The Baltimore Social-Environmental Collaborative Integrated Field Laboratory

The Baltimore Social-Environmental Collaborative (BSEC) seeks a new paradigm for urban climate research. Inspired by the Urban Integrated Field Laboratory call to provide knowledge that informs equitable solutions that can strengthen community-scale resilience, we propose a people-centered, transdisciplinary IFL. BSEC begins with community priorities (human health and safety, affordable energy, transportation equity, and others) and city government priorities (clean waterways, decarbonization, functioning infrastructure) and designs observation networks and models that will deliver the climate science capable of supporting those priorities. This means that BSEC takes the form of an iterative collaborative cycle, in which an initial observation and modeling strategy is continuously updated in conversation with community partners. The guiding objective of this cycle is to produce the urban climate science needed to inform community-guided “potential equitable pathways” for climate action. In doing so, we address a number of fundamental urban science questions from across natural science and social science disciplines.

Equitable Adaptation Pathways

BSEC focuses on Baltimore, a metropolitan area that is representative of the climate challenges faced by many mid-sized industrial cities in the United States, and in particular with eastern “rust belt” cities that face interlinked challenges of aging infrastructure, stagnant populations, increased heat and flood risk, and inequitable burdens of air and water pollution. These cities are challenging and critical places for equitable climate solutions. The BSEC Equitable Pathways approach aligns urban science with information needs through coupled cycles of model and observation improvement and participatory assessment of climate risks in the context of multiple, potentially competing priorities. Recognizing that city residents and institutions have diverse and sometimes competing goals, we place a multi-objective analysis tool at the center of our project plan. This analysis tool offers an integrating nexus to inform and challenge urban climate science with the decision needs of the residents and stakeholders who ultimately determine the success of climate action. We will deploy advanced urban environmental measurement networks combined with the best urban models available. The model-data observatory will document urban microclimate, hydrology and air quality, indoor and outdoor, with unparalleled resolution and encompass the processes that govern these critical state variables. The model improvement cycle that uses these data and models to develop the best possible urban climate modeling systems will be informed by and adapt to community needs, creating a truly community-centered urban climate observatory.

Left: Google Street View images of Old Goucher in 2012 and 2019, showing dramatic greening efforts with potential impacts on microclimate, building energy use, pedestrianism, and transport of air pollution. Right: photos from 2022 at Broadway East sites including in the Greenprint.

Equitable climate solutions begin with community knowledge. The role of a solutions-oriented urban IFL is to amplify and enhance that knowledge, and this is only possible when there is mutual trust and respect across all project partners. The BSEC team includes collaborators from neighborhood organizations, city government, non-government community development organizations, federal environmental and research agencies, and academic researchers from a wide range of disciplines. Together, we will build a collaborative urban science framework that brings advanced measurement and observation methods into conversation with community and government deliberation on climate action. In doing so, the BSEC IFL will provide a model for community-oriented interdisciplinary urban science that advances climate solutions in Baltimore and that can be applied in many other metropolitan areas. We will also establish a new generation of urban climate scientists and urban modeling systems capable of supporting predictions and community planning across a wide range of urban areas.

The “Black Butterfly” of Baltimore (**), as seen in (A) % minority; (B) per capita income; (C) rate of youth asthma-related emergency department visits. These patterns of race-associated environmental injustice are common in U.S. cities, and they are particularly pronounced in Baltimore.

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