Research project focuses on city growth

How are jobs and the overall economic status of the Salt Lake Valley related to greenhouse gas emissions, water usage or issues of forestation? These are just some of the questions that a ground-breaking research team at the U is attempting to answer.

The project, known as the Urban Trace-gas Emissions Study, has brought together a variety of experts from several fields-including biologists, geologists, meteorologists, chemical and mechanical engineers and urban planners-to create simulation models in hopes of gaining better knowledge of the inner workings of an urban ecosystem.

Ultimately, the project hopes to inform policy makers on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, maintain high air quality standards and improve the quality of life of urban residents in a valley experiencing rapid growth.

“In the long term, through continuing this type of effort, the end product is to inform and educate,” said Joe Klewicki, a project member and mechanical engineering professor at the U.

The research indicates links between the economy, fuel and water consumption, urban sprawl, traffic congestion and air-quality issues, Klewicki said.

“There’s a whole economic overlay on this and we’re trying to recognize how [it works] in order to chip away at the complexity of the problem,” he said.

Philip Emmi, head of the urban simulation-modeling task project, characterized the links in a report released in conjunction with the study.

Emmi said that as the periphery of the Salt Lake Valley expands, the current trend in development policy is geared toward lower density construction. He said this puts a strain on municipal budgets and might result in an adverse effect for Utah’s economy.

“Jobs will grow more slowly. Unemployment, long below national averages, will stand at and then above national averages,” Emmi stated.

Project members said that the data they collect is used to provide some of the information for computer simulation models.

Data collection for the project hopefully will help gauge emissions levels at differing points in the valley, researchers said.

The research data focuses on “identifying the sources of emissions, such as vehicle emissions, industrial emissions, contributions from residential heating and emissions from urban vegetation,” according to the project’s Web site.

The project has had to deal with its fair share of problems, though.

Legal liabilities and zoning regulations have made it difficult to place the data gathering towers in desired locations.

“Thus far we’ve made our observations in the field campaign at compromised levels,” Craig Forster, outreach coordinator for the project and an associate research professor of geology and geophysics at the U said. “Working in a city has a lot of constraints.”

“After talking to the Zoning Commission people, I feel fortunate that I can put a basketball hoop in my backyard,” Klewicki said.

Between 1950 and 1990, urbanized lands in America quintupled while urban populations doubled, according to Emmi. , by 2007 more than half of all humans will reside in urban areas andby 2030, over 60 percent of the world’s population will be urbanized, according to UN statistics.

Members of the project agree that there could be harmful consequences to the existing pattern of growth.

“We hope to come up with a few of the key mechanisms that impact the way a city grows and then determine how we can then implement policy that recognizes these things and mitigates some of their negative aspects,” Klewicki said.

Forster said educating policy makers is an important dimension of the project.

“We are hoping to get [policy makers] to start thinking about the emissions consequences of their policies,” Forster said.

He said the computer simulation models will play a significant role in the education process.

“In some cases, we hope to show that perhaps the consequences that might be expected [by us] are unanticipated by them,” Forster said.

Students interested in helping conduct research for the project can contact Forster at [email protected]

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