Collaboratories help understand and protect the metropolitan Chicago environment
Many of the planning challenges our region faces, such as mitigating climate change or preserving open space, are issues that extend across the country. As we work to implement GO TO 2040 in our own region, others are simultaneously working toward similar goals. Local organizations and municipalities working to protect the environment of metropolitan Chicago are sharing information and learning from others across the U.S. through two new collaboratories.
A "collaboratory" allows researchers to work with other practitioners and issue experts regardless of geographic location by using a shared on-line platform and has been defined as a "center without walls," according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review. The Chicago area has recently become a focus of two virtual research centers, and both could help the region make progress toward GO TO 2040 goals related to climate change and open space preservation.
The University of Notre Dame and partnering universities established the Collaboratory for Adaptation to Climate Change in April 2011 with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). A good example of work from the collaborative is an effort by the City of Chicago, The Nature Conservancy, and the Field Museum to establish a checklist that helps park and open space managers reach decisions about management actions prompted by increased heat, more intense storms, and other expected changes in weather patterns. Climate change adaptation may in fact be an area to which such a broad-based approach is uniquely suited. Knowledge in this area is rapidly changing, and it could well be that trial-and-error experiments by practitioners – for example, urban foresters trying to determine which species of tree to plant or civil engineers deciding which design standards can best accommodate future conditions -- will be as important as more abstract approaches by university researchers.
The Manage and Conserve Water and Energy Resources section of GO TO 2040 focuses mostly on mitigation related to climate change by recommending actions to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. But we also need to begin rethinking the way local governments, state agencies, businesses, and others make infrastructure investments, particularly those with long life spans during which climatic conditions could change.
The second collaboratory supports a project funded under the Urban Long-Term Research Areas exploratory research ("ULTRA-Ex") program of NSF and the U.S. Forest Service. In this project that started earlier this summer, researchers from Purdue University and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) are working to better understand the ecological and social benefits of conserving land and protecting nature. Specifically, their research focuses on the lands in the Chicago Wilderness Green Infrastructure Vision, a broad-scale identification of the most important areas to protect in the Chicago region. GO TO 2040 also sees protecting a network of green infrastructure as key in meeting the goal of conserving an additional 150,000 acres of open space by 2040.
Both the Notre Dame and the Purdue/UIC collaboratories run on software developed at Purdue to facilitate sharing research. Most interestingly, users can actually run simulation models and post-process results within a web browser without, in most cases, needing to have the software installed on one's desktop. So, for example, if a researcher developed a model to prioritize open space areas based on various characteristics, a local land trust or a citizens group might be able to run that same model to help guide their efforts.