Faculty Friday – Nathan Phillips

NathanEach week, Faculty Friday will highlight a member of our IOC Faculty Advisory Board by exploring their work at Boston University and their thoughts on cities.

This week, we’re speaking with Nathan Phillips. Nathan is a Professor in the Department of Earth & Environment within the Boston University College of Arts & Sciences.

IOC: What research or project are you currently working on?

Nathan Phillips (NP): In collaboration with the IoC, we have NSF support for research that builds on our previous work mapping urban natural gas pipeline leaks.  This new project considers gas pipelines to be one element in an infrastructure ecology made up of the entire set of our co-located and interdependent critical infrastructure. By developing knowledge of the nature of the interactions among the physical infrastructure – everything from gas pipes to electrical cables to pavement –  and the political ecology of entities associated with its management, our aim is that this research can be applied to making cities smarter and more efficient through improved coordinated infrastructure management.

What’s your favorite thing about Boston University?

NP: The three institutions I had previously been affiliated with as a student and postdoc were traditional, bucolic campuses.  My first impression of BU when interviewing was how the energy of the city was integrated into campus, from the pace of footsteps on the sidewalks to the intensity of research activity and campus events.  This stimulating atmosphere of intellectual activity is my favorite thing about BU. 

What is your favorite city, and why?

NP: A few cities I love and why:  Enschede, the Netherlands, where my family experienced a month-long walking/biking/transit paradise; Sydney’s orientation around its spectacular harbor; and Boston, for the strides it has made and its potential for even greater transformation into a livable city for everyone.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing cities today? 

NP: The grandest challenge and opportunity for all cities is to complete the transition to a fossil free energy support base, and the biggest of those challenges is to electrify our transportation and building heating sectors.  The wins are for our climate and for air quality in our most underserved communities of color.

What do you think our cities of the future will look like?

NP: They will be quieter, have cleaner air, more people, and space for moving around on bikes, foot, and low-speed small autonomous electric vehicles.

If you were Mayor of Boston for a day and had unlimited resources, what program or project would you pursue and why? 

NP: Work with Cambridge to Open Storrow Drive/Memorial Drive for a Day – returning Charles River access to the people letting them experience what once was and what can be again a central axis of the Hub of the Universe.

Are there any urban-related issues that you want to see students and young people get more involved in?

NP: We need an all-hands-on-deck effort that brings everyone together to make measurable individual and system level progress toward Boston’s climate action plan for 80% reductions in emissions by 2050.

Follow Nathan on Twitter at @nathanpboston to stay up to date on his work.