Understanding the Underground

A grant from the National Science Foundation will enable a research team from NYU to model underground infrastructure in order to improve NYC’s resilience to natural disasters, and Ginkgo is represented on the team. 

By Ginkgo

In late summer 2021, Hurricanes Henri and Ida wreaked havoc on the New York City metropolitan region, shutting down public transportation, flooding basement apartments, and killing 46 people. In response, New York State Governor Hochul announced up to $2 million in emergency funding made available to eligible homeowners in five downstate counties impacted by flooding.

Since then, two NYU professors have been awarded a $1 million grant to research ways for making New York City's underground infrastructure more climate-resilient. The project, which has been dubbed Unification for Underground Resilience Measures or UNUM, is co-led by Debra Laefer, a civil and urban engineering professor at the Tandon School of Engineering, and Rae Zimmerman, a professor of planning and urban administration at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

The project's ultimate goal is to collect and present data that will allow neighborhood groups and utility providers to share information about what happens beneath the city's surface in an efficient and secure manner. The National Science Foundation, in collaboration with the US Departments of Energy and Homeland Security, will fund their research through a Civic Innovation Challenge grant.

Ginkgo’s founder, Star Childs was asked to participate in the project as one of a small handful of specialized Senior Personnel. Part of Star’s involvement will include the exploration of how local communities can access better map layers and information about risks and opportunities associated with underground infrastructure.

“Having good information about underground infrastructure in a format that is comparable and contrastable with information about activities and assets above ground, and how these two things interface, is of the utmost importance to maintaining successful public realms and enabling cities to be more resilient in general.” - Star Childs

In addition, Star was able to introduce the Grand Central Partnership to the project. The GCP team manages their records for the Midtown East neighborhood in Manhattan using Ginkgo, and as a result one of the two research sites for the project has been located in the GCP Business Improvement District. 

“We were looking at two basic areas that were very, very different. Midtown East is a heavy business district — very high end, very high income — whereas Sunset Park has a very different demographic profile, with lower incomes, minorities and very different buildings and structures.” - Professor Rae Zimmerman

The UNUM team will construct a model that merges data from multiple agencies into a digital format that is easy for interest groups to access, understand, and contribute to thanks to the recent grant of $1 million, which was received earlier this fall.


To learn more visit the NYU site https://wp.nyu.edu/unum/about/ as well as a via the NYU Student Newspaper here: https://nyunews.com/news/2021/11/09/nsf-climate-grant-nyc-underground-infrastructure/

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