Current Projects
This project will develop an integrative climate change vulnerability index and corresponding hotspot map that has sufficient spatial resolution to enable state and local municipalities to identify at-risk communities and to foster resilience to climate change. This index will combine three pillars—1) flooding vulnerability; 2) heat vulnerability; and 3) knowledge vulnerability (i.e. climate change denialism). Initial modeling will be done for the State of Michigan and shared with environmental justice stakeholders and community leaders for feedback. This state-level prototype will then serve as the foundation for a proposal to relevant federal agencies to create a similar index for the entire U.S.
Companies and cities are actively attempting to fill the greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation gap left by weak national policy, but how effective are their respective efforts in reducing GHG emissions? This study is the first to disaggregate corporate GHG reporting from CDP down to the facility level to analyze the respective roles of corporate-level initiatives and city policies in driving corporate decarbonization in the U.S. We find that while corporate efforts such as building energy efficiency initiatives are associated with GHG reductions, the primary driver of corporate facility decarbonization is city climate action plan adoption. We also find that collectively, the emissions increases amongst these corporations far surpass the reductions, meaning that expanded city climate action may be vital to turn overall U.S. corporate emissions downward.
The long-term objective of this project is to use state-of-art spatial data science and artificial intelligence (AI) to assess these risks and to create a climate change vulnerability index for the United States (U.S.). This index will combine three pillars—1) flooding vulnerability; 2) heat vulnerability; and 3) climate change opinion (belief vs skepticism)—to produce an integrated vulnerability map that has sufficient spatial resolution to enable state and local municipalities to identify vulnerable communities and to foster resilience to climate change.
This multi-country study assesses the environmental, social, and health impacts associated with urban agriculture. The project uses a MCDA spatial planning approach to strategically scale-up urban agriculture so that benefits are maximized.
This project is modeling the environmental impacts associated with meat (beef, chicken, and pork) consumption at the urban scale, including analysis of this consumption by demographic group and region.
Completed Projects
In this project, we detect urban sprawl in Southeast Michigan over a 30-year period (1985-2015). Our objectives are to quantify sprawl by specific building types and density and to assess the impact it has on forests and agricultural land. We work with remote sensing data, at the building level and we use machine learning to map and quantify changes. Information on specific types of buildings as well as on density allows for associations with specific policies, choices and preferences.
With more than half of the world’s population living in urban areas, the efficient provision of food, energy, and water (FEW) has become a pressing challenge for urban sustainability. This challenge comes from not only the increasing demand for FEW resources, but also the complex interdependence of the FEW systems. In this project, we aim to develop an integrated systems modeling framework understanding urban FEW nexus to promote the efficient utilization of FEW resources through a collaboration with investigators from School of Environment at Beijing Normal University. Through case studies in Detroit and Beijing, we will demonstrate the integrated systems modeling framework by (1) characterizing the urban FEW flow networks, (2) examining the structure of the integrated network of FEW flow networks, and (3) developing and evaluating policy and technology scenarios with stakeholder inputs to identify co-benefit opportunities without unintended consequences.
This sustainability research network (SRN) brings together a network of universities, cities and industry partners who, jointly, are co-developing 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 support this transformation. Theme 1 of the SRN develops the science of integrated measurement of environmental sustainability, health and livability (EHL), Theme 2 of the SRN develops new principles for designing integrated social-infrastructural solutions. And, Theme 3 operationalizes 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.
The Russian-Chinese-Japanese wood commodity chain presents us with a rich tableau for the study of how the processes of economic globalization and environmental governance reweave production-consumption dynamics over time and space. This project provided support to conduct fieldwork in Japan to help fulfill two research objectives: 1) To provide a vivid empirical case study of the interconnected, globalized dynamics of resource production and consumption by mapping the linkages between consumers in Japan, wood manufacturers in China, and timber producers in Eastern Russia; and 2) to test theories of “buyer-driven” market-based environment governance through the study of these product flows.
This research project examined the expert practices and social perspectives that define stormwater and shape stakeholder preferences for how it should be managed. By characterizing the perceptions of water managers and stormwater experts toward stormwater, this research aids water planners and municipalities in addressing multiple concerns prior to setting new stormwater policies and highlight problems of definition that may become obstacles for regulation and management.
The workshop advanced our thinking about Food-Energy-Water (FEW) systems using an urban metabolism framework that will lead to an articulated set of research needs to enhance the sustainability and resilience of cities.

G. Daigger et al., “Scaling-up Agriculture in City-Regions to Mitigate FEW System Impacts” (Ann Arbor, MI, 2015).

A fundamental challenge to urban sustainability is how best to incorporate and balance multiple environmental, social, and economic considerations into planning processes. Land use decisions and transformations are often narrowly driven by a one particular interest or benefit. Through the use of Google Earth, this project provided an unprecedented level of spatial detail on urban forests and how they change over time. It helps to develop the science necessary for effective spatial planning by developing an approach to urban forest green infrastructure expansion that is truly inclusive and interdisciplinary.
This project provided an integrated tool to evaluate water scarcity risks for industries with global supply chains. An interactive web-based visualization tool is developed to broadly disseminate the research results to raise awareness of water scarcity risk for the global trade network. The results help businesses develop strategies to mitigate water scarcity risk and contribute to global water conservation.
