Because climate change is a global condition best addressed through interdisciplinary research, institutional investment, and international collaboration, members of the Center for Urban Ecology & Sustainability (CUES) at Suffolk University are joining forces with their counterparts at the Center for Urban Eco-Planning & Design at Fudan University in Shanghai to work toward a greener future.

The first step took place in June at the inaugural International Workshop on Urban Ecological Security and Sustainability in Boston, sponsored by the Rosenberg Institute for East Asian Studies of Suffolk University.

Patricia Hogan

Patricia Hogan, director of the Center for Urban Ecology & Sustainability at Suffolk University

All hands on deck

Organized by environmental researchers from both Suffolk and Fudan University, the three-day conference drew wide participation from other research institutions, non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups, and professional societies.

Speakers and participants from Fudan University, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing Forestry University, Shanghai Academy of Environmental Sciences, Shanghai Normal University, and Zhejiang University were part of the scientific delegation from the Shanghai area. Local universities represented included Northeastern University, UMASS-Boston, Bunker Hill Community College, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Wentworth Institute of Technology, and Brown University. Boston-area speakers included representatives from GreenRoots, Inc. of Chelsea, the Neponset River Watershed Association, the Institute of International Urban Development, and the Sustainable Remediation Forum.

Faculty from each of Suffolk’s three schools attended -- representing departments as diverse as chemistry, biochemistry, art & design, physics, international business, marketing, and law.

“With the multifaceted environmental challenges we’re facing right now, it doesn’t matter what a student’s major is. It’s all hands on deck,” says Suffolk Professor Patricia Hogan, director of the Center for Urban Ecology & Sustainability and co-organizer of the conference.

Topics ranged from broad policy and eco-security issues to detailed research data analysis.

One thread woven throughout the conference was the concept of environmental justice. John Walkey, the waterfront coordinator for Chelsea-based GreenRoots, spoke about reducing disparities in environmental impact and education among Boston-area immigrant communities. Professor Sean Solley of Suffolk’s Art & Design Department explored a similar theme through the lens of sustainable urban development for the aged, another vulnerable population.

Sean Solley

Sean Solley, associate professor & program director, Interior Architecture & Design

“All populations won’t be impacted equally by climate change,” says Hogan. “Those most at risk—the poor and marginalized—will suffer most. We don’t always think of sustainable design in an equitable way, but we need to keep environmental justice at the forefront.”

The workshop also included a session for high school students as both universities share a commitment to involving young people in sustainability work. Students learned about the history of Boston’s development from History Professor Robert Allison, used virtual reality technology to visualize both the greenest and the most polluted cities around the world with Suffolk’s Physics Department, and worked with physical models of the city with Reed Brockman of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section.

Problem solving from multiple perspectives

Both China and the United States have work to do to reduce pollution and mitigate the effects of climate change. China is the overall highest carbon dioxide emitter in the world, but the more urbanized U.S. remains the highest emitter per capita. While America grapples with climate change denial and weakening environmental protections, China is in the midst of a “Green China and Eco-civilized China” backlash from industrial urban pollution—even as it continues to invest heavily in a more sustainable economy.

As coastal urban cities, Boston and Shanghai face many of the same climate challenges – but on very different scales. Boston is the largest city in the New England region but Shanghai is one of the largest megacities in the world. Comparing the effects of increasing global temperatures, pollution, and sea-level rise and the efforts to combat these issues could yield valuable data for both cities and others around the world.

“The city of Shanghai is located at the Yangtze River Delta, an area with high economic growth, high urbanization and high eco-environmental risk,” says Hogan’s counterpart Xiangrong Wang, Director of the Center for Urban Eco-Planning & Design at Fudan University. “It has the typical fragile features of the development of urban agglomeration in China. It is of great significance to strengthen the research and the demonstration of ecological security technology and sustainability here.”

A path forward

Hogan and Wang plan to establish academic and research collaborations in the coming years, including: joint research projects, student and faculty exchange programs, training and, potentially, joint online courses.

A strategic planning session held on the workshop’s third day brought faculty from both schools together to find common interests and lay the groundwork for future partnerships. The colleagues will meet again next year when Fudan University hosts the second Urban Ecological Security and Sustainability Workshop in Shanghai.

“This workshop is a very good platform for scholars, governmental officials and business people to create academic exchange and potentially explore markets for urban ecological sustainability. It will be huge benefit for both China and America,” says Wang.

“The first workshop was a huge success and opened up many opportunities for cooperation,” says Hogan. “Now we need to take the next steps forward and make these projects and discoveries happen.”

Group of academics assembled for the workshop

Faculty and researchers from Suffolk University and Fudan University gathered for the three-day workshop.