Current Research Projects

Environmental Justice and Urban Green Space

Many studies have demonstrated that urban green spaces have positive impacts on both the physical and mental health of city residents. In fact, living near parks has been shown to reduce mortality rates in residents and significantly reduce depression and stress levels. Some researchers have even shown how health disparities in cities (across a variety of socio-economic status variables) could be partly explained by reduced access to high quality greenspace. Yet, these urban green spaces are often distributed in a way that disproportionately benefits communities that are affluent and Caucasian.  Therefore, access to urban green space has become a significant environmental justice issue for many U.S. cities.  Fortunately, cities can adopt planning and policy strategies to increase urban green space in a way that takes environmental justice into account.  For example, cities can green existing urban land in neighborhoods that are less affluent and more diverse.  However, these strategies can have the unintended consequences of increasing housing costs and property values, which can drive out the existing residents.  I am interested in understanding and untangling the complex puzzle of planning for urban green spaces at the local level in a way that prioritizes environmental justice. I am currently focused on a project that addresses how policies can encourage local governments to prioritize environmental justice when planning urban green spaces.


Urban Green Space and Park Access in the Phoenix Metro Area

Traditionally, greenspace access measures for parks have focused on the distance to, number of, or size of green spaces, as a proxy for access to urban green spaces. Using these traditional measures, existing studies have yielded mixed results about disparities in park access in the U.S.

I am currently working with Professor Yushim Kim (in the School of Public Affairs at ASU) and two doctoral students (Youngjae Won and Ji-Eun Kim) to analyze access to local parks in the Phoenix metropolitan areas based on residents’ visit patterns using SafeGraph’s mobility data. This approach utilizes an innovative dataset to study park visits as a measure of access in contrast to the more traditional access measures.


Nature-Based Solutions and Green Infrastructure for Climate Change Adaptation at the Local Government Level

In recent years, the impacts of climate change have become more visible at the local level, including more intense weather patterns that cause increased flooding in urban environments. As a result, public managers and planners are more involved in helping cities adapt to climate change.  By adopting and implementing green infrastructure policies and nature-based solutions at the local level, planners and public managers can help cities (and their residents) adapt to the new realities of climate change.

For example, green infrastructure is an alternative to the traditional gray infrastructure (e.g., pipes and concrete tunnels) that has been used in cities to move stormwater away from the city to water treatment plants.  During episodes of intense flooding, these gray infrastructure systems can overflow and cause damage to nearby property and the infrastructure itself.  Green infrastructure systems mimic natural processes to filter and absorb stormwater wherever it falls.  Therefore, green infrastructure systems can reduce the amount of rainwater that goes into the traditional gray sewer system (and reduce the chance of sewer overflows). 

In 2019, Congress enacted the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, which defined green infrastructure as "the range of measures that use plant or soil systems, permeable pavement or other permeable surfaces or substrates, stormwater harvest and reuse, or landscaping to store, infiltrate, or evapotranspirate stormwater and reduce flows to sewer systems or to surface waters" (Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, 2019).  As gray infrastructure systems begin to age in many U.S. cities, public managers are considering whether to replace some of these systems with green infrastructure systems (or, at the very least, supplement the gray infrastructure systems with new green infrastructure systems to increase capacity).

The concept of nature-based solutions overlaps with the focus on green infrastructure for local governments (with the concept of nature-based solutions being a more recent development and a bit broader in focus).  I am interested in studying how these concepts can be utilized and implemented by local governments to aid in the process of climate change adaptation.


Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, Pub. L. No. 115-436, (2019).