Mui Ho
Center for Cities

The Cornell Mui Ho Center for Cities transfers knowledge to action to build more equitable and sustainable cities today and in the future.

Center Funded Research

The center provides competitive seed funding to AAP tenure and tenure track faculty. Seed grants support new research that informs action on the ground and leads to more ambitious and sustained research on cities and urban issues.

Faculty Research Grants 2022–2023

Right to Heal: Energy Transitions and 'Design with Nature'

Esra Akcan, Department of Architecture

Architecture can play an important role in healing societies after conflicts and disasters. This seed grant supported ongoing work on a book that locates spaces of political and ecological harm, and calls for repurposing them as healing spaces where violence and violations are confronted, and accountability and reparations are instituted.

It starts from new archival and field research on sites in what was once the Ottoman Empire, but connects with examples from around the world. Each chapter focuses on a distinct type of conflict and disaster and related architectural programs, moving from individual, to communal, to planetary healing. The analysis shows how sudden shocks are rooted in history, connecting wounds in the present to the intertwined processes of colonization, nationalization, carbonization, and neoliberalization.

National Zoning Atlas

Sara Bronin, Department of City and Regional Planning

The National Zoning Atlas (NZA), undertaken by the Legal Constructs Lab at Cornell AAP, is developing an interactive, user-friendly online database and map that aims to provide insight into zoning regulations across the United States. The work has drawn substantial attention from the mainstream media as well as governance, planning, and urban affairs specialists.

With this seed grant, the project team engaged a temporary geographic information systems (GIS) consultant, registered the domain, and employed graduate students to collect and analyze zoning data from across New York state. This kick-started the creation of the New York Zoning Atlas, a vital component of the larger NZA project. 

Upon completion, the New York Zoning Atlas and the NZA will not only enable cross-jurisdictional comparisons and reveal regional and statewide trends, but also will democratize zoning information, foster public engagement, inform zoning reform advocacy, and level the playing field between land speculators, institutional investors, homeowners, and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.

Modelling Urban Simulations: A Global Survey of Digital Twins of Cities

Farzin Lotfi-Jam, Department of Architecture

Digital twins are virtual replicas of physical urban environments that incorporate real-time data for dynamic simulations. This technology has become increasingly important for city planners, policymakers, and smart technology companies for urban management, development, and future planning. 

The project surveyed 60 digital twin implementations worldwide and conducted a detailed analysis of nearly 30, including cities like Amaravati, Johannesburg, and Singapore. The survey assessed platform capabilities, data collection practices, and the impact of these models on urban decision-making. 

The research has been shared through a public exhibition on the history of urban simulations and a workshop presentation in Singapore. An open-source dataset encapsulating these findings is also in preparation. The study aims to contribute to discussions on digital twins, smart cities, and simulation-based decision-making, thereby setting the stage for more ethical and equitable urban futures.

Urban Water Sources and the Depiction of Ecological Collapse

Dan Torop, Department of Art

In a changing climate, many places increasingly have either too much or too little water. This seed grant supported a photography project focused on two sites: Ludlowville Falls, north of Ithaca, which the artist visited about once per week in 2022–2023, and Owens Lake in Los Angeles, which he has been photographing for years and visited again in November 2022. The seed grant supported the purchase of a medium-format digital camera, which allowed for new ways to depict the landscapes.

Sustained seasonal observation of Ludlowville Falls provided stark contrasts of a place that is sometimes deluged, sometimes water-starved. Owens Lake, meanwhile, was first drained, then re-engineered, at a cost of $2 billion, to create a “minimum viable lake” to mitigate fine particle dust and reconstruct bird habitat. The result is an uncanny serrated landscape – a lake machine.

Selected images were shown in spring 2023 at galleries in Brooklyn and Memphis. The artist plans to continue to photograph both sites and is also preparing a book.

City Leadership in the Time of COVID: Lessons from the American Rescue Plan

Mildred Warner, Department of City and Regional Planning

The American Rescue Plan (ARPA) sent funds to local governments across the U.S. to address structural inequalities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. With seed grant support, this project explored how local governments in New York State used their ARPA funds, the opportunities they identified, and the barriers they faced. The work included focus groups, a survey, and case studies.

The survey, conducted in collaboration with state organizations of local leaders and the Center for Governmental Research, gathered almost 200 responses from local governments. The results were shared in an issue brief and at the spring 2022 Rockefeller Institute of Government Conference. In the spring and fall of 2022, students delved deeper into innovative community responses through case studies of projects to address homelessness, affordable housing, water and sewer systems, access to childcare, and broadband access.

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