Published: Aug. 15, 2019

An environmental design students presents suggestions of possible ways to enhance downtown Longmont’s public areas to attract more people to the city’s central business district and get those people to spend more time there.

As part of a Colorado MetroLab project, CU Boulder's environmental design students presented on May 1 their design ideas around enhancing downtown Longmont’s public areas to city officials and interested residents.

The city of Boulder and a group from CU Boulder led by the Community Engagement, Design and Research Center (CEDaR), are hosting a high-profile conference focusing on technology, data and design partnerships.

MetroLab — a national network of 40 city-university partnerships focused on urban innovation — is holding its annual summit in Boulder Sept. 19 - 20. The national event attracts leading policy-makers, academics and relevant industry and nonprofit professionals. 

The conference provides an opportunity for researchers and city staff from across the country to explore city-university partnerships similar to those developed between CU Boulder and surrounding cities and counties, says Brian Muller, associate professor of environmental design and CEDaR's director. As part of the Colorado partnerships, the university serves as a research and development arm while the city serves as a test bed for technologies and policies, and students benefit from real-world experience. 

"At the heart of CU Boulder's MetroLab initiative is a relationship-building philosophy," Muller says. "University researchers and local policymakers learn about each other’s priorities, which helps faculty tailor their research around tangible, urban issues, current policy discussions and benefits to Colorado citizens. At the same time Metrolab projects are designed to inspire student research through seminars, thesis projects and sponsored internships, which simultaneously strengthens the University's teaching mission.

Julia Richman, the City of Boulder Chief Innovation and Technology Officer, said the city is excited to co-host MetroLab Network’s annual summit.

“We are lucky to have a world-class university in our community and benefit from our partnerships with their professors and students on a regular basis," Richman said. "We cannot wait to share our successes and lessons learned on our path to making Boulder a hub for innovation.” 

If you go

Who: Leaders from local governments, universities, industries and nonprofits

What: MetroLab Annual Summit, a national convening of city-university partnerships. 

When: Sept. 19-20

Where: Sustainability, Energy and Environment Community (SEEC), CU Boulder, 4001 Discovery Dr.,  Boulder 

Etc:  Among other panels at the summit is a Colorado-focused workshop, "Climate Change and Research Needs of Local Governments:  CU Boulder and Colorado Cases."  Participants will discuss climate change research priorities in local and state government and related research partnerships.

Registration and information

Colorado MetroLab

Colorado MetroLab

The national MetroLab Network, a collaborative of 45 cities, six counties, and 61 universities, was launched in 2015 by 21 founding city-university pairings as part of the Obama administration’s Smart Cities Initiative. 

With the support of CEDaR, CU Boulder has entered into MetroLab memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with the cities of Denver, Boulder, and Longmont as well as Boulder County, and a number of research projects have been initiated under these MoUs. Local governments collaborate with students and faculty to do research, develop and deploy technologies and design policy approaches to address challenges within urban areas. 

Colorado MetroLab's projects are diverse, ranging from innovations in policy and spatial analysis to new uses of building materials and design, Muller says. All focus on building vital and efficient cities and addressing issues of equity, affordability and community involvement.

Through Colorado MetroLab's partnership with the city of Denver, the partners developed the Green Infrastructure Decision Tool, an innovative, data-rich forecasting and decision-making tool that assesses the effects of growth and climate change on built and natural urban surfaces.

Sarah Anderson, green infrastructure program manager for the City and County of Denver, says the collaborative effort resulted in an impervious cover forecasting model that looked at the rate of impervious cover change, the drivers and potential impacts as well as mitigation tools. 

“The partnership with CU Boulder through MetroLab has been incredibly valuable to the City and County of Denver," Anderson said. "Based on the data and recommendations from CU Boulder, Denver’s Green Infrastructure Group is moving forward with policy change recommendations that address the actual problems and drivers versus a more traditional trial and error approach."  

"I anticipate this partnership with CU Boulder and MetroLab lasting for many years to come," she adds.

The Boulder campus has a similar relationship with the city of Boulder and Boulder County around housing, including technology and policy for manufactured housing. Initially CU Boulder students performed an analysis of the sustainability of mobile home parks in Boulder County. Then environmental design (ENVD) students and faculty re-engineered an existing mobile home as a demonstration of energy efficiency. Four interdisciplinary seminars were conducted to assess strategies for retrofit of mobile home parks. Building on this experience, CU and local governments co-sponsored two statewide and regional conferences on manufactured housing.

Seed funding for these projects comes from the city of Boulder, CU Boulder's Office for Outreach and Engagement, the Research & Innovation Office and the Program in Environmental Design. These efforts have led to two National Science Foundation proposals and a major foundation grant, submitted in collaboration with local governments, engineering and business faculty, Boulder Housing Partners and others.

"This project follows CEDaR’s philosophy," Muller says. "It’s about relationships built over long periods of time that flow from project to project."