The Urban Design Lab for Sustainable Development addresses the need for a comprehensive, design-based approach regarding the longer-range future of sustainable urbanism. New York City and its regional context is seen as a core model for problem-solving related to sustainable urban futures everywhere, including Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. While based in the Urbanization Initiative, UDL’s multidisciplinary team structure and comprehensive approach encompass all of the Earth Institute’s cross-cutting themes: Climate and Society; Water; Energy; Poverty; Ecosystems; Global Health; Food, Ecology and Nutrition; Hazards and Risk; and Urbanization
As the Earth Institute’s organizational mechanism to connect Columbia University experts and students to NYC communities, UDL is developing a collaborative program of innovative educational and technical assistance efforts that actively work with community groups seeking to revitalize their neighborhoods and address issues related to quality of life and well being. Over the last two years, UDL has assisted NYC communities in tackling a host of environmental issues and developing practical solutions. Projects have addressed environmental remediation, high-performance and green building design, micro-infrastructure, public health, climate change, and sustainable economic development.
UDL offers a unique approach to helping communities identify their needs and to choose the strategies that best address those needs. This approach is driven by applied design research ─ including conceptualizing and prototyping alternatives ─ that can act as a catalyst for projects that advance sustainable development in NYC and the metropolitan region. While the core focus of UDL is the physical design of cities, i.e., physical structure and physical change, its approach recognizes that a range of expertise is needed to make urban design relevant and sustainable in its unique and dynamic environment. UDL’s collaborators are academics and professionals from various disciplines – urban design and planning, architecture, historic preservation, real estate, public health, environmental science, climatology, engineering, ecology, education, business, economics, social science, humanities, and law. Professors from participating schools, with the help of graduate and senior undergraduate students, make up the teams that execute UDL’s work.