Category Archives: News

Air Pollution Impacts on Latinx communities in California Caused by Beef Production

A study published by University of Michigan researchers, including Joshua Newell at the School for Environment and Sustainability, quantifies the air pollution that impacts Latinx communities in California due to beef production.
Newell and his co-authors—Benjamin Goldstein, a former SEAS post-doctoral researcher who is now an assistant professor at McGill University, and Sanaz Chamanara, a research assistant at the U-M Center for Sustainable Systems—focus on Costco’s beef supply chain in California and explore the environmental impacts of air pollution resulting from beef production in the San Joaquin Valley, a region that has some of the worst air quality in the United States. Costco is one of America’s largest beef retailers.
In their paper, “Where’s the beef? Costco’s meat supply chain and environmental justice in California,” which was published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, the authors note that as consumers increasingly demand transparency in corporate supply chains, “distance, multiple transacting companies and supplier fluidity keep most supply chains opaque, which makes it difficult to know if the products we consume have positive or negative impacts on the peoples and places that produce them.”
Combining life cycle analysis with an environmental justice approach, the researchers tracked corporate supply chains and identify pollution hotspots. Their key findings:
– Costco sources beef from the heavily polluted San Joaquin Valley in California.
– There is an inverse relationship between air pollution (PM2.5 emission) and the distance to feedlots.
– Beef production is linked to uneven disease burdens, including asthma, heart disease, and low birth rate, along the supply chain.
– Minority (esp. Latinx) and lower-income communities are especially affected by beef production in the San Joaquin Valley.
“Documenting the geographically specific impacts of livestock production opens up opportunities for corporations to address environmental injustices in their supply chains through more sustainable sourcing and production practices, and for consumers to rethink their consumption of meat,” Newell said.
Read the full paper in Journal of Cleaner Production.

Homes of wealthy Americans have carbon footprints 25% higher than lower-income residences

The homes of wealthy Americans generate about 25% more greenhouse gases than residences in lower-income neighborhoods, mainly due to their larger size. In the nation’s most affluent suburbs, those emissions can be as much as 15 times higher than in nearby lower-income neighborhoods.


Those estimates come from a new study of 93 million American homes by Urban Sustainability Research Group. It is the most comprehensive study of U.S. residential greenhouse gas emissions, according to the authors, and the first to provide nationwide rankings by state and zip code. It is also the first nationwide study to find correlations between affluence, residential floor space and greenhouse gas emissions.


Read the story in CNN, EcoWatch and  Michigan News.

Read the full paper in PNAS.

Fragmented forests: Tree cover, urban sprawl both increased in Southeast Michigan over the past 30 years

