The NewCities Foundation Gets a New Fellow

NewCities Foundation Mariela Alfonzo

When the NewCities Foundation — a global nonprofit dedicated to making cities more inclusive, connected, healthy, and vibrant — sought to recruit new associate fellows to help to bridge the gaps between theory and practice and between academic research and practical, on-the-ground solutions, NYU Tandon’s Mariela Alfonzo was a natural choice.

A Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Technology, Culture, and Society, Alfonzo has long been engaged in the field of placemaking, whose practitioners seek to design and manage local-level public spaces that promote health and wellbeing.

Alfonzo, the creator of State of Place, a predictive analytics software that helps placemakers mount an economic case for investing in better places, first became aware of the importance of the field while growing up in Miami. Her neighborhood had all the negative aspects of living in an urban area, such as heavy traffic, yet none of the advantages, such as easy access to cultural events or walkability. Keenly aware of how her environs had impacted her quality of life, she eventually studied urban planning, earning a doctoral degree with a focus on urban design and behavior.

The research that ultimately led to the development of State of Place initially revolved around quantifying walkability and how the built environment affects a person’s decision to walk. She and her fellow researchers first began in 2003 by compiling the Irvine Minnesota Inventory, a list of more than 160 features that impact walkability, and in the process she became, as she has joked a “built environment data geek.” Walking, she has explained, is intimately connected to how we perceive a place, learn about it, and get attached to it.

Identifying her as a valuable partner in its efforts to stimulate global conversation on pressing urban challenges, NewCities announced Alfonzo’s fellowship in May.

That honor was just the latest in what has been an eventful period for Alfonzo. State of Place was recently named one of the top companies in the country by the Engaging Local Governments Leadership (ELGL) group, and in late May it was accepted to the highly competitive MassChallenge incubator program, which drew applicants from around the globe.  Earlier that month, Alfonzo had been a panelist at the 2017 Smart Cities NYC conference, and she will soon be headed to Mexico, to speak at the Smart Cities Expo Latin America, which is expected to draw more than 10,000 attendees.

“It is always a proud moment when a faculty member is chosen as a fellow by an innovative organization like the NewCities Foundation,” Jonathan Soffer, Chair of Tandon's Department of Technology, Culture and Society, said. “I congratulate her on receiving this recognition, as well as her many other well-deserved honors.”