New way to crowd-source design of green infrastructure

7/25/2013 1:29:00 PM

Designers of green infrastructure will one day have a way to optimize their designs for both environmental impact and public satisfaction, thanks to work by researchers led by Engineering at Illinois professor Barbara Minsker. The team is developing a novel computational design framework that integrates interactive, neighborhood-scale, collaborative design by multiple stakeholders—“crowd-sourced design”—with multi-scale models of ecosystem and human impacts.

Barbara Minsker
Barbara Minsker
“Major social barriers to putting in green infrastructure can be overcome through better engagement with community stakeholders,” said Minsker, a professor and Nauman Faculty Scholar in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Technology offers new avenues for this to happen through crowd-sourcing.”Green infrastructure refers to natural areas that provide wildlife habitat, flood protection, cleaner air and water, and storm water management, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Examples include rain gardens, tree planters and green roofs.

Minsker’s team will develop a crowd-sourced design framework to enable stakeholders to interactively create and evaluate potential green infrastructure designs that reflect consideration of the full breadth of social, economic and environmental criteria. They plan to test their work in diverse neighborhoods within three urban catchments in the Baltimore Ecosystem Study that have extensive existing data on pretreatment storm water and nutrient conditions, as well as planned or ongoing green infrastructure implementation, Minsker said.

The data will be used to calibrate and validate the hydrologic and ecosystem models. Environmental non-governmental organizations in Baltimore will provide access and interface with communities that are currently implementing green infrastructure. Their input will be used to evaluate and improve predictions of human green infrastructure preferences, the efficacy of the crowd-sourced framework and improvements in stakeholder engagement in green infrastructure design through interactive cyberinfrastructure.

The models developed in this project will be the first to integrate criteria for human and ecosystem wellbeing with site- and watershed-scale hydrologic processes, a key advance for improving understanding and implementation of green infrastructure design, Minsker said.

“We want to allow green infrastructure designers to be able to consider human and ecosystem impacts of their decisions, both in the immediate area, the local neighborhood, and downstream in the watershed," she said.

Funded by a $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the work is being done in cooperation with Illinois co-investigators Arthur Schmidt, William Sullivan, Jong Lee, and Kenton McHenry, as well as partners at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Contact: Barbara S. Minsker, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 217/333-6955.

Writer: Celeste Arbogast Bragorgos, director of communications, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 217/333-6955.

Infrastructure photo: ©

If you have any questions about the College of Engineering, or other story ideas, contact Rick Kubetz, editor, Engineering Communications Office, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 217/244-7716.