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  • Chris Tirri

Project GrEEEn Gets the Green Light

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

Dr. Meenar and his Community Planning + Visualization Lab at Rowan University are pleased to announce their receipt of a $100,000 grant from NASA’s Earth Science Applications: Equity and Environmental Justice (EEJ) program.

The grant will help fund research efforts related to “Project GrEEEn,” which aims to utilize earth science data and an environmental justice lens to enhance greenspace equity, exposure, and experience in underserved urban communities. These three core tenets are united under the common goal of greenspace access, and the research team has designed a dynamic methodology supported by the following definitions.

Greenspaces can be considered equitably distributed only if all residents within a disadvantaged community can easily and safely access them by walking. Exposure is also related to residents’ walkability, in that it is concerned with the number of eye-level green elements they encounter en route to greenspaces. Finally, the team hopes to understand how residents experience the various green elements (e.g., land cover and tree types) and the spatial quality of the greenspaces they choose to visit.

The project team, led by Drs. Meenar, Rahman, and Adlakha, will focus on two cities in New Jersey, Camden and Jersey City, to investigate ways NASA’s earth science data and organizational involvement can support EJ communities in their efforts to go grEEEn. Both cities fall squarely into NASA’s definition of EJ communities, as well as New Jersey’s definition of overburdened communities, because of their history of rapid industrialization and subsequent rapid decline once major industries and their workers relocated to the surrounding suburbs.

“The project will be organized into two discrete goals/objectives. The first is to work with key stakeholders to identify how NASA can best support local community decision-making processes related to EEJ and greenspace issues by contributing earth science information to those processes. The second is to use that earth science information to examine greenspace equity, exposure, and experience in EJ communities and to minimize gaps that may exist in those communities’ use of such information,” says Dr. Meenar.

To achieve these goals, the team will utilize a series of qualitative and quantitative methods. Community engagement will depend on an online survey to identify how NASA can best support local community decision-making processes relating to EEJ and greenspace issues, as well as focus groups in both study areas to understand public perceptions of greenspace equity, exposure, and experience. The team will then implement different quantitative measures for each of the three core tenets (equity, exposure, and experience).

For equity, they will use fine resolution multi-spectral remote sensing data to extract comprehensive access networks, calculate accessibility scores, and then calculate a Gini index for both cities to show if or how greenspaces are inequitably distributed.

A distance-weighted viewshed algorithm will be the primary method to examine exposure, which will allow the team to calculate a greenness visibility index (GVI), supplemented by the use of LiDAR-derived fine resolution DEM and a digital surface model (DSM) to visualize greenness layers.

Finally, the team will apply their findings from the focus groups to their analysis of greenspace users’ experiences using machine learning-based supervised image classification techniques to map land covers using a data fusion of fine resolution multi-spectral images with LiDAR point cloud.

The final products of the team’s research will take many forms and will be valuable to the investigators, other academics, practitioners, students, and the general public alike. The team hopes their efforts will assist with the advancement of Rowan University’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives through recruitment of minority and underrepresented participants. Additionally, their efforts will hopefully encourage the redistribution of NASA funds to more minority-led community-based organizations.

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