Coupling of Physical Infrastructure, Green Infrastructure, and Communities

This interdisciplinary research project will examine the connectivity and functional interdependencies among co-located, critical infrastructure systems, such as gas, water and sewer pipes, roads, and the urban canopy, as well as the networks of people and institutions that depend on and manage and maintain the urban infrastructure. The project will center on an aged, leaking natural gas pipeline system that damages the urban forest canopy, creates road repair problems, degrades air quality, contributes to atmospheric warming, and can endanger human safety through explosion risks. The project will provide new insights regarding the robustness, redundancy, and connectivity within and across physical-biophysical-sociopolitical networks. By explicitly mapping out hidden and unrecognized physical and social linkages among critical urban infrastructure systems, the project will provide a foundation for more effective, coordinated urban infrastructure management and maintenance. The investigators will develop a general framework for sustainable urban infrastructure systems that can be applied across a wide range of urban settings across the U.S. and elsewhere. Project findings will be disseminated to a broad range of potential beneficiaries, including officials in municipal public works departments, local utilities, and state policymakers and regulators. The project also will provide education and training opportunities for graduate students, and it will involve a public school teacher as an integral member of the research team in order to improve capabilities to effectively communicate findings and insights to K-12 students and help them better understand the importance of infrastructure management.

The investigators will use methods from plant physiological ecology, geospatial science, and social network theory to measure interactions among co-located infrastructure and social networks and to map their connectivity and functional interactions across the Boston metropolitan area. They will perform field research across a geospatially diverse set of known gas leaks in the greater Boston area and employ geospatial analysis relate leak data to other data, such as measures of tree health and damage. They will conduct field experiments to assess the impacts of gas leaks on saplings, and they will assess the degree to which methane might be vented through trees into the atmosphere. Analyses of the geospatial relationships between gas leaks and human communities will examine relationships among biophysical and demographic data, and the conduct of a pair of extended case studies will provide insights into the formal and informal relationships and interactions over daily, mid and long-term management issues within the network. Through these complementary approaches, the investigators will advance a general theory of urban function that has the power of transforming science to practical application in guiding policy toward effective, efficient, and environmentally beneficial coordination of infrastructure management. This project is supported by the NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) Program.

Lead Investigator: