ESF Alumni in Action
Improving Buffalo's Waterways
Have you heard about the Buffalo renaissance? What was once a symbol of Rust Belt decline, the city of Buffalo, New York, is now at the forefront of the region's renewal thanks to the city's passionate residents and state investment. The work of ESF alumnus, Mark Bogdan, adds to the momentum of positive change through his work as the Program Manager for Ecological Design and Implementation with the Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. Mark recently spoke with current ESF graduate student, Elena Juodisius, about how he works to improve the environmental quality of his city.
One of Mark's most significant projects is the Green Infrastructure Solutions Plan. He started working on the first round of green infrastructure projects, along with the Buffalo Sewer Authority and other partners, nearly a decade ago, just after graduating from ESF with a
Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree. Buffalo suffers from common urban challenges, including industrial contamination, channelized rivers, habitat loss, and vast amounts of impervious surfaces. Raw sewage from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) creates health risks in waterways as well as impacts to aquatic life. The Green Infrastructure Solutions Plan addresses urban stormwater runoff volume and contamination, as well as creating more desirable complete streets and attractive neighborhoods. As a designer, Mark prepared planting plans, attended community meetings, and worked with engineers to ensure that the projects had multiple benefits for the community.
Mark left the Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper for a couple years to work at an architecture and engineering firm, but later returned for the program manager position. He still is working on the green infrastructure plan, although in a different role, leading the overall process and delegating to a group of project designers. The work of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper often takes many years, but the end result is rewarding. As a nonprofit, the organization has a unique way to tackle urban environmental issues as they come up with their own proposals based on feedback from the public, or inspired by the kayak tours they offer. Mark stays creative in this process, as he takes these dreams and works to secure funding and find project partners. He sticks with a project through construction, and the conclusion is a celebration as the whole community supports their project through the active engagement that has happened throughout the process. Mark finds the work challenging but rewarding; it weaves together the fabric of urban ecology and creates a better quality of life for city residents.
Infrastructure and the Public Realm
One of the most significant and fascinating urban landscapes on the planet is the workplace of ESF alumnus, Paul Mercurio. As Manhattan Borough Planner for the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), Paul engages with standard-setting transportation and public space
projects on a daily basis. Working in the Budget and Capital Program Management Division, he develops capital implementation documents for DOT projects. A big part of the job is to move projects from planning to implementation, including budget justifications submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Paul works to translate concepts and ideas of urban designers and planners into working documents to be carried out by engineers and other professionals.
The high density nature of Manhattan results in interesting reconstruction and reconsideration of public space. The DOT's public space initiative process addresses pedestrian safety, increases walkability, and provides outdoor platforms for a variety of uses.
One of the interesting projects that Paul worked on recently is Water Street Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) (rendering in image above). Located between the Financial District and the East River waterfront, the Water Street corridor had what City staff called "underperforming public realm [that] poses a risk to the district's long-term competitiveness." A collaborative project that included the NYC Economic Development Corporation and DOT began in 2013, and it sought to transform the POPS into a network of public spaces with vitality and design quality. This resulted in, among other accomplishments, improved walkability and enhanced pedestrian experiences.
Step streets are another dense urban feature that Paul has engaged in his work. (See the image of the Upper Manhattan West 215th Street step street below.) Step streets are streets entirely composed of steps on hills where it was too steep to build roads, and they are strictly for pedestrian use. Step streets are mostly old features and are usually built in narrow passages between buildings or in park areas. Paul worked on the reconstruction of a step street located in the vicinity of a large elderly population who had access to few trees or vegetation. The addition of trees, green infrastructure such as porous pavement and bioswales, and benches was included in the reconstruction design to accommodate the surrounding population. The project proposal was submitted a year ago and the design process is currently under way.
Urban Transit Solutions
Kyle Bell, ESF Environmental Studies alumnus, is passionate about his career in transportation and the ways in which rail transportation contributes to urban sustainability. Kyle spoke with current ES student, Celine Damide, about his professional responsibilities.
Kyle worked for the engineering giant, AECOM, for three years as an asset management specialist, primarily with the Long Island Railroad East Side Access. Bell recently joined Network Rail Consulting (NRC) as a principal consultant. Network Rail, the owner and operator of the largest railway system in the UK and Europe, brings its expertise to the US market through NRC, its consulting division. Kyle's position involves transferring and applying best practices from the UK to improve operations and management at US transit agencies.
Kyle is currently working to develop effective strategies with the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) rail control center to deploy repair staff faster to sites to maximize overnight work. Using statistics, GIS, and night observations on track maintenance processes, he proposed solutions to reduce time spent on communication and shut down of train traffic. Originally, the process would take an hour and thirty minutes from time of maintenance signal to the time workers reached the tracks. With the strategy proposed by Bell and his team, the streamlined process now takes thirty to forty-five minutes.
This project demonstrates the rewarding nature of working for a small company where managers have the latitude to design and propose solutions directly to the client compared to having very specific, outlined responsibilities dependent on projects assigned in a larger firm. Flexibility on project input and open communication with supervisors allows cross-disciplinary collaboration for effective solutions. Kyle says that the urban transit field is far-reaching and especially rewarding for students of any major who have a passion for effective transportation.