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Faculty working in the area of urban design and sustainable cities balance what have come to be known as the three "E"s: environment, economy, and equity. Under this framework, cities are seen as part of the solution to environmental problems. From an urban design point of view, this often entails working out the design and implementation particulars of compact urban form, which brings with it the intrinsic environmental, social and economic benefits of living smaller, driving less, lowering energy costs, strengthening social connection, and fostering networks of economic interdependence.
The strong interest in urban design and sustainable cities grows out of a recognition that malls surrounded by parking lots, disconnected apartment complexes, and vast expanses of low-density detached housing – i.e., sprawl – is often a problematic urban condition from an environmental, social and economic standpoint. Research on urban design and sustainable cities involves both normative proposals for built form as well as explanatory research that quantitatively measures outcomes like congestion, health, and global warming. Other research on urban design and sustainable cities includes understanding of how to: support social and economic diversity through mixed housing type and mixed land uses, limit carbon emissions through clear transportation (bus, rapid transit, light rail), compact development and reducing the size of impervious services, local food production, urban heat island mitigation, green infrastructure, passive solar design, sustainable stormwater practices, and bicycle ridership.
Ehlenz, a certified planner with AICP, focuses research on urban revitalization and community development, with specializations in the role of anchor institutions in urban places and mechanisms for building community wealth.
Georgescu's interests are on human-environment interactions, with research aimed to improve understanding of phenomena related to urbanization-induced landscape change. He is a member of the Urban Climate Research Center.
Gober is the founding co-director of the National Science Foundation's Decision Center for a Desert City and previously served on the National Research Council's Committee on Geographical Sciences.
Kelley researches transportation planning, sustainable design, as well as impact of pricing strategies on low-income and transportation-disadvantaged groups.
Kelli Larson, a professor of geography and sustainability, focuses her work on human-environment interactions and the implications for water governance and urban sustainability.
Meerow combines the disciplines of geography and urban planning as she researches how to make cities more resilient in the face of climate change as well as other social and environmental hazards.
Pijawka's research focuses on sustainable planning and design, disaster management and recovery, environmental justice, and Native American community planning.
Sailor's work focuses on the intersection of climate with the built environment. He currently serves on the American Meteorological Society's Board on the Urban Environment and International Association for Urban Climate.
Webster's current interests are in comparative city building and urban dynamics, urban competitiveness and resilience, and peri-urbanization with a primary geographic focus on East Asia.