Making cities more sustainable

UTA researcher investigating policies to improve rural and urban sustainability

Tuesday, Feb 25, 2020 • Herb Booth :

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Large cities require massive amounts of energy, food and water resources that cannot be produced locally. Residents must rely on outside sources to meet demand.

Caroline Krejci, industrial engineering assistant professor at The University of Texas at Arlington, is part of a research team creating simulations that could result in more sustainable cities. In collaboration with researchers from Iowa State University, Krejci is helping develop a framework to analyze food, energy and water systems in the greater Des Moines, Iowa, area.

Krejci will assist with the collection and evaluation of human behavior data such as the preferences, beliefs and behaviors of farmers and urban consumers regarding local food systems. She will use that data to create a social simulation model of farmers and consumers who interact, learn and make decisions about producing or purchasing locally sourced food.

The model will test the impact of different policies on farmer and consumer decisions over time. The results of these decisions then will be linked to biophysical models created by other team members to determine their impact on the environment in and around Des Moines, especially on water quality, which is a major issue in Iowa.

“This type of modeling allows us to predict unexpected outcomes, both positive and negative,” Krejci said. “The hope is to uncover the implications of policies, including what we could do to push farmers to do something, or an action that would convince consumers to pay more for their produce.

“I am also interested in seeing how these decisions impact urban consumers’ access to locally produced food.”

The team includes researchers with backgrounds in psychology, mechanical engineering, architecture, ecology, geology and agriculture. The project will take a holistic look at how changes in farming and consumer habits could affect climate, environment and social factors.

Most farmers in Iowa grow corn and soybeans, which are not generally intended for sale for food. The study will look at how to reduce risk for farmers and encourage them to plant crops such as peas and other vegetables that could be sold to urban populations.

It also will look at the potential for increased urban agriculture, community gardens and other green spaces within the city that could increase food security, improve energy efficiency in buildings and dissipate heat.

The project is funded by a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. UTA’s share of the grant is $248,000.

In addition to her contributions to the Iowa State study, Krejci is using a $299,310 grant from the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education program to explore how to solve the challenges faced by small- and mid-scale farmers and ranchers in getting their products to market due to shipping and storage options that can be inefficient and costly.

Although the new grant focuses on Des Moines, her research could go a long way in solving the problem of getting fresh food to urban areas in Texas as well, said Paul Componation, chair of the Industrial, Manufacturing and Systems Engineering Department.

“Food insecurity is a problem in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and many other metropolitan areas,” he said. “Dr. Krejci’s efforts to find creative, cost-effective ways to alleviate the problem could have a positive impact in many communities, and the accompanying benefits to the environment, socioeconomic factors and other areas are potentially groundbreaking.”

— Written by Jeremy Agor, College of Engineering