By Jim Erickson | Michigan News | August 10, 2020
The extent of Southeast Michigan’s tree canopy and its urban sprawl both increased between 1985 and 2015, according to a new University of Michigan study that used aerial photos and satellite images to map individual buildings and small patches of street trees. The researchers described the increase in forested area across the region as a positive finding. But their analysis also revealed that the region’s forested lands grew increasingly fragmented due mainly to increased urban sprawl, interfering with the ability of plants and animals to disperse across the landscape.
“Our results show that the forested landscapes of Southeast Michigan appear more fragmented and less cohesive in areas experiencing urban sprawl, in accordance with findings worldwide,” said study lead author Dimitrios Gounaridis, a postdoctoral research fellow at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability’s Urban Sustainability Research Group. “We found that low-density single-family housing, in particular, had a detrimental effect on the functionality of adjacent forested landscapes,” he said. “And the distance to these built-up patches appears to be a factor in determining the magnitude of the impact.”
The study was published online July 22 in the journal Landscape Ecology. The other authors are Joshua Newell of the School for Environment and Sustainability and Robert Goodspeed of the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. The study found that the region’s tree cover expanded by 246 square miles, or 1.8%, over the three decades, mainly due to the maturing of existing trees in older residential neighborhoods and on public lands. During the same period, the amount of land covered by buildings and roads grew in the seven-county Southeast Michigan study area by 12%. The newly developed land covered 130 square miles and included an estimated 335,000 new buildings and an estimated 7,000 miles of new roads.
At first glance, these results might seem paradoxical. How can you increase tree cover in a region while simultaneously constructing more roads and thousands of new buildings? But most of the newly developed land came from former farmland, not from forested areas. The expansion of the tree canopy was attributed to the maturing of existing trees, along with new trees planted in residential neighborhoods and on public lands, as well as land-conservation efforts. The vast majority of the new development involved the construction of low-density, single-family homes at the urban fringe of the Detroit metropolitan area—exactly the kind of sprawl that previous studies have shown to be most harmful to the healthy functioning of forested landscapes, according to the U-M researchers.
The new analysis used 1-meter-resolution aerial photographs, satellite images, and machine learning to map and measure land-cover changes. The researchers also computed landscape metrics of forest fragmentation and cohesion and investigated the relationship between single-family housing sprawl and forest landscape functionality.
A second phase of the project, led by Goodspeed, will identify the most important areas for forest conservation and tree planting in Southeast Michigan, using a range of ecological and socioeconomic indicators. Those findings are expected to be submitted for publication later this year. “Few studies have simultaneously examined sprawl at the building level and its relationship to forested landscapes within an urbanizing region,” Goodspeed said. “We expect our findings will prove useful to policymakers and planners seeking to prevent or mitigate habitat fragmentation caused by urban expansion.” The researchers described the net increase in forested area across the region as “a positive finding, given that these trees provide habitat for many species as well as valuable ecosystem services for residents, such as improving air quality and mitigating the urban heat-island effect.” However, their analysis also revealed that the region’s forested lands grew increasingly fragmented due mainly to urban sprawl, which the researchers defined as development composed primarily of low-density (one to four houses per acre) single-family housing. Increased fragmentation resulted in a loss of connectivity between forest patches, limiting the ability of plants and animals to disperse across the landscape by using linked forest patches as stepping stones.
The authors note that local decision makers can turn to a variety of land-use planning techniques, such as cluster subdivisions and smart growth, to protect habitats and minimize fragmentation. “Smaller patches of forest and street trees are often excluded from analyses due to data limitations, overlooking the crucial role these trees play in providing ecological functions and enhancing connectivity,” said co-author Newell. “Our results point to the importance of using high-resolution data in landscape analysis.”

New residential development was most rapid, between 1985 and 2015, in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties. Oakland County, for example, added and estimated 42,000 new buildings during the study period. Seventy-three percent of them were single-family houses, and nearly half of those homes were classified as low density.
The U-M study was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Science Foundation’s Sustainability Research Network program.
Read the full paper here.

Neighborhood Wealth Dramatically Impacts Home Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Scientific American)

By Andrea Thompson in Scientific American
This article was originally published with the title “Gas Houses” in Scientific American 323, 5, 20 (November 2020)
If U.S. home energy consumption were a country, it would rank as the world’s sixth-largest greenhouse gas emitter. To bring housing emissions in line with international goals to limit global warming, planners must sift through variables such as local climate, building age and size, and occupant income.
A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA provides a new nationwide analysis evaluating these factors. The researchers fed detailed building data from 93 million homes (gleaned from a database of U.S. tax assessor records) into computer models that accounted for local fuel sources to estimate home emissions.
One clear result was that wealthier people’s homes in America tended to be larger and produce about 25 percent more emissions than those of low-income people. This relation held when the researchers dug down to compare neighborhoods within very different cities such as Los Angeles and Boston; in L.A., for instance, some affluent neighborhoods had emissions 15 times higher than nearby low-income areas.
Study co-author Benjamin Goldstein, a researcher at the University of Michigan, was surprised by another finding: dense apartment complexes are not essential to meet emissions goals. The data suggest single-family housing on small lots in certain areas, such as some in Los Angeles, could also reach international targets as carbon-free energy sources become more common. “Not everything needs to look like Brooklyn or Manhattan to be low energy,” he says.
Anu Ramaswami, a Princeton University environmental engineer, who was not involved with the study, cautions that its emissions-estimating models may not capture efficiency measures taken by some homeowners. But she says the research could set an example for municipality-level analyses. For example, such studies could help officials determine how to tailor specific local building policies to best reduce emissions, such as by encouraging smaller lot sizes or alternatives to heating oil.
Read the full paper in PNAS.

