Tandon Faculty and Researchers Discuss Urban Resiliency with The National Academies

Professor Constantine Kontokosta discusses the Quantified Community initiative that collects data from urban test beds across the New York boroughs.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and Katrina, it was easy to see how prepared or unprepared a community was for a devastating natural disaster. Understanding and measuring a city or state’s resiliency, though, is quite another task — one that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is taking on in an effort to reinforce local communities. The renowned institution, which addresses national challenges within science, engineering and medicine and advises on policy-making, aims to identify effective methods for measuring a community’s resilience to extreme events, as well as strategies to help cities like New York build and maintain resilience.

The organization’s Committee on Measuring Community Resilience recently convened at NYU Tandon in August to exchange ideas and findings from professors, researchers, and community leaders from various New York institutions, who discussed how their projects can help measure and improve resiliency within New York and beyond through data analysis and community collaboration.

Presenters included David Abramson, Clinical Associate Professor at NYU’s College of Global Public Health and founding director of the Program on Population Impact, Recovery and Resilience (PiR2); Steven Koonin, Director of the Center for Urban Science & Progress (CUSP) and Professor of Civil and Urban Engineering at NYU Tandon; Constantine E. Kontokosta, Director of the Urban Intelligence Lab, Assistant Professor of Urban Informatics at CUSP and Assistant Professor of Civil and Urban Engineering at NYU Tandon; William Raisch, Director of NYU’s International Center for Enterprise Preparedness (InterCEP); Jeffrey Schlegelmilch, Deputy Director for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University; and Peggy Shepard, Executive Director of WE ACT, an environmental advocacy organization.

All of the presentations revolved around the importance of data collection to measuring resiliency, and how resiliency arises from both a strong community and a robust infrastructure, where academia, governments, and individuals work together on sharing data to implement effective policy.

  • Abramson shared his research into community resilience, in which he and his team from PiR2 analyzed data on community responses to disasters like Katrina, Sandy, the Joplin, Missouri tornado, and even the Zika outbreak. Abramson’s studies demonstrated that communities with strong social ties and a healthy infrastructure were able to recover quickly and efficiently to a disaster.
  • Kontokosta addressed the need for data collection and analysis within urban planning and policy decisions about the future of cities. The NYU Tandon professor discussed his research projects, such as the Quantified Community (QC) initiative, which uses urban test beds in diverse NYC locations like Hudson Yards, Lower Manhattan, Red Hook, and Brownsville to collect and measure data on the local environment and residential behavior in order to address the needs of the community.
  • Education’s impact upon resiliency arose from Koonin’s presentation on CUSP’s Urban Informatics degree programs. For capstone projects, students partner with city agencies and help move the city forward with greater data integration. From studies like Sounds of New York City (SONYC), which monitors urban noise, or projects that track the city’s “pulse,” CUSP’s research aims to build and validate predictive models on people’s responses to changes or events – models which could be influential to shoring up the city’s disaster resiliency.
  • Raisch rounded out the final NYU presentation, where he discussed InterCEP’s two major projects — the Metropolitan Resilience Network and the Global Resilience Network — that engage collaboration between public and private sectors towards building resiliency and reducing risk on a regional and international scale. “What drives InterCEP’s focus is that it’s not only about what to do, but also why to do it, and when you unite those two things, progress can actually happen,” Raisch said. Emphasizing the importance of collaboration, Raisch added: “We’re the first to say that ‘No one alone is the font of all wisdom.’ We’re always trying to engage networks around resilience.”

Camila Ryder
Graduate School of Arts and Science
Master of Arts in English Literature, Class of 2018