Septmber 4, 2010
Portland State University will be able to build on its green credentials because of a $3 million grant for sustainability studies.
Using an award from the National Science Foundation, PSU plans over the next few months to land some of the nation's brightest doctoral students to research urban sustainability issues.
The grant, received last month, should be enough for as many as 30 fellowships over the next five years, said professor David Ervin, who wrote the proposal and will head a team of six faculty members to oversee the projects.
"We expect to be an important resource to help people better understand the effect of rapid urbanization on livability," he said, adding that his team is developing relationships with community partners that include the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Portland General Electric.
Ervin expects the students, starting in 2011, to use the metro area as a living laboratory. They'll work out of PSU's Center for Sustainable Processes and Practices and examine issues such as the long-term effects of urban growth on the environment, ecosystem management, greenhouse gases, population density, the quality of city life and the consequences of removing the Marmot Dam on the Sandy River.
With nearly three-quarters of the Earth's population expected to reside in urban areas by 2050, the issues are more than an academic exercise, he said. He expects the student researchers to offer guidance to city and regional agencies.
"Over the past decade, we've been recognized nationally for our work around sustainability and urban ecosystem issues," Ervin said. "This puts us on the cusp of excellence."
Michael Armstrong, an administrator with the city's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, said his agency looks forward to working with the university.
"We've been adding urban forests, green streets and ecoroofs to the landscape. So I think that we can say that Portlanders get it," Armstrong said. "But we'd all like to know how population growth and the changing climate will affect the quality of life here, and I think their studies can help."
PSU President Wim Wiewel said the grant falls in line with the university's decision three years ago to make sustainability a core research goal.
"We want to be at the forefront nationally and internationally in these studies, and this grant is part of that," he said. "But even more importantly, these doctoral students will have a major impact both academically and in the community as they become teachers, writers and researchers."
Ervin expects competition for the doctoral slots and added that PSU will actively seek minority candidates.
"We'd definitely want to involve Native Americans and Hispanics who have been too often underrepresented in the sciences," he said.
He also said most of the students will be visible in the community, not holed up in classrooms.
"We want to ground them in real problems," he said.
"The university is working with us," Baker said. "We just filed four more patents.