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Optimizing Urban Green Space

Green infrastructure has been a part of public consciousness for a number of years. Studies have shown urban green spaces can signifcantly contribute to stormwater management and flood prevention, while improving the health of city dwellers and the local environment. However, because green infrastructure is a fairly new consideration for urban development, there is no existing method for strategic placements to maximize their use.

Dr. Anahita Khojandi and her partners, Drs. Xueping Li and Olufemi Omitaomu, plan to remedy this. Khojandi’s Joint Directed Research Development (JDRD) project is focused on creating a multi-method framework to aid mid-size cities in considering the possible impacts of climate change extremes on infrastructure.

“So if Knoxville wanted to build a park, where’s the best place to put it, not only for today but where it will be the most beneficial to future generations? It’s a very hard problem to solve,” said Khojandi.

Khojandi’s JDRD team is currently working on formulating a method for deciding where and how to incorporate green infrastructure into urban development in the most effective way possible. Green infrastructure is often defined as a network designed to solve urban and climate challenges via building with nature and can include parks, urban forests and green roofs to name a few.

Parks and urban forests aid in controlling rainfall runoff by absorbing more water directly into the ground. Green roofs have the potential to conserve a building’s energy, and when partnered with solar panels, they can simultaneously improve the efficiency of the panels to generate additional energy. While each of these components has notable benefits, mid-size cities have struggled historically with deciding where to locate them.

“What we’ve found is these cities and counties don’t have principal approaches to identify where these things should go,” said Dr. Omitaomu  from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). “They see open land that is getting flooded and decide to put some green infrastructure there, but they don’t look at the implication of that decision. What does it mean five to ten years down the road for the community?”

Working in conjunction with ORNL’s recently formed Urban Dynamics Institute, Khojandi, Li and Omitaomu have presented some of their work to Knoxville city planners, which will be used to inform local urban development. They also hope the results of their research can be used to inform policies regarding urban development, encouraging better, more proactive planning.

Khojandi’s JDRD project partially supports three graduate students who also receive mentorship from Li and Omitaomu. Additionally, Khojandi’s team has begun a collaboration with Dr. Jon Hathaway of the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Tennessee. This new collaboration has already resulted in a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF).