ASU sustainability scientists forging a future of resilient infrastructure

Series of highways connecting over a city and large green space. Many cars on the highways.As a changing climate brings about more frequent extreme weather events, experts are increasingly worried about a rarely discussed topic: urban infrastructure systems. Many experts are sounding the alarm that the structural foundations that have long helped cities function properly won’t hold in the future. Among those experts is Mikhail Chester, an associate professor of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. According to Chester, the power, water and transportation systems that have long supported cities have to be reinforced to withstand the extreme weather events that are the new normal. “Extreme events are going to be a chronic problem for our built environment, especially in urban centers,” Chester said. “We need to rethink how we design infrastructure for environmental extremes and how we position our communities to be prepared for these events.” Chester and other ASU researchers — Regents professor Nancy Grimm, in the School of Life Sciences, and Associate Professor Nathan Johnson, in the Polytechnic School — are involved in an extensive, interdisciplinary five-year project to help cities confront the challenge. The project builds on an ongoing five-year, nine-city effort called the Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network (UREx SRN) and will be funded by a $3.5 million grant from the National Science Foundations Growing Convergence Research Program. The endeavor will involve peers from Georgia State University, The New School, Barnard College and the U.S. Forest Service. Chester says the team's goal is to “identify cutting-edge transition strategies” for cities to follow in strengthening their urban infrastructure systems. Atlanta, New York, Phoenix and San Juan, Puerto Rico are the test cities selected for the project.