How Is The Initiative on Cities Making a Difference in Urban Scholarship?

The IOC invests in early stage research projects to advance the study of dynamic urban leadership. Our Co-Founder Mayor Thomas Menino often said, “We live in the era of the city.” With over half the world’s population living in urban areas, it is critical that scholars and practitioners alike understand the challenges facing the 21st-century city and the paths towards prosperity and efficacy. Our Urban Research Agenda establishes the foundation for our funded research. If you are a member of the BU community and interested in submitting a proposal, we encourage you to review our Research Agenda and follow the accompanying application guidelines. Featured research projects funded by or affiliated with the IOC currently underway:



Engineering Main Street: The Spatial Dimension of Organizations and Revitalization in Boston

Ph.D. candidate Taylor Cain under the advisement of Associate Professor Japonica Brown-Saracino; College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology

Ph.D. candidate Taylor Cain, under the advisement of Associate Professor Japonica Brown-Saracino, seeks to identify how place attributes (including income, racial/ethnic composition, and residential and commercial property values) influence the strategies for and consequences of revitalization in two geographically proximate Main Street business districts in Boston.

Agglomeration Economies in the Information Age

Ph.D. candidate Andrew Busey, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Economics

Ph.D. candidate Andrew Busey will study the impact of population density on labor productivity in the United States, using census evidence over the past sixty years. Using a novel instrumental variable, Busey hopes to identify a causal estimate of the effects of agglomeration on productivity.

Refugee Resettlement as an Urban Development Tool in Deindustrialized Cities: A Study of Pittsburgh, PA

Sociology Ph.D. candidate Jake Watson under the advisement of Professor Julian Go; College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology

Sociology Ph.D. candidate Jake Watson, under the advisement of Sociology Professor Julian Go, will examine the socioeconomic impact of refugee resettlement on local community and micro-economies through an in-depth case study of the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He seeks to identify evidence-based best practices for the use of refugee settlement as a development tool in deindustrialized cities.

Refugee Livelihood and Work Permits in Urban Areas: The Case of Jordan

Assistant Professor Noora Lori, Frederik Pardee School of Global Studies with Masters Candidate Vicky Kelberer, Frederik Pardee School of Global Studies

Assistant Professor Noora Anwar Lori with Pardee Masters student Vicky Kelberer and in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, seeks to develop an impact assessment of work permits on the livelihoods on Syrian refugees living in Jordan. Lori and Kelberer will examine the institutional, economic and house-hold level obstacles that may be contributing to the gap between the number of people willing and able to work and those who have formally entered the labor force, analyze the impact of work permit access on household vulnerability, and identify program revisions to enhance impact.

The Dynamic Advantages of Economic Diversity in Cities: Evidence from US History

Assistant Professor Martin Fiszbein, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Economics

Department of Economics Assistant Professor Martin Fiszbein will examine eighty years of data on U.S cities to explore the correlation between urban economic diversity (the degree of variety in production activities) and medium and long-term economic performance. Fiszbein will establish conclusive evidence on the impact of economic diversity on growth and development, shed light on the mechanisms through which diversity affects overall development, and discover why it may have larger effects on skill-intensive and knowledge-intensive activities.



Characterizing Urban Areas in the 21st Century: A Data Driven Approach

Professor Sucharita Gopal, Research Professor at Center for Cognitive and Neural Systems and Center for Remote Sensing and Professor Nathan Phillips; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Earth & Environment

Professors Sucharita Gopal and Nathan Phillips will develop a typology of urban metrics related to sustainability, resiliency and metabolism, with a specific focus on the creation and comparison of urban typologies for the cities of Boston, New York City and Melbourne, Australia.

Protecting Our Urban Water Sources: Developing a Solar Energy-Activated Nitrate Reduction Catalyst

Associate Professor Linda H. Doerrer and Ph.D. candidate Jessica K. Elinburg; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Chemistry

Professor Linda H. Doerrer with Ph.D. candidate Jessica K. Elinburg seeks to adapt her invention, an NO3– reduction system, for implementation in urban water sources to prevent harmful algal blooms and to make available clean water sources for urban residents in an affordable, environmentally-friendly way. Doerrer and Elinburg will conduct this research on the Charles River and along the greater Charles River watershed.

Hidden Problems in Secret Corals: Exploring Microplastic Abundance in Local, Temperate Corals Along an Urban Gradient

Research Assistant Professor Randi Rotjan; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Biology

Research Assistant Professor Randi Rotjan, in collaboration with Associate Professor Juanita Urban-Rich from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, Assistant Professor Koty Sharp from Rogers Williams University and Associate Professor Sean Grace from Southern Connecticut State University, will use the Boston Harbor and New England coast to determine the extent and impact of microplastics (beads and fibers) and microbial biofilms on coastal coral.

