Model helps explore patterns of urban sprawl and implicaitons for quality of life

About 81 percent of the United States’ population now lives in urban areas, as does almost half of the world’s total population. Scientists and engineers say that as the trend continues there’s increasing urgency for societies to learn how to develop more sustainable urban environments.

Among them is John Crittenden, a civil and environmental engineering professor in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering. Crittenden will give a presentation entitled “Decision Support for Urban Development: Integrating Air Quality, Material and Energy Flows, and Social Justice,” on Feb. 19 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Crittenden will showcase a model he devised with ASU colleagues to predict patterns of urban sprawl and their implications for natural systems and quality of life for city-dwellers.

Using various social and environmental simulations (i.e., urban growth simulation, ground-level ozone simulation), the model is designed to forecast what the Phoenix metropolitan area might look like in 2015 based on projected development, and then determines many of the potential effects of that growth.

The model is intended to be used as a decision-making tool for local and state governments, civil engineers, business leaders and home owners who want to plan for growth that will avoid negative environmental consequences and protect the quality of life.

“This is really a first attempt to link social decision-making with construction methods and materials with the evaluation of local, regional and global impacts of those choices,” Crittenden said. “We could reduce negative regional and global impacts of development by looking at alternative land-use patterns, construction methods and construction materials.”

The AAAS annual meeting is the largest scientific conference in the United States, drawing experts and media from around the world to discuss contemporary issues in the field of science.

This year’s theme, “Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being,” reflects the growing concern in the scientific community and among the general public about issues such as loss of biodiversity, unequal living standards throughout the world, weather-related disasters, proliferation of nuclear weapons and overdependence on petroleum.

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