In the 14 years since its inception, the Center for Sustainable Communities at Temple University Ambler has become a leader in researching and planning how to make communities safer, greener and healthier, partnering with state, federal and local organizations to implement plans to leave the region a better place than the Center found it.
In 2014 alone, the Center has received grants totaling more than $2.65 million to research and help implement a variety of beneficial projects, from overseeing dozens of restoration projects in the suburban portions of five watersheds in the Philadelphia region to exploring “traffic demand management” policies along the Route 422 corridor.
“The Center and our researchers, faculty and students are extremely active, a clear indication that our funders are confident that we can do the job,” said Dr. Jeffrey Featherstone, Director of the Center for Sustainable Communities and Professor of Community and Regional Planning at Temple. “They know they are going to get a good product with an eye toward implementation. We have branched out from working almost exclusively on watershed and stormwater management to sustainable transportation, urban infrastructure and social equity issues.”
Major grants in the past year have included:
A $1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a project that focuses on the environmental, economic and social impacts of implementing green infrastructure to deal with stormwater-runoff issues in urban environments. Temple’s Main Campus will become a living laboratory for the study and evaluation of stormwater management controls and practices. Dr. Featherstone is the principal investigator for the multidisciplinary grant, with Laura Toran, Weeks Chair in Environmental Geology; Mark Weir, Assistant Professor of Public Health; and Lynn Mandarano, Associate Professor of Community and Regional Planning, serving as co-principal investigators.
A $1.235 million grant from the William Penn Foundation to provide oversight, expertise and support for what could potentially be dozens of restoration projects in the suburban portions of five watersheds in the Philadelphia region. The funding will allow the Center to conduct modeling, monitoring, assessment and project oversight for projects undertaken by area municipalities and watershed organizations “with the ultimate goal being to protect and improve the water quality and ecological conditions of the streams within these watersheds,” said Dr. Featherstone. Dr. Robert Ryan from Temple’s Engineering department will lead the modeling work, while Dr. Toran will head up the Center’s monitoring activities. Center Research Fellow Rick Fromuth will direct the project oversight function and Assistant Director Dr. Mahbubur Meenar will oversee GIS operations.
A $200,000 grant to develop recommendations for effectively implementing “Transportation Demand Management” policies along the Route 422 corridor in Montgomery, Berks and Chester counties. The project is designed to help PennDOT and regional and local governments respond to traffic congestion without having to expand existing roadway infrastructure. The grant funding was made available through the Federal Highway Administration and was awarded to the Center by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Dr. Bradley Flamm, a Research Fellow with the Center for Sustainable Communities, is the principal investigator for the PennDOT study. The Center for Sustainable Communities is the lead project participant in the study, partnering with the Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association (GVFTMA) and CFA, Inc., a private transportation and planning consulting firm — CFA principal Michael Carroll has taught courses in Temple’s Community and Regional Planning program. Student research assistants from the undergraduate Community Development and graduate Community and Regional Planning programs are also supporting the project.
A $60,000 grant from the EPA to develop Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) plans for three locations in the Delaware Direct and Tookany/Tacony-Frankford watersheds. The Center will use a “public participatory planning and design process,” to implement the projects with support from three community partners, according to principal investigator Dr. Mahbubur Meenar, Assistant Director of GIS Operations and Research for the Center for Sustainable Communities and an adjunct faculty member in Temple’s Department of Community and Regional Planning. The goal of the project is to develop places that, while providing green stormwater management, are locations that individuals and families can put to good recreational use. The Center was awarded the funds through the EPA’s Urban Waters Small Grant program. Community partners include the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC), the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership (TTF), and the Asociacion Puertorriquenos En Marcha (APM).
A $25,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation to develop “Green Neighborhood Tool Kits” and train community-based organizations serving Philadelphia low-income neighborhoods to educate and empower residents to take actions that improve sustainability, according to Dr. Lynn Mandarano. The Center is partnering with the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations and the New Kensington Community Development Corporation for the project. Temple students will customize the ‘Green Guides’ used effectively by the New Kensington Community Development Corporation initiative for new community partners. The Philadelphia Water Department is providing rain barrels; PECO will provide CFL bulbs; and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society will provide street trees to support the effort.
The Center for Sustainable Communities, Featherstone said, “has the skilled professors and researchers and a dedicated group of student research assistants each year to research each project and provide recommendations and/or direct expertise to bring these projects to fruition.”
“We combine those things with technical knowledge and a large network of community partners. We are out helping communities do serious work from preventing floods and stormwater management to transportation planning and reducing carbon emissions,” he said. “Through modeling and monitoring, we are learning what is working in the field and what isn’t with every project. What makes the most sense; what options are most cost effective and produce the best outcomes.”
Dr. Featherstone said the Center’s research directly reflects one of the “six commitments” laid out by Temple President Neil D. Theobald in his inaugural address.
“All of the research that we undertake is designed to improve lives. Doing this type of research is the classic role for a university to take in conjunction with our community partners,” he said. “In doing so, we also provide a diverse group of students from a wide variety of disciplines at Temple — from Community and Regional Planning to the College of Public Health — the opportunity to engage in real world projects with actual clients. They are learning skills today that will directly benefit them in their chosen professions.”
2015 is shaping up to be just as busy for the Center as 2014 with the potential for research supported by nearly $1.4 million in additional grant funding, according to Dr. Featherstone.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently in the process of extending a $139,500 grant to study the Ambler area watersheds. We’re conducting floodwater evaluations in preparation for the development of new floodplain maps,” he said. “(Dr. Mahbubur) Meenar has also submitted a $200,000 grant proposal to the EPA for review and approval to study brownfields north of New Kensington. Lynn (Mandarano) worked with the College of Public Health on a $750,000 grant proposal with the EPA to evaluate air quality in several neighborhoods in Philadelphia — the proposal is currently being reviewed.”
Public Health, Featherstone said, is developing the technology to measure air quality for the study.
“We would work with community groups within Philadelphia. People would wear the sensors to collect data,” he said. “Community engagement is an essential part of almost every study we do. Our research directly impacts the communities in which people live — community members, of course, have a huge stake in the results of our work.”
The Center for Sustainable Communities develops and promotes new approaches to protect and preserve quality of life through sustainable development. The Center acts as a resource for government agencies, community organizations and developers, providing objective information and services to improve decision-making relative to land use and water resources planning and development. Visit www.temple.edu/ambler/csc for more information about the Center for Sustainable Communities.