CHUD part of a network eyeing effects of change in South Texas

The Center for Housing and Urban Development at Texas A&M’s College of Architecture is part of a new research, educational and engagement network focusing on providing sustainability science to South Texas policymakers and communities. The research network will deal with the effects of changes, during the next 20 years, in the region’s climate, energy production and environment — especially the availability and use of water in the semiarid region — as well as the impact these changes will have on the area’s burgeoning Hispanic population.

The Climate, Energy, Environment and Engagement in Semiarid Regions Research Coordination Network, or CE3SAR RCN, funded by a five-year, $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, combines CHUD resources with those of other research centers and institutes at Texas A&M, The Texas A&M University System, The University of Texas System and Texas State University.

“The research network will significantly increase the focus on sustainability among South Texas academic institutions and lead to partnerships with federal and state agencies, industry, nongovernment organizations, community and regional organizations,” said project head Luis Cifuentes, the project's principal investigator, associate vice president for research and scholarly activity and dean of graduate studies at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi.

CHUD, with its strong presence in South Texas and a distinguished history of work in sustainability, will be a key contributor to the network, he said.

“Climate change, population increases, changes in energy sources and other human impacts such as pollution and civil infrastructure are expected to have profound effects on South Texas,” states the CE3SAR RCN research proposal. “In addition to affecting the availability and quality of water, wildlife, fisheries, agriculture, air quality and land availability will also be affected.”

These changes, researchers say, will have complex social, economic, political and health impacts. While many of these effects have been studied separately, decisions by policy makers and communities must take into account complex interactions of all of these factors.

“Science too often fails to provide the concrete information that policy makers and their communities need to make critical decisions,” states the research proposal. The researchers also note “South Texas has been historically underserved and isolated in terms of resources to support and advance regional research and education critical to the future of the predominantly Hispanic population.”

Adopting this new approach is imperative, researchers say, because scientists must work across disciplinary lines to generate the integrated, comprehensive knowledge requried to shed light on the complex issues South Texas faces and to conduct scenario planning.

Jorge Vanegas, CHUD director and dean of the College of Architecture, is a co-principal investigator of CE3SAR RCN. He will facilitate charrettes — short, intense strategic brainstorming sessions — with network members to create a five-year strategic plan to meet specific goals. The objective is to establishing a robust, mature and sustainable regional network of researchers in universities, centers and institutes to:

  • Successfully translate sustainability science issues related to climate, energy and environment to various scales — individual to regional —advancing consensus-based engagement by its predominantly Hispanic and diverse regional populations, cultures and institutions;
  • Better communicate and coordinate research efforts across disciplinary and institutional domains, engage new researchers in the network, and train and engage students in research;
  • Develop research and educational partnerships to be competitive for collaborative research grants funded by federal and state agencies, foundations and private industry, particularly center-level research grants;
  • Engage undergraduate and graduate students in network research, develop new curricula, promote student research in sustainability science, and disseminate research information to the public; and
  • Establish a more nuanced understanding of the intersection of sustainability research and implementation in predominantly Hispanic South Texas with the socioeconomic, cultural and historic factors that significantly influence acceptance.

Vanegas will also facilitate the network’s connections with South Texas’ colonias and community leaders, serve as the CHUD and Texas A&M’s liaison and coordinator to the network, and direct the network’s international partnerships.

Research centers and institutes at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Texas A&M-Kingsville, Texas A&M International University, University of Texas-Brownsville and University of Texas-Pan American are also involved in the effort.

posted November 16, 2011