This multi-institutional, 3-year NASA-funded project sought to understand how human-driven disturbances related to use of forest resources, combined with natural disturbances, have created the landscapes of the Eastern Russian and Northeast China regions over the past 35 years and how they might change in the future. The project synthesized research previously funded by NASA LCLUC and other related programs. The evolution of the institutional frameworks for the forest sectors in both countries provided an opportunity to evaluate, through multiple scenarios that are informed by modeling, remotely sensed data and available socio-economic statistics, the interactions between changing social and economic structures, climate change, and the state of the forests.
Funding for this project is provided by the Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan ($25, 612). Newell also received a Weiser Center Faculty Grant of $3,000 for On the Trail of the Global Russian Pine Tree.
This project sought to understand the broad, complex and potentially unanticipated impacts on humans and the environment that could emerge from the deployment of emerging innovative technologies currently being designed to address the compelling water, wastewater, stormwater, and related sustainability problems of today. We consider impacts of these emerging technologies across a range of spatial scales and planning jurisdictions, using complex system scenario modeling, focus groups, surveys, and interviews. The research team is using the Mcubed funds to support a sustainable water infrastructure and planning PhD cohort, composed of students from the College of Engineering, the School of Natural Resources, and Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and mentored by the three Mcubed faculty investigators.
The term infrastructure ecology was coined by Xu as a metaphor to describe the complex interdependence between infrastructure, environmental, economic and social components in urban areas. This research investigated how interactions between infrastructure ecology components lead to the emergence of systems level phenomena relevant to urban sustainability at multiple spatial scales.
This project examined how vacant land parcels in urban settings may be repurposed to improve mobility, reduce storm water overflow events, and enhance local air quality.
This project led to the publication of a comprehensive review on urban metabolism theory and its interdisciplinary potential.
Alleys are miminal, neglected spaces within the urban fabric, yet offer great potential if reimagined and transformed. With an interdisciplinary research collaborative at USC, Newell completed a study of the distribution, physical features, and residential perceptions of the back alleys (930 linear miles) within the city of Los Angeles. This broadens conceptions of urban sustainability by demonstrating how revitalized alleys could simultaneously provide multiple ecological, economic, and social benefits. This research has been published in the journals, Environment and Planning A and Cities.
This project compares carbon dioxide emissions from the production of freesheet coated paper in the Chinese paper industry with the same paper produced by NewPage Corporation, the largest North American manufacturer of coated paper products. By analyzing the supply chains for the Chinese and NewPage manufacturing facilities, the report highlights differences in the carbon burden based on two key components of the lifecycle– carbon dioxide emissions from transportation and energy in pulp and paper production. The study also reviews emerging science on carbon pooling given varying forest types and harvesting practices, and offers methodological building blocks for how fiber acquisition might be modeled for the comparison.
Renewable energy development involves not only the energy system but also the economy, the environment, policy, and the society. Clean vehicle development in China, for example, has tremendous impacts on energy supply and security, economic output, employment, air emissions, and so on, all due to increasingly large demand. To design effective policy and market mechanisms for clean vehicle development, a holistic and integrated perspective is needed. In this project we collaborated with Shanghai Jiao Tong University to develop an integrated energy-economy-environment (3E) model to simulate and evaluate impacts of renewable energy policies on the economy and the environment. We used the emerging clean vehicle system in China as a case study to apply this model and to provide policy suggestions for clean vehicle development and deployment in China. We expect the integrative modeling framework to be generally applicable for studying other emerging renewable energy technologies in the U.S. and other countries.
The funding for this project was provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation, University Transportation Center. Results of this research were published in the Journal of Sustainable Transportation.
In another interdisciplinary effort while in graduate school, Newell collaborated with NSF IGERT biology students at Arizona State University to quantify the water footprints of 121 US cities by integrating ecosystem valuation and ecological footprint approaches. Determinants of the variation in urban per-capita water demand included availability of local water, cost to the consumer (calculated as municipal revenue per-capita), population size of the service area, and conservation measures enacted by a municipality. This research was published in Ecological Economics. Funding was provided by the NSF.
Urban Growth Boundaries (UGBs) are a tool to curb sprawl by centralizing growth. While in graduate school, Newell collaborated with an interdisciplinary research team to assess the effectiveness of the UGBs established in the Puget Sound. Newell and colleagues used orthophotos to quantify changes in land cover and land use in the Seattle region from 1974 to 1998. Using the example of how building codes designed to preserve ‘rural character’ in nearby farmland exacerbated low-density residential sprawl and fragmented wildlife habitat, the article demonstrates that well-intended conservation policies enacted at a local scale can be detrimental at broader scales. This research, published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, has been widely cited because of its implications for urban areas considering growth management strategies. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The Russian Far East is a region where processes of globalization have blurred boundary demarcations by creating constellations of resource peripheries for segments of the global economy. This shines through in The Russian Far East: A Reference Guide for Conservation and Development (2004), a book Newell co-wrote and edited while in graduate school. Ninety specialists from disciplines ranging from economics to biogeography to anthropology contributed to this general-audience reference text giving voice to the situated knowledge(s) of this fascinating, understudied region. Other prevalent themes include: uneven development (e.g. core-periphery theory, resource curse); corruption and resource ‘mafias’; environmental governance by non-state actors (e.g. NGOs, transnational corporations); the effectiveness of bilateral and multilateral international treaties, conventions, and agreements; critiques of foreign direct investment and development assistance; and prospects for community-based development and social movements. More recently Newell’s attention has shifted to Chinese-Russian interactions, such as gauging the threat of Chinese control over timber resources in the Russian border regions with respect to territorial cohesion and regional welfare. This research was published as a book chapter in Russian Business Power: The Role of Russian Business in Foreign and Security Policy (2006).