In August 2019, PhD students Leila Mosleh, Sarah Ponte, Rahat Sharif, Farshid Shoushtarian, and Matthew Wilfong traveled to Louisville, Kentucky for the Earth Stewardship Initiative fellowship, a part of the larger 2019 Ecological Society of America conference. Students from different disciplines gathered to collaborate with government officials, community members, ecologists, and landscape architects to come up with designed experiments to solve issues facing cities including the urban heat island, parks connectivity, public health, and water quality.
One project was focused on addressing the water quality of Beargrass Creek, a highly urbanized stream with a watershed expanding throughout most of downtown and suburban Louisville. The group was tasked with proposing a designed experiment that could be utilized by the city to provide incremental data on the ecological effectiveness of green infrastructure implementation throughout the watershed.
Another project was focused on the urban heat island (UHI). This project is focused on West Louisville which experienced the hottest surface temperature and lowest tree canopy count and health in Louisville. The group proposed short-term, mid-term, and long-term projects that involves a middle school curriculum to engage the community in increasing tree canopy cover and monitoring. The group also proposed a comprehensive toolkit to the city including actions needed to reach cooler temperatures, smarter design, community co-design, and healthy air emphasizing inspection, documentation, and actively soliciting feedback.
The last group focused on Parks Connectivity in Western Louisville. This parks in this community are in proximity to a chemical plant, affecting air quality in these parks. Additionally a pond in one of these parks have a history of dioxin in fish, which is a critical issue due to the community living in a food desert. The group suggested the deployment of air quality sensors with a warning system so that the community would have a better connection with the data, as well as an understanding about how different landscape features impact air quality. To capitalize on a retrofit project on the pond which includes dredging and enlarging the pond, a volunteer water quality monitoring protocol was suggested to increase awareness of the health of the pond and to build trust between the parks and recreation staff and the community.
Groups worked alongside ecological researchers, environmental consultants, and landscape architects to plan an experiment that was incorporated into the design of green infrastructure and provided an avenue for community engagement and collaborative learning. The week-long project was a crash-course on designed experiments and the inner-working of government-driven sustainability projects. It was an invaluable, practical experience for early career ecological researchers demonstrating the need for a holistic understanding and approach to solving any environmental issue.