News Archive

posted 05/04/05

Contact: Jill Stoddard
212-854-6465 or js2372@columbia.edu

Earth Institute Receives $2.4 Million Grant to Study Urban Land Use and Transportation in Developing Countries
New Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD) plans first project in Ruiru, Kenya

Children in Ruiru, a satellite town of Nairobi and CSUD's first project site, play near standing water likely contaminated with sewage. At night, untreated sewage is dumped into open fields, contaminating well water.“We have an incredible opportunity to work with cities in developing countries that have not yet set themselves into inefficient, inequitable and unsustainable patterns of urban growth," says CSUD's director Elliott Sclar. Photo credit: Julie Touber

The Earth Institute at Columbia University has been awarded a five-year $2.4 million grant by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations of Gothenburg Sweden to establish a new Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD).

CSUD is one of three interdisciplinary global “centers of excellence” established by the Volvo Foundations as part of their “Future Urban Transport” project.

The Earth Institute center, under the direction of Elliott Sclar, Professor of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, will focus on the utilization of land use and transportation planning to create physically and socially sustainable cities in developing countries. visit website

CSUD’s initial project will establish ongoing research and educational exchanges around these issues in developing countries with the goal of aiding local officials in designing policies and plans for sustainable urban growth.

CSUD will begin its work in Nairobi, Kenya — a logical starting point since today about 33 percent of Africans live in urban areas with this number likely increasing to 52 percent by 2025. Nairobi itself has a population of 2.3 million people, with about 60 percent living in informal or illegal settlements or slums on five percent of Nairobi’s land area. People living in these slums face a severe lack of urban services, housing shortages, land tenure insecurity, high transportation costs and pollution. read more about this project

A CSUD team traveled to Nairobi in early April to meet with potential partners and stakeholders for its first project which will get underway later this year.

The Columbia University team, along with Kenyan stakeholders and potential partners, identified Ruiru, a satellite town of Nairobi, as its first project site. Ruiru is facing the demographic pressures of Nairobi’s sprawl and unplanned structures are mushrooming in the town without infrastructure to support them. Traffic clogs the highway between Ruiru and Nairobi and lack of water and sanitation infrastructure has led to an increase in water-borne diseases, such as typhoid.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of The Earth Institute, says of the new center, “CSUD’s activities will demonstrate that sustainable urban development is workable by addressing urban transportation needs in developing countries from both environmental and economic perspectives — this is not usually the approach and has resulted in many cities in the developing world facing unprecedented pollution, for example, that will only worsen as populations grow.”

“We have an incredible opportunity to work with cities in developing countries that have not yet set themselves into inefficient, inequitable and unsustainable patterns of urban growth. These places have an opportunity to expand their transportation options beyond one that is automobile dominant,” added Professor Sclar, “By acting now, we can have a dramatic impact on the future urban development patterns and transportation systems of these places.”

Over the next five years, in addition to Nairobi, CSUD will send students and faculty to two additional cities in developing countries. CSUD’s approach includes concretely demonstrating that sustainable urban development is a workable process, repositioning urban transportation as an active tool for shaping sustainable metropolitan growth in the developing world, and securing more resources for planning in developing countries.

Education is a critical element of each city project, and CSUD will train a new generation of planners and scientists who will advance the field of sustainable urban development through urban planning studios.

In Nairobi, CSUD plans to partner with the University of Nairobi and to foster exchanges between faculty and students from the two universities. Faculty and students will work and share their results with local stakeholders and build relationships between local policy makers and national and international development organizations.

Working with Professor Sclar is a steering committee of faculty and senior research scientists with extensive experience in interdisciplinary research programs on sustainable development issues:

-- Roberta Balstad, director of The Earth Institute’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN)
-- Sigurd Grava, professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning
-- Sumila Gulyani, assistant professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning
-- Patrick Kinney, associate professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health
-- Arthur Lerner-Lam, Doherty Senior Research Scientist at the Earth Institute’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and director of The Earth Institute’s Center for Hazards and Risk Research
-- Cynthia Rosenzweig, senior research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies at the Earth Institute
-- Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute
-- Julie Touber and Nicole Volavka, CSUD’s assistant directors

Jacqueline Klopp, acting director of the Economic and Political Development Program and assistant professor at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, will also be involved in CSUD’s Nairobi project.

CSUD has several partners including UN-HABITAT in Nairobi, The World Bank, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

The mission of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD) is the advancement of physically and socially sustainable global urban development patterns. CSUD’s initial project, funded by the Volvo Research and Education Foundations, is to establish ongoing research and educational exchanges in three cities in developing countries focused on land use and transport planning.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world's leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines — earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences — and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor. For more information, visit www.earth.columbia.edu.