Developing a Citywide Greenhouse Gas Inventory in Providence, RI

Post-doctoral researcher Conor Gately and Professor Lucy Hutyra; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Earth & Environment

Post-doctoral researcher Conor Gately and Associate Professor Lucy Hutyra are working with the City of Providence to assist in the creation of a citywide greenhouse gas inventory that meets the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions. In April 2016, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza committed to the Compact of Mayors, pledging to track and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. The Compact, created with the support of the C40 Cities, creates a common platform that standardizes emissions measurement and climate risk and requires public reporting of municipal efforts to combat climate change.

CO2 Fertilization in an Urban Green Roof

Ph.D. candidate Sarabeth Buckley; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Earth & Environment

This project takes a novel approach to urban agriculture, evaluating the efficacy ofusing waste carbon dioxide (CO2) from inside a building, generated from human respiration, can enhance growth in edible green roofs. Buckley will use BU as a living lab by placing her sensors and edible green roof system on top of the green roof on the College of Arts & Sciences building on the Charles River campus.

What Lies Beneath: How the History of Boston Impacts its Water Quality Today

Associate Professor Robinson Fulweiler with Ph.D. candidate Timothy Maguire; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Earth & Environment

Associate Professor Robinson Fulweiler and Biology Ph.D. candidate Timothy Maguire will conduct a study on urban groundwater and runoff in Boston, in order to investigate causes, effects, and the extent of nutrient non-point pollution in urbanized subterranean estuaries. Eight groundwater wells will be selected throughout Boston and monitored bimonthly for one year to determine underlying nutrient concentrations and patterns.

Albedo and Its Impact on the Urban Heat Island Effect: Characterizing the Urban Surface and Its Heat Mitigation Potential Across a Transact of Cities

Earth and Environment Ph.D. candidate Andrew Trlica under the advisement of Associate Professor and Founder of the Hutyra Research Lab Lucy Hutyra, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Earth & Environment

Earth and Environment Ph.D. candidate Andrew Trlica, under the advisement of Associate Professor and Founder of the Hutyra Research Lab Lucy Hutyra, seeks to study urban heat islands (UHI), identifying the linkages between urban land cover and surface temperature. Specifically, he will focus on the effect of albedo—the percent of total sunlight reflected rather than absorbed from a surface—in nine heat-impacted cities across the U.S., including Boston.

Establishment of A New Atmospheric Nitrogen Deposition Monitoring Network in the City of Boston

Associate Professor Lucy Hutyra and Associate Professor Pamela Templer; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Earth & Environment and Department of Biology

Associate Professors Pamela Templer and Lucy Hutyra seek to collect data on the nitrogen deposition levels both within and surrounding city limits by creating the first National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP) monitoring system in a city in order to establish a mechanistic understanding of sources and transformation of emissions and deposition of nitrogen within the City of Boston to enable predictions of future atmospheric nitrogen deposition rates.



Breast is Best: Increasing Breastfeeding Resources at Boston Medical Center Pediatric Ambulatory Care Clinic to Improve Urban Health Equity

Dr. Rachael Bonawitz and Dr. Stephanie Klees; Boston Medical Center

Drs. Rachael Bonawitz and Stephanie Klees seek to evaluate the need for and impacts of interventions related to breastfeeding and lactation support among low income urban populations following hospital discharge. Their research will evaluate breastfeeding rates prior to 2012, when certified lactation counselors were present in BMC Pediatric Ambulatory Care Clinic, and from 2012 to June 2015, the three years without lactation support services.

Assessment of Urban Indoor Air Quality, Environmental Conditions and Occupancy Using a New Low-Cost Wireless Sensor

Research Assistant Professor Patricia Fabian, Boston University School of Public Health; Professor Thomas Little, Boston University School of Engineering, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Assistant Professor Gary Adamkiewicz, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health

Research Assistant Professor Patricia Fabian, Professor Thomas Little, and Harvard Assistant Professor Gary Adamkiewicz seek to build and test a compact low-cost indoor air quality and occupancy sensing device (Urban Indoor Air Monitor, or iAM) in an ongoing housing field study in Chelsea, Massachusetts. The data collected from this experiment will help inform current and future research, interventions and design intended to reduce health disparities related to indoor environmental air quality.

Impact of Air Pollution and Climate on Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes

Ph.D. candidate Lindsey Butler, School of Public Health under the advisement of Assistant Professor Patricia Janulewicz, Assistant Professor, School of Public Health; Beverly Brown Professor of Urban Health Patrick Kinney, School of Public Health; Professor Ann Aschengrau, School of Public Health and Adjunct Assistant Professor Mahsa Yazdy, Director of the Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, School of Public Health

This project will investigate the impacts of maternal exposure to traffic related air pollution (TRAP) and extreme ambient temperatures on the risk of structural birth defects and stillbirths resulting from placental dysfunction. The authors will also assess the interaction of these two factors, analyzing the effects of living near a roadway and experiencing an extreme temperature event while pregnant. Butler will analyze data from 210 U.S. cities.

Modelling the Effect of Energy-Efficient Housing Interventions on Indoor Environmental Health in Urban Multi-Family Populations

Ph.D. candidate Lindsay Underhill, School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Public Health under the direction of School of Public Health Associate Chair and Professor Jonathan Levy

Environmental Public Health Ph.D. candidate Lindsay Underhill, under the direction of School of Public Health Associate Chair and Professor Jonathan Levy, will develop flexible building simulation prototypes that model the urban multi-family housing stock in Massachusetts. These simulation models will be used to examine seasonal indoor pollutant concentrations and identify energy-efficient and health protective housing interventions that reduce harmful environmental exposure among urban, multi-family dwellers.

Developing a Best-Practices Rodent Management Framework for United States Cities

Assistant Professor Jessica Leibler and Associate Professor Wendy Heiger-Bernays; School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health

Led by Assistant Professor Jessica Leibler and Associate Professor Wendy Heiger-Bernays of the School of Public Health, with collaboration from Dr. Gadhoke (St. Johns University), Dr. Chelsea Himsworth (veterinary pathologist), and Dr. Jessie Gaeta (Boston Healthcare for the Homeless), this project seeks to coordinate and review urban policies on rodent and pest management in large U.S. cities, devise a transmission model for rodent-borne infections in urban areas, and develop “gold standard” evidence-based policies for rodent and pest control in large urban areas.

Using Data to Inform Policy and Programmatic Responses to Unaccompanied Adult Homelessness in Boston

Assistant Professor Thomas Byrne, Assistant Professor Yoonsook Ha and Assistant Professor Daniel Miller; School of Social Work

Led by Assistant Professors Thomas Byrne, Yoonsook Ha, and Daniel Miller in collaboration with Mayor Walsh’s Task Force on Individual Homelessness, this project seeks to identify key gaps in existing knowledge about unaccompanied homeless adults who experience related episodes of shelter use over time. The findings from this project will provide crucial information that can inform ongoing efforts to address homelessness both within Boston, and in American cities more generally.

Growing Old in Urban Subsidized Housing: The Relationship Between Perceived Neighborhood Environment and Residents’ Mental Health

Professor Judith Gonyea with Ph.D. candidate Yeonjung Lee; School of Social Work

Led by Professor Judith Gonyea, along with Ph.D. candidate Yeonjung Lee, this project seeks to investigate the relationship between older, low-income community residents’ subjective perceptions of their “neighborhood quality” and their emotional well being, as well as identify racial/ethnic and gender differences in the prevalence of older adults living in subsidized housing and correlates of depression.

Project SUDS: Serving Up Dignity with Showers

Kaitlyn Moran, Debbie Perez and Rebecca Walmer under the advisement of Assistant Professor Jessica Leibler; School of Public Health

Kaitlyn Moran, Debbie Perez, and Rebecca Walmer under the direction of Assistant Professor Jessica Leibler will evaluate the health impacts of poor or irregular personal hygine among the Boston homeless, the quality and accessibility of sanitation facilities available to them, and the sanitation needs and preferences of the homeless population–particularly as they relate to shower facilities. Their goal is to address barriers to maintaining personal hygiene with the intent of lowering cutaneous disease rates and improving mental well-being. Click here to view the award-winning Research Poster.



The Choices, Experiences, and Role of Second Homeowners in Boston

Ph.D. candidate Meaghan Stiman under the advisement of Associate Professor Japonica Brown-Saracino; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Sociology

Led by Ph.D. candidate Meaghan Stiman under the advisement of Associate Professor Japonica Brown-Saracino, this study seeks to understand a rarely studied class of urban resident–the second homeowner. Stiman will evaluate how Boston second homeowners frame their residential choices and experiences, their civic, cultural and economic contributions, and their impact on neighborhood character over time.



