Engineering and Urban Design

The Northeast is the most densely populated region of the country– a region where the design of the built environment determines the ability of communities to adapt to a changing climate, as well as their ability to advance the ecological, social, and economic dimensions of sustainability. The construction, operation, and maintenance of the built environment also represent key components of our region’s portfolio of greenhouse gas emissions, making infrastructure decisions central in devising pathways toward carbon neutrality.

Researchers in CCRUN’s engineering and urban design cross-cutting theme undertake stakeholder-driven, applied research that helps our external advance synergistic adaptation, mitigation, and sustainability goals. The team's research explores both tradeoffs and opportunities, seeking to co-develop new multifunctional infrastructure strategies together with our governmental and non-governmental partners. 

Current Research: 

Flood Risk Reduction 

The CCRUN team is developing hydrologic and hydraulic models to assist in flood risk reduction (FRR) projects in Philadelphia, PA; Camden, NJ; and Manahawkin, NJ. In all three cases, researchers calibrate modeling tools to observed flows and high-water marks, and then use the validated models to evaluate the efficacy of engineered and nature-based FRR strategies under both current and future climate conditions. The simulations investigate how sea level rise, changes in the amount and/or intensity of precipitation, and their co-occurrence affect flood extent and depth. An additional area of focus is investigating the impacts that FRR strategies can have on local ecosystems and communities, as well as their life cycle costs and embodied energy. 

Urban Heat Mitigation 

The CCRUN engineering and urban design team's heat research focuses on the role of buildings, green spaces, and shade structures on determining the urban microclimate. In New York City, researchers have been collaborating with the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to better understand how its green roofs and rooftop farm impact the facility’s water and energy consumption. They are also exploring the impact of shading and reflections from the recently constructed Hudson Yards buildings on the surrounding streets. 

In Philadelphia, we have been monitoring urban microclimatic conditions in some of the city’s most heat vulnerable communities, to better understand how street orientation, street tree canopy, and other urban design configurations impact the microclimate. The project has also involved construction and monitoring of 300 unique, street-scale shade structures in five different neighborhoods around the city. 

Nature-based solutions to the climate emergency

Building on prior work, the  team continues to study how natural systems can be harnessed in support of climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts. This multi-disciplinary work spans the fields of urban planning, ecohydrology, water-resource engineering, and climate science, involving both field and laboratory studies, and complex sensor networks. 

Additional Projects: 

  • Higher Ground: Restorative Science and Sustainability
  • Town+Gown: Climate Vulnerability, Impact, and Adaptation Analysis (VIA)
  • A Climate Resilience Research Agenda for the Greater Philadelphia Area
  • The Environmental Collaborative, Drexel University –  Developing a community-led research project in collaboration with ENLACE, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • NSF Ecosystem Science– EAGER: Development of a learning community focused on sea-level rise and coastal habitat change
  • State of California, Department of Fish & Wildlife, Wetlands Restoration for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program – Elkhorn Slough Tidal Marsh Restoration Phase II, Wetlands Restoration
  • US EPA. Assessment and Monitoring of Tidal Marshes along the Tuckahoe River

Recent Publications: 

Mita, K. S., Orton, P., Montalto, F., Saleh, F., & Rockwell, J. (2023). Sea Level Rise-Induced Transition from Rare Fluvial Extremes to Chronic and Compound Floods. Water, 15(14), Article 14.

Alizadehtazi, B., Stolper, J., Singh, K., & Montalto, F. (2023). Modeling of the Impacts of High-Rise Development and a Large-Scale Green Roof on the Urban Microclimate. SSRN.

Wong, S. M., Gurian, P., Daley, J., Bostrom, H., Matsil, M., & Montalto, F. A. (2020). A preliminary assessment of coastal GI’s role during Hurricane Sandy: A case study of three communities. Urban Water Journal, 17(4), 356–367.

Key Stakeholders:

  • Empowered CDC
  • Global Thinking Initiatives, Inc
  • Point Breeze Community Network Plus
  • Residents Organized Against Advocacy and Direction
  • Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority
  • Eastwick United
  • Nueva Esperanza
  • LandHealth Institute
  • Farmer Jawn
  • Philadelphia Water Department
  • Philadelphia Office of Sustainability

Team Members: