The research agenda for the next five years focuses on projects that foster an integrated, holistic, and comprehensive vision for urban sustainability. Towards that end, with colleagues from engineering, architecture, urban planning, and geography, this research group focuses on two primary areas: Urban Infrastructure and Form and Urban Consumption and Commodity Networks.

With the dramatic growth of urban areas and the majority of the world’s population now living in urban settings, cities have become dominant demand drivers in global resource cycles. Globalization processes have intertwined cities with distant places and spaces through system interactions that include the exchange of food, energy, water, materials, capital, and the like. City and ‘hinterland’ have become highly interconnected and interdependent at multiple spatial, temporal, and jurisdictional scales. Cities are increasingly evolving into agglomerated networks of polycentric urban regions, often referred to as megaregions that are spread over large territories with interdependent infrastructure, transportation networks, economies, ecologies, cultures, labor markets, infrastructure, and land use systems. Vast territories of land dedicated to the production, extraction, processing and transportation of materials and resources and their associated networks can no longer be seen as external to urban development, but need to be considered part of the urban “system”.
Thus, cities are complex, adaptive, emergent systems composed of sub-systems—built environment, metabolic flows, governance networks, and social dynamics—that themselves are multi-scalar, networked, and often strongly coupled. Addressing urban sustainability issues in a thoughtful and integrated way, therefore, requires combining disciplinary-bound strengths and perspectives. Differences in epistemology and disciplinary culture can make this synthesis a challenge, but it is necessary to develop a deeper understanding of nature-society interactions; to enable cross-fertilization of novel theories, methods, and approaches; and to provide innovative and transformative responses to societal problems.
Recent Projects
Mapping Community Vulnerability to Climate Change
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.
SRN: Integrated Urban Infrastructure Solutions for Environmentally Sustainable, Healthy and Livable Cities
This sustainability research network (SRN) brings together a network of universities, cities and industry partners to enable urban infrastructure transformation toward environmentally-sustainable, healthy and livable (EHL) cities.
Recent Publications
Power asymmetries in supply chains and implications for environmental governance: a study of the beef industry
Supply chain governance constitutes the rules, structures and institutions that guide supply chains toward various objectives, including environmental sustainability. Previous studies have provided insight into the relationship between governance and sustainability but have overlooked two crucial dimensions: power dynamics and the influence of outside actors. This paper aims to address these two gaps by measuring differential power (i.e. power asymmetries) among actors across the supply chain, including external actors. This paper quantifies power dynamics across the entire chain through a structured survey in which supply chain participants rank their peer’s ability to affect environmental and social outcomes. This paper tests this approach by surveying 200 industry professionals (e.g. feedlot owners, retailers) and external actors (e.g. NGOs) in the US beef sector. Respondents ranked the most powerful actors as follows: feedlot owners; processing plant owners; and regulatory agencies. Results also revealed that trade associations, retailers and cow–calf producers and ranchers perceive a sense of powerlessness. This study reveals multiple power nodes and confirms a shift in the power structure depending on which indicator respondents considered (e.g. environmental impacts vs employee safety). This study concludes that the buyer–producer dichotomy often used to assess supply chain governance fails to capture the complex dynamics among actors within supply chains. This study demonstrates a novel approach to measure perceptions of power in supply chains. This method enables researchers to map networks of power across entire supply chains, including internal and external actors, to advance understanding of supply chain governance dynamics. Previous studies have misidentified who governs environmental outcomes in supply chains, and NGOs have overestimated the power of consumers and retailers to influence producers.
Food production and resource use of urban farms and gardens: a five-country study
There is a lack of data on resources used and food produced at urban farms. This hampers attempts to quantify the environmental impacts of urban agriculture or craft policies for sustainable food production in cities. To address this gap, we used a citizen science approach to collect data from 72 urban agriculture sites, representing three types of spaces (urban farms, collective gardens, individual gardens), in five countries (France, Germany, Poland, United Kingdom, and United States). We answered three key questions about urban agriculture with this unprecedented dataset: (1) What are its land, water, nutrient, and energy demands? (2) How productive is it relative to conventional agriculture and across types of farms? and (3) What are its contributions to local biodiversity? We found that participant farms used dozens of inputs, most of which were organic (e.g., manure for fertilizers). Farms required on average 71.6 L of irrigation water, 5.5 L of compost, and 0.53 m2 of land per kilogram of harvested food. Irrigation was lower in individual gardens and higher in sites using drip irrigation. While extremely variable, yields at well-managed urban farms can exceed those of conventional counterparts. Although farm type did not predict yield, our cluster analysis demonstrated that individually managed leisure gardens had lower yields than other farms and gardens. Farms in our sample contributed significantly to local biodiversity, with an average of 20 different crops per farm not including ornamental plants. Aside from clarifying important trends in resource use at urban farms using a robust and open dataset, this study also raises numerous questions about how crop selection and growing practices influence the environmental impacts of growing food in cities. We conclude with a research agenda to tackle these and other pressing questions on resource use at urban farms.