3D Models and Virtual Reality Techniques for Mapping & Analyzing Above and Underground Urban Infrastructures (UIMAGE)

Ph.D. candidate Yaxiong Ma under the advisement of Professors Sucharita Gopal and Nathan Phillips; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Earth & Environment

Led by Ph.D. candidate Yaxiong Ma under the advisement of Professors Sucharita Gopal and Nathan Phillips, Ma will design, build, and test a prototype model to virtually map above- and below-ground infrastructure and use the data collected to create a realistic model for testing in two sites in Boston. The goal is produce a tool for city planners to coordinate placement and maintenance of above- and below-ground infrastructure.

Placemaking and Placekeeping


Mapping Amman, Jordan: A 21st Century City

Professor Betty Anderson; Pardee School of Global Studies and History, College of Arts & Sciences

Professor Betty Anderson with Georgetown University Associate Professor Fida Adely, will map mobility patterns in Amman, Jordan, a city of regions and neighborhoods historically segregated by socio-economic status. The author will examine how physical mobility is related to class, gender, age and nationality in modern Amman, as residents move across historic boundaries navigating newly privatized and neoliberal urban spaces as well as social media.

Armored Cities: Violence and Urban Seclusion in Latin America

Assistant Professor Ana Villarreal; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Sociology

Assistant Professor Villarreal will examine “armored cities”, a new form of urban seclusion in Latin American cities whereby upper class residents create private cities within cities in response to community violence. She seeks to understand the ways in which increased violence may exacerbate urban inequality. Her fieldwork will take place in Monterrey, Mexico; San Antonio, Texas; Caracas, Venezuela; and Medellín, Colombia.

Gentrification Debates Revisited: Lessons from 30 Years of Sociological Research

Assistant Professor Japonica Brown-Saracino; College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology

Associate Professor Brown-Saracino will examine thirty years of extant gentrification scholarship to identify definitional differences, research trends and knowledge gaps. She will address examinations of racial, residential, commercial and educational impacts, gentrification’s origins, dynamics and consequences, conceptual differences in scholarly definitions of gentrification, and identify policy recommendations that have been put forward.

From “Street Car Suburb” to “Student Ghetto”: Allston and Urban Change

Ph.D. candidate Sara Hosman, College of Arts and Sciences, Sociology Department under the advisement of Assistant Professor Japonica Brown-Saracino, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology

Sociology Ph.D. candidate Sarah Hosman, under the advisement of Associate Professor of Sociology Japonica Brown-Saracino, will examine the urban identity of the Boston neighborhood of Allston. Hosman seeks to understand how the neighborhood’s fluctuating trajectory of change has influenced residents’ day-to-day practices and attitudes. She will examine the influence of Allston’s cultural and social frameworks on current practices like shopping and home-buying, which help to trigger change and investment.



Closing the Opportunity Gap in Early Education and Care by Recruiting and Training High Quality Literacy Teachers

Associate Professor Stephanie Curenton; School of Education

Associate Professor Stephanie Curenton will evaluate Jumpstart, an early language and literacy program that trains AmeriCorps members to teach in under-resourced schools, to determine the impact of professional development training of volunteers, specifically regarding culturally responsive, anti-biased language, on children’s outcomes. Curenton will partner with Paul Leech, Chief Operating Officer of Nurtury, Inc., an advocacy and childcare organization operating in the Greater Boston area, which is working with Jumpstart as part of a career pathway partnership.

Dehumanization in the City: How Urban Ghetto Black Male Imagery Activates Dehumanizing Attitudes toward Black People

Assistant Professor Spencer Piston; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Political Science

Through a national survey, Assistant Professor Spencer Piston will assess whether depictions of black men as “urban” and “ghetto” activate dehumanizing attitudes toward black people. The author will also assess the effectiveness of four potential rehumanization efforts, intended to increase empathy for black lives.

Examining the Role of Crime, Race, & Politics in City‐Level Crime Control Outputs

Assistant Professor Shea Cronin; Metropolitan College

Through a national survey, Professor Cronin will develop and analyze a new data set on city‐level crime control outputs, primarily focused on expenditures, discretionary arrest activity levels and racial disparities in discretionary arrest levels, in the context of local economic inequality, racial segregation and constituent policy preferences.

Crime and Public Housing: A General Equilibrium Analysis

Ph.D. candidate Jesse Bruhn; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Economics

Economics Ph.D. candidate Jesse Bruhn will quantify the impact that an ambitious public housing redevelopment project in Chicago known as the “Plan for Transformation” had on the temporal and geospatial distribution of criminal activity inside city limits.

Pay Equity in the City of Boston

Professor Azer Bestavros and Research Fellow Andrei Lapets; Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science and Engineering

Professor Azer Bestavros and Hariri Research Fellow Andrei Lapets, in collaboration with Mayor Walsh’s Women’s Workforce Council, sought to create a proprietary software tool to enable area corporate employers to anonymously share employee wage data by gender, race/ethnicity, and level. The goal is to track the gender wage gap across thousands of employees in the Boston region over time, as employers introduce evidence-based interventions to remedy the gap.

