Online exclusive: PSU professors receive NSF grant

A team of Portland State professors will use the $300,000 grant they received from the National Science Foundation to study how management and land use practices affect urban ecological systems.

A team of Portland State professors will use the $300,000 grant they received from the National Science Foundation to study how management and land use practices affect urban ecological systems.

Alan Yeakley, an environmental science and management professor at PSU, said his utopian idea of what Portland could be drives his upcoming research. He and the five other professors at PSU will collaborate with Reed College, Oregon State, Washington State and the NSF.

Specifically, the study will compare parts of Oregon cities and parts of Washington cities. Its goal is to see how land use practices compare within different states.

Yeakley, who moved to Portland in 1995, wants to understand if the Portland environmental mystique actually works.

Programs like the Brooklyn Creek watershed bioswales, located in southeast Portland, are the most intensive in the country. Bioswales work to remove pollution from water runoff when it rains, according to Yeakley. These types of programs can only be implemented with the help of the population.

Usually these bioswales are used in small plots of grass located on property lines, or in a parking area. Yeakley says the study plans to “engage the citizenry” with homeowner surveys.

Yeakley is excited that he will be able to collaborate with other PSU departments, as well as OSU and WSU.

“I have a lot of strong colleagues,” he said. “We’re all together in this. Folks at OSU and WSU are instrumental.”

One of those colleagues that will be working closely with Yeakley is Connie Ozawa, a professor of urban planning at PSU. She said that she has a different perspective on the collective research model.

“My focus is on the management strategy and institutional context rather than [the meaning of] the patterns of gains or loss of vegetation in the context of the natural ecosystem,” Ozawa said.

Both professors were excited when the news of the grant came, as it provided them with a sense of satisfaction for prior work.

“I was gratified that NSF recognizes the assets of this locality in terms of studying the interaction between human and natural systems,” Ozawa said. “I was pleased that the work that Yeakley and I have invested in for more than a decade has been able to contribute to a larger goal.”

That larger goal is linked to this grant, as they are hoping that this will lead to a larger, more permanent home for this research.

“We were hoping something like this would come in so we could make an impact,” Yeakley said. “This is a seed grant. If we are successful we could be funded in a bigger way, all leading up to a research site.”

Both Ozawa and Yeakley understand the importance of a collective collaboration between the cities and the environmental impact they are having. Additionally, they said that looking at Austin, Texas as a complement to the land use practices of Portland will further help understand the impact we are having on our environment.

While there were other grants issued around the country, this is the only one in the Northwest.

There are more facets to the study than just the science behind the systems being put into place. Per her background, Ozawa is looking at the communication process.

“I’d like us to look more intensively at how professionals in different disciplines work together and convey meaningful information to the public and to elected decision-makers,” she said.

In addition to Ozawa and Yeakley, PSU professors Vivek Shandas, Heejun Chang and Marion Dresner will all be participating in the study.

The $300,000 grant will go mainly toward graduate students, and the group is looking to hire a program administrator.