JOURNAL BRIEF: Vacancy and Mobility Implications of Informal Footpaths in Shrinking Cities

This two-page journal brief shares findings from a study that documents and considers the implications of informal footpaths, also known as desire lines, in the Lower Eastside area of Detroit. Using mixed methods—including remote sensing (using Google Earth), physical audits, network and spatial analysis, and qualitative interviews—the study physically maps informal footpaths, documents their change over time between 2010 and 2016, quantifies their impact in increasing accessibility and mobility, and considers how they are perceived by residents.

This brief is adapted from the following peer-reviewed journal article: Foster, A. & J. P. Newell. (2019). Detroit’s lines of desire: Footpaths and vacant land in the Motor City. Landscape and Urban Planning, 189(2019), 260-273. Access the full article here.

Open Position: Data Scientist/Specialist for Sustainability

Application DEADLINE: February 15, 2019

Projected START DATE: April 1, 2019

School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan

The Urban Sustainability Research Group led by Assoc. Prof. Joshua Newell seeks applications for a Data Scientist/ Specialist, beginning April 2019. The successful applicant will perform data analysis and computer programming in support of current and upcoming research projects. Examples of ongoing and planned projects include: 1) analysis of the environmental and social impacts of urban agriculture across multiple scales; 2) urban meat production-consumption patterns and dynamics; 3) a carbon footprint of the United States building stock; and 4) mapping the spatial and temporal dynamics of supply chains using trade data. The successful candidate will have the opportunity to join a growing, dynamic research lab that interfaces with the academy, industry, and society.

Read More about the qualifications and Instructions here.

Contact Dr. Dimitris Gounaridis ( should you have questions.

Open Positions: Tracking corporate actors across space and time

The Urban Sustainability Research Group is seeking two enthusiastic MS students to help us map the supply chains that connect urban dwellers to ports, factories, mines, forests, farms and other production sites around the globe. The project work involves performing online research to identify and vet potential data sources, and then exploring these data to uncover the corporate actors and locations along supply chains for select commodities. Through participating students will learn new skills, contribute to groundbreaking research on sustainable supply chains and participate in a dynamic research group dedicated to urban sustainability. We are specifically looking for students with:

• Interest in the environmental and social impacts of urban consumption
• Interest in corporate sustainability
• Data management skills
• Experience in computer programming and/or use of geographic information system (GIS) software (preferred but not essential)

We are looking for two students to begin immediately. These positions will be ~20 hours per week at $15-18 per hour.

If you are interested in applying for this position, then please send your CV and a brief cover letter stating why you are interested and well-qualified for this position to Benjamin Goldstein (

Hotspot Analysis and Strategic Siting of Green Infrastructure to Maximize Ecosystem Service Provision

Ecosystem services are the social and ecological benefits that are provided to humans by the natural environment. Where should cities strategically locate green infrastructure (GI) to address the needs of areas with specific ecosystem service provision deficits? Where should GI be located so that it addresses multiple ecosystem service provision deficits at once?
City-wide spatial modeling of ecosystem service needs using the GIS-based ‘Green Infrastructure Spatial Planning’ (GISP) tool can help identify hotspot areas ripe for investment based on different service provision goals, including the goal of providing multiple ecosystem services at once.

Download the journal brief using the link below.

This brief is adapted from the following peer-reviewed journal article: Meerow, S. & J.P. Newell. (2017). “Spatial planning for multifunctional green infrastructure: Growing resilience in Detroit.” Landscape and Urban Planning, 159 (2017) 62–75. Access the full article here.

Josh Newell Featured on Michigan Radio: Re-imagining Infrastructure

Josh Newell Comments on Re-imagining Infrastructure on Michigan Radio.

Cities across the United States and internationally are designing creative new uses for underutilized infrastructure, creating attractive green spaces for citizens to enjoy. However, these transformations also create risks of environmental gentrification through increasing nearby property values and displacing current residents. City officials and communities should always be on guard against environmental gentrification, and Newell encourages planners to involve the communities that will be affected through the process of making urban infrastructural changes.View More

Sara Meerow To Join Arizona State University School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning

Sara Meerow, doctoral candidate in the Urban Sustainability Research Group, has accepted a Tenure Track Assistant Professor position for the Fall of 2017 in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University. Congratulations and we think ASU is a great place for her to continue her work on Green Infrastructure, Urban Resilience, and Climate Adaptation.