimilated across home-, neighborhood- and city-regional scales, drawing upon innovative field experiments underway in the SRN cities (7 U.S. and 4 Asian) linked with test beds in SRN research labs. Finally, Theme 3 will operationalize the new knowledge created in Themes 1 and 2, to describe the dynamic interactions between natural systems, urban design, infrastructures and people in a democratized simulation environment, which expands upon a platform used by cities across the globe to allow multiple stakeholders to explore city futures with distributed infrastructure scenarios based. The SRN will focus on linking research and education with concrete actions in SRN partner cities. By closely working with community, government and industry collaborators, the SRN will operationalize the Network's findings well beyond a research setting, enabling real-world impact. The SRN's focus on the role of distributed infrastructure in urban sustainability and the large data base the SRN will develop as part of the Theme 2 will pave the way for future research endeavors in urban sustainability. Among the SRN's outreach, training and education foci are: (i) training of Public Officials on design and implementation of coupled social-infrastructural solution through collaborations with our partner cities, and nationally- the National League of Cities, City Managers Association; (ii) a Summer REU program that engages Native Indian Students from a network of 6 Tribal Colleges - from the undergraduate level to graduate degrees, and (iii) an innovative interdisciplinary summer school on Integrated Infrastructure Solutions for Sustainable, Healthy and Livable Cities- for students at all 9 SRN Universities, connecting environmental sciences, infrastructure engineering, urban planning, social sciences, public affairs, and public health.

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