New Urban Collaboratory tackles emerging city challenges


More residents without cars could get to jobs and training programs through a more strategic public transit system — one that supports the newest mobility technologies and the design of citywide mobility hubs.

A polluted creek that runs through town might flood less often and improve in water quality, thanks to a network of sensors that measure pollution and soil moisture — and inform an automated drain system.

Drinking water challenges brought on by aging infrastructure and declining population could be efficiently overcome with advanced risk-assessment tools.

These are three of six projects that will begin in Benton Harbor, Michigan, this fall as part of a $2 million University of Michigan-funded initiative called Urban Collaboratory.

The collaboratory will draw together faculty members from across campus in smart city technologies and urban design to collaborate with city leaders and residents to identify and address emerging challenges in 21st-century urban centers.

The focused projects beginning in Benton Harbor will continue through 2018. The initiative is also working in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.

“Central to the success of the initiative is the use of a unique client-based model. We will work closely with city stakeholders focusing research and design activities on specific needs and targeted outcomes,” said Jerome Lynch, professor and chair of civil and environmental engineering, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and co-leader of the initiative.

“Rather than pushing research agendas on client cities, this model embraces collaboration as a means of better understanding the challenges and needs that the community identifies.”

The Urban Collaboratory will leverage existing U-M groups such as Poverty Solutions and the Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning to develop a coordinated toolbox of options with client cities.

“Many cities lack the resources and personnel to undertake this type of research and implementation internally,” said Geoffrey Thün, associate professor of architecture and associate dean for research at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and co-leader of the initiative.

“Partnerships with the Urban Collaboratory will unlock the power of interdisciplinary research and implementation through design integration with our city partners.”

The term “smart city” typically refers to the integration of information, communication technology and sensor — or Internet of Things — technologies in a comprehensive fashion to observe, manage and control urban processes with the goal of improving quality of life.

“Today’s cities are facing an unprecedented confluence of challenges from a variety of sectors — economic, transportation and health, for example,” Lynch said. “The path forward will be unique in different places, and it’s not always clear. A key benefit of smart technology is that it enables transparency and empowerment by giving cities and their residents ready, or even real-time, access to the information that will help them determine appropriate actions.”

The collaboratory has funded six projects in Benton Harbor:

• Prototype Design for New-Mobility Hubs: This project will examine potential locations and design for new formats of infrastructure that increase levels of access to food, health and learning while providing a physical interface with proposed new-mobility solutions.

This work involves Geoffrey Thün and Kathy Velikov, assistant professor of architecture.

• Integrating Health and Asset Management Technologies to Improve Water Service Delivery in Benton Harbor: This project will work with the city water utility to identify appropriate risk assessment techniques to solve problems in drinking water quality brought on by declining population and aging pipes.

Faculty involved are Glen Daigger, professor of practice in civil and environmental engineering; Nancy Love, the Borchardt and Glysson Collegiate Professor and professor of civil and environmental engineering; Seth Guikema, associate professor of industrial and operations engineering; and Joseph N. Eisenberg, the John G. Searle Professor of Public Health and chair of the Department of Epidemiology.

• Tracking, Simulating, and Optimizing Mobility Services in Benton Harbor: This project will examine the city’s public transit system (Dial-a-Ride) with an eye on solving the infamous “first- and last-mile” problem of public transportation. The effort explores an automated reconfiguration solution of the public transportation system to react to user demand based on data and models.

The work will be led at U-M by Pascal Van Hentenryck, the Seth Bonder Collegiate Professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering.

• Modulation of Flashiness and Sediment Loading in Ox Creek Through Real-Time Control of Agricultural Run-off: This project will look to improve water quality in Ox Creek, which runs through the city. It adopts sensing in the Ox Creek watershed to monitor water quality, flow conditions and to control drains in an effort to improve creek quality and performance.

U-M faculty involved are Branko Kerkez, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Avery H. Demond, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

• Deployment of an Urban Sensor Network to Monitor Benton Harbor Activity: This project looks at deploying urban sensor networks based on the U-M Urbano urban sensing platform in certain sections of the city to monitor walkability, air quality and other quality of life parameters.

It is led at U-M by Jerome Lynch.

• Transit and Employment Accessibility Modeling for Benton Harbor, Michigan Survey: This project will engage Benton Harbor residents to examine how citizens might change transportation habits with an improved public transit system. Specific emphasis will be placed on resident needs with respect to employment opportunities and job retention.

This work will be led at U-M by Tierra Bills, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.


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