Livable Cities of the Future Honors George Bugliarello's Legacy

Late last month, NYU-Poly hosted Livable Cities of the Future, a symposium honoring the legacy of George Bugliarello, who served as President of the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), then Polytechnic University, from 1973 to 1994, and Institute Professor and former chancellor from 1994 - 2003. The symposium brought together an interdisciplinary group of engineers, educators and leaders in a discussion about innovative urban planning and sustainable urban environments (SUE).

Bugliarello was a pioneer in seeing the city as a seamless melding of biology, society and machines (Biosoma). As President of Polytechnic, he was also responsible for the creation of Metrotech Center.  Bugliarello decided that, in order for Polytech to grow, it had to change the poor physical and economic character of the neighborhood, and from this came the idea for a technology park. MetroTech would be the beginning of the Brooklyn renaissance, reshaping downtown. As Bugliarello said, “Polytechnic was going to be the academic institution that would support the technology of the city,” a true merger of public and private sectors.

The symposium’s goal was to not only cultivate SUE ideas, but also to facilitate the evolution of New York City into an active laboratory for urban innovation, utilizing the experiences of private and public servicemen, elected officials, and others.

As Professor Mohammad Karamouz, NYU-Poly’s Director of Environmental Engineering/Science Programs and Co-chair of the Symposium, said, the symposium was about “truly honoring George, [as well as the] City’s commitment to participate and work with NYU-Poly, our commitment to be a leader in urban studies in NYC, highlighting Civil and Urban Engineering at NYU-Poly, fund raising, and getting our students and faculty excited.”  Despite preparation for Hurricane Sandy, “the symposium was well attended and received with excellent speakers. George was honored with grace and we displayed NYU-Poly’s commitment to recognize the pioneer works of former faculty/administrators.”

The keynote speaker at this event was the Honorable Robert K. Steel, New York City's Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. After thanking President Jerry Hutlin and NYU-Poly for its contributions to the city, he talked about New York City’s recovery after both the 9-11 attacks and the recent recession. Steel attributes this to the Mayor's Five Borough Economic Activity Plan, which he summed up in four themes. First is the quality of life; this includes public safety, school, the arts, parks, “all the ingredients of what makes people want to be here.”  Second was a pro-business environment, finding a balance in regulations, and making it easier for a business to run in the city by decreasing the red tape.  Next, he emphasized investing in the future with infrastructure projects, stadiums, bridges, and other major utilities.  His fourth point stressed innovation and economic transformation.

Also speaking at the conference, John Ma of the Port Authority approached the pro-business angle from the virtues of launching public projects with the aid of private investors, to how SUEs help businesses. Andrew W. Herrmann of the American Society of Civil Engineers highlighted a need to further invest in the future with infrastructure, as the utilities of most cities are not designed to handle the demands being put on them.  Craig Ivey, the President of ConEd, and Daniel Loucks, professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering from Cornell University, looked at water and electricity. Both emphasized green initiatives like Smart Grids and green roofs.  They, too, emphasized that the infrastructure of New York needed to be updated and improved upon.
“Many of our challenges in the City are about rebuilding and the operation of infrastructure,” Dr. Karamouz commented. 

The morning drew to a close with one of the high points of the day, when the former Mayor of Toronto David Miller discussed the initiatives developed under his watch– such as lightweight rail cars, smart grids, and a number of green initiatives – possibly showing the future of New York as seen by the day’s speakers.

At the first afternoon session in an almost full auditorium, NYS Commissioner of Transportation, Joan McDonald; Professor Upmanu Lall from Columbia University; Chris Hawkins on behalf of Carter Strickland, DEP Commissioner; and Ruthie Lyle from IBM discussed the broad issues of sustainability, information technology and the environment.  They presented many challenges including mobility and infrastructure resiliency; Vision of PlaNYC 2030 for SUE; Technology for Smart Cities.

In the final plenary session entitled “Challenges – The Way Forward,” Steve Koonin, director of NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), presented research and educational objectives of CUSP as a clear path for NYU, CUSP, and NYU-Poly to get engaged with many things in sponsoring development of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle Strategic Plan. Gerard Mooney of IBM discussed The Stress Nexus—cities in the context of the growth of population and of a new middle classes; economic and political instability, migration, and climate change as the leading constraints on basic resources. Professor Thomas O’Rourke of Cornell University presented Institutional Interdependencies, emphasizing on Water Supply, Electric Power, Telecom, Transportation, Gas/Liquid Fuels, and Waste Disposal. Finally, Professor Theodore (Ted) Rappaport, Director of NYU WIRELESS, gave an overview of wireless technology and the way forward in the telecom evolution.

Dr Karamouz noted, “The comments/presentations were most informative and the Q&A session went exceptionally well, positioning us to go forward with future symposia.” It will also not be the last day like this.  “There will be an annual or bi-annual GB symposium,” he added. Future symposiums would include “national figures in policy and decision making, economics, as well as experts in non-engineering and social issues.”

The symposium has already had an impact. “All of the programs discussed will have increased importance in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. There will be more resources for these programs to develop faster,” Karamouz notes.  Everyone came to this symposium to “interact and share some of the challenges that became immediately obvious in the aftermath of Sandy. We in the Civil and Urban Engineering department are determined to take a lead in promoting inter-institutional/agencies collaborations for a better NYC.”