Los Angeles universities help city sustainability drive

University data expertise essential to ‘capacity building’ for city government on issues ranging from air quality to localising UN sustainability goals, THE summit hears

April 27, 2022

Universities in Los Angeles are helping the city government build its capacity on data science, allowing it to innovate to find solutions to challenges ranging from air quality to localising United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a Times Higher Education event heard.

Dawn Comer, director of technology inclusion in the Mayor’s Office of Budget and Innovation for the City of Los Angeles, spoke at the THE Innovation and Impact Summit at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Referencing research by University of Southern California academic Hernan Galperin mapping the parts of LA most impacted by poor broadband connectivity, she said that the pandemic had “heightened and increased how we incorporated his data maps”.

The city government also has “partnerships with a lot of universities on data science projects”, which involve students working on data covering issues including air quality, Covid recovery, racial equity, and localising the SDGs to LA by finding what data the city has on priorities such as gender equity, Ms Comer continued.

The City of LA says that academic partnerships “have made it possible to take local action on the SDGs in LA”, having been a “force multiplier for that progress” with more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students taking part in the project.

That brings an “opportunity for the city to attract new employees – it’s a way to introduce a new career to someone who might not have been exposed to a career path in the public sector” as well as bringing other benefits, said Ms Comer.

“Sometimes we [the city government] can’t upskill and reskill fast enough,” she added. “Working with the students allows us to bring in that breath of fresh air, a new way of looking at something, of doing something. It helps to build capacity for some of the projects we may not have the ability to staff right away.

“The way we approach it is that we timebox it. We make sure that we have a project that can be started and completed with a semester timescale.”

She highlighted a City of LA scheme, involving Nasa and California State University, Los Angeles, to “better understand, predict, and address air quality impacts” in the city.

And University of California, Los Angeles researchers are helping the city government improve its pavements, to reduce trips and falls, by using robots to map them.

These are examples where university research brings “capacity building” for the City of LA, said Ms Comer, needed because “sometimes we don’t have the teams or the resources to have that kind of research”.


Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles