University and city representatives from across the country gathered at Kroon Hall on Friday to explore how institutions of higher education can partner with their home cities to increase environmental sustainability in urban spaces.

The event, which was organized by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies’ Hixon Center for Urban Ecology, consisted of four panels that addressed topics ranging from transportation to flood management. Because the conference emphasized collaboration between cities and universities, the panels were comprised of both university representatives and representatives of home-city governments. For instance, both Paul Soglin, the mayor of Madison and Charles Hoslet, the vice chancellor for university relations at UW-Madison attended the event.

The conference began with remarks by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies Dean Ingrid Burke and a panel led by University President Peter Salovey and Mayor of New Haven Toni Harp. Following Salovey and Harp’s discussion on issues pertaining to the Yale-New Haven community, speakers discussed the challenges of navigating city-university relationships in their specific contexts.

“When you combine thoughtful leadership, active citizens, a community that cares, you can achieve so much, even in spite of everything that’s not working,” Associate Director for Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at Carnegie Mellon University Anna Siefken said in an interview with the News. “We have issues with poverty, we have issues with equality, but we still find a way to look to the long term and take a leadership role in green building and transportation.”

During a panel discussion on “Stormwater, Flood Management and Resilience,” Siefken explained how Carnegie Mellon’s MetroLab Network partnered with the city of Pittsburgh to work toward improving local policy measures. She acts as a “connection point,” identifying city issues and challenges that faculty at Carnegie Mellon might be able to help address, she told the News. She added that having “one, unbiased person act as a sort of concierge to match a problem with the right minds can be incredibly helpful.”

New Haven resident Huan Ngo, who attended the event, said that while city and university representatives work in earnest to solve problems together, they are sometimes constrained by how much time they can devote to issues of long-term sustainability.

“The people in City Hall are swamped, so for an environmental issue which is long term, it tends to get endlessly put off,” Ngo said.

Ngo added that the Yale-New Haven collaboration would benefit greatly from someone who has an office at both Yale and in City Hall — a “person with a foot in each side who could translate ideas into actions.”

Colleen Murphy-Dunning, an event organizer and program director of Yale’s Hixon Center for Urban Ecology, said that the conference was inspired by faculty conversations and ambitious plans from both the University and city to improve sustainability in the long term. Exposure to new ideas, she said, is integral to a successful Yale-New Haven partnership. Pittsburgh’s organizational model stood out to Murphy-Dunning, who noted that it “helps them achieve optimum communication between university and city.”

Ngo echoed Murphy-Dunning’s sentiments, stating that transfer of knowledge is necessary for “successful sustainability.”

Although there is room for improvement, Murphy-Dunning said, she is happy with the progress that has been made by the Yale-New Haven collaboration so far.

“Throughout my work, there has been a very strong relationship that has benefited both our city and our students,” she said.

The Hixon Center for Urban Ecology was established in 1998.

Josh Purtell