If you live in the city of Charlotte, chances are you are able to look out your window in the morning and be pleased by the view – lots of big trees, spacious lawns and perhaps even some truly bucolic open space. It’s a view that pleases Charlotteans. Many cities – particularly cities as actively growing as the Queen City is – are not as green and locals know that this is a reason that some people choose to live here. They may not know that it is an important subject for urban research.
An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte have been awarded $300,000 by the National Science Foundation’s Urban Long-Term Research Areas Exploratory Research Projects (ULTRA-EX) competition – one of 17 national awards given for pilot urban research projects. The exploratory projects are research trials that may lead to the later award of an NSF ULTRA site – the establishment of a long-term study for urban environment research.
The project will develop a data-intensive model capturing Charlotte's unusual patterns of growth. The model – really a sophisticated assemblage of computer programming and visualization tools – will be especially enhanced by enormous quantities of data that have already been acquired by UNC Charlotte’s historically strong research programs in urban studies and also by innovative new surveying efforts. The result will be a kind of “time machine” that can give detailed simulations of future outcomes for complex combinations of current planning options and policy decisions.
Ross Meentemeyer, a landscape ecologist in Geography and Earth Sciences and Executive Director of UNC Charlotte’s Center for Applied Geographic Information Science, heads the project’s inter-disciplinary research team. Other members of the research group are Jean-Claude Thill, Knight Distinguished Professor of Geography and Earth Sciences, who is an authority on urban systems and modeling, William Ribarsky, Chair of the Department of Computer Science and Director of the Charlotte Visualization Center, Chunhua Wang, an environmental economist from the Renaissance Computing Institute branch at UNC Charlotte, and Todd BenDor, assistant professor in the Department of City & Regional Planning at UNC Chapel Hill and an authority on land use planning and public policy.
The partnerships involved in this research project also give a sense of its interdisciplinary nature as well as its importance and scope. Grant partners include UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute, the USDA Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission, Catawba Lands Conservancy, North Carolina State University Forestry Department Extension, Gaston County Cooperative Extension, Catawba Regional Council of Governments, Centralia Council of Governments, Land Trust for Central North Carolina and Nations Ford Land Trust.