Sustainable Urban Revitalization Center Helps Breathe New Life into Urban Areas

"The revitalization of urban communities isn't just about designing buildings," says Bob Schmitter, a senior research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and director of the new center. "It's a complicated mix of environmental, economic and social issues. If we can get developers and communities to think about these interrelationships and the cumulative impact of a project, such as how it affects the people who work and live in an area, then chances for that project's success will increase dramatically."

CSUR concentrates on the revitalization of existing properties, such as brownfields, adaptive reuse and infill development. Housed within GTRI's Electro-Optics, Environment and Materials Laboratory, the new center will provide a formal mechanism to tap different resources at Georgia Tech, supporting urban redevelopment in three ways:

Education. "University research isn't always disseminated to people who can use it," Schmitter says. "We want to help deliver knowledge to a variety of participants -- architects, attorneys, policymakers -- so those people can better understand what's going on and make decisions that are economically, environmentally and socially friendly. For example, what would be the best use of a property, and how does it factor into job creation?"

Research. CSUR will provide assistance to university researchers and also conduct research projects of its own. Two current projects include:

- Building disaster-resistant communities. This means not only protecting communities from natural disasters, such as floods and tornados, but also from terrorists.

- "Green" building products and sustainability. Are emerging energy-efficient, environmentally conscious products as good as traditional ones? Do they make sense from an economic and safety perspective? For example, if the materials caught fire, would they burn more quickly or be more dangerous in any way?

Technical assistance. CSUR will help communities with cleanup of hazardous waste sites and brownfields (properties contaminated by past industrial or commercial activities, such as an old gas station with a leaky oil tank).

"It doesn't have to be a Superfund issue," Schmitter notes, referring to those seriously contaminated sites that are eligible for federal cleanup funds. "A community may have a garbage dump in its backyard. We can tell people how to get involved in the cleanup process."

CSUR's first major undertaking is to assist Jacoby Development Inc. (JDI) with Atlantic Station, its 138-acre, mixed-use project in Atlanta's Midtown neighborhood. A combination of retail, office and residential, Atlantic Station sits on the former site of Atlantic Steel mill. What once was one of Georgia's largest brownfields is now a model for sustainable redevelopment, using building practices and construction materials that will reduce pollution and energy consumption

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