Partnering With Local Thought Leaders and Decisionmakers, Drexel Leads the Way on Climate Resiliency

When Hurricane Ida swept through Philadelphia in September of 2021, it left behind more than a few lasting images of kayakers navigating a flooded Vine Street Expressway. The National Hurricane Center estimated that approximately $3 billion in damage was done in the city and surrounding region by the record rainfalls, wind and tornadoes that came with the storm. More than 4,000 buildings were damaged in some way and hundreds of citizens were left without their homes.

The region is experiencing the impacts of climate change, and Philadelphians – especially those in neighborhoods with less access to resources to cool their homes or repair them after storms – are increasingly at-risk with each passing year. To address these challenges, Drexel has joined forces with local leaders on two major projects focused on climate resiliency.

The College of Engineering’s Sustainable Water Resource Engineering Laboratory , along with Drexel’s Environmental Collaboratory , The Water Center of the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova College of Engineering’s Center for Resilient Water Systems , have formed the Academic Network to Support Urban Water Resilience (ANSUWR). Funded by a grant from the William Penn Foundation, the ANSUWR will work with community organizations to identify research proposals that leverage areas of need and turn them into projects that students and researchers at the partner universities will undertake.

Additionally, last week the Consortium for Climate Risks in the Urban Northeast (CCRUN), released the Climate Resilience Research Agenda for the Philadelphia Region (CRRA), an interdisciplinary, collaborative report that will set priorities for experts and officials studying and acting on the effects of climate change in the area. The research agenda is the result of a collaboration between Drexel, along with the City of Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the Academy of Natural Sciences (ANS) of Drexel University and Drexel University faculty and staff, that began in 2019, when Drexel, in response to calls from the student body to take action on climate change, started a “Climate Year,” launching initiatives across all levels of the University to make combating climate change central to its institutional practices, curriculum, research and civic engagement.

“Climate change represents an unprecedented challenge to all of society, and it will take a collaborative effort to protect ourselves from its growing effects,” said Franco Montalto, PhD, professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering and one of CCRUN’s principal investigators. “It is gratifying to know that so many individuals and organizations are willing to work together to make sure that we are asking the right questions and making practical, data-driven recommendations.”

The CRRA formed four working groups focused on key areas: cascading climate hazards, health and environmental vulnerability, the built environment and infrastructure systems, and regional climate governance and adaptive management. Each working group brought regional practitioners, representatives of the non-profit sector and university researchers together to gather data, ask important questions and suggest paths forward. Of particular concern is how climate change will affect different populations in different ways – some of Philadelphia’s lower income neighborhoods are at higher risk of feeling the burden of hotter summers , for example, than others.

“The lived experience of people living in neighborhoods that are already experiencing these outcomes is as valuable as any data that we could gather,” Montalto said. “It is critical that we partner with them and build on the work that they are already doing.”

The CRRA and ANSUWR, Montalto stressed, are just the beginning of the work that must be done to protect the Philadelphia region from higher temperatures, flooding, water quality issues and other direct effects of climate change. New projects and initiatives will be announced in the coming months.

“We invite all who read the research agenda or who interact with the research centers in the network to become part of the process,” he said. “Only by working together can we address a problem of this magnitude.”