Urban Governance


What Mayors Think: National Politics in Local Policy

Assistant Professor Katherine Einstein and Assistant Professor David Glick; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Political Science

In their new study, Assistant Professors David Glick and Katherine Einstein, lead-authors of the 2014 and 2015 Menino Survey of Mayors, will combine extensive mayoral interview data with municipal capital expenditures, mayoral support for city ordinances and mayoral demographic data. They will seek to evaluate the extent to which national policies influence local politics, how closely mayoral policymaking follows national guidelines, and if mayoral policy agendas are influenced by national agendas.

Understanding the Social Justice Function of Youth Councils

Assistant Professor Astraea Augsberger and Associate Dean and Professor Mary Collins; School of Social Work

Assistant Professor Astraea Augsberger and Professor and Associate Dean Mary Collins are examining the origin, structure, activities and impact of youth councils in twenty municipalities in the Boston metropolitan region, with the goal of developing a typology and identifying best practices.



Enhancing Energy Efficiency for Urban Housing: Madison Park Energy Efficiency Project, Phase II

Professor Robert Kaufmann, Professor Nalin Kulatilaka, Associate Professor Michael Gevelber; College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Earth & Environment; Questrom School of Business, Finance Department; School of Engineering, Mechanical Engineering Department

In Phase II of an ongoing collaboration with Wells Fargo to reduce energy costs and energy use in urban housing, Professors Robert Kaufmann, Nalin Kulatilaka, and Associate Professor Michael Gevelber seek to build on their preliminary research results. Phase II will develop further tools and models to analyze efficient-technology investment and identify the most effective strategies to stimulate positive behavior changes related to energy usage.

Integrated Process for Landfill and Leachate Management: Experimentally Informed Design of Waste-to-Energy Conversion for Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Management

Research Assistant Professor Jillian Goldfarb; School of Engineering, Mechanical Engineering Department

With her project, Research Assistant Professor Goldfarb searches for a scheme to reduce the energy required to manage municipal solid waste (MSW) and leachate landfills and develop new ways and materials to reduce waste and slow the spread of contaminants. The goal is to identify an environmentally compliant, cost-effective long-term strategy for solid waste management.



Celebration of Diversity Amidst Privilege: A Study of the Suburbs

Ph.D. candidate Whitney Gecker; School of Social Work and College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Sociology

Sociology & Social Work Ph.D. candidate Gecker seeks to understand how young people in an affluent suburb experience and respond to racial and economic insularity, and make sense of diversity and privilege. The author will use Newton MA as a case study to explore the relationship between socio-economic segregation and the promotion of diversity in the context of youth development.

Summer Mental Health Access for Urban Youth

Associate Professor Jennifer Greif Green, School of Education; Ph.D. candidate Rachel Oblath, School of Education; Assistant Professor Elizabeth Bettini, School of Education; Professor Donna Pincus, School of Education, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Associate Professor Jennifer Grief Green in collaboration with Assistant Professor Elizabeth Bettini, Professor Donna Pincus and Ph.D. candidate Rachel Oblath will investigate if and/or where urban youth access mental health services in summer months in order to identify barriers to mental health access, the quality of summer mental health services, and the association between summer mental health access and the social and emotional profiles of youth. Green and her team will conduct this research in Boston, Brockton and Fall River.

Promoting Academic Success in Urban Head Start Children: A Pilot Study to Enhance Cognitive Control Through Metacognitive Monitoring

Assistant Professor Amanda Tarullo, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences; Associate Professor and Director of the Family Certificate Program Ruth Paris, School of Social Work; Assistant Professor Kathleen Corriveau, School of Education

Assistant Professor Amanda Tarullo, Associate Professor and Director of the Family Certificate Program Ruth Paris , and Assistant Professor Kathleen Corriveau will conduct a study of urban preschool children in Boston to determine if metacognitive monitoring – reflecting on and judging one’s own performance – could contribute to improved cognitive control among vulnerable youth.

Jr. Ball: Collaborative Youth Sport-Based Intervention to Promote Positive Development Among Youth of Color in Boston, MA

Assistant Professor Linda Sprague Martinez, School of Social Work; Associate Professor Ellen DeVoe, School of Social Work

Associate Professor Ellen DeVoe, both from the Boston University School of Social Work, will evaluate a youth sport and empowerment program in Boston, Jr. Ball, designed to promote positive youth development in low income elementary and middle school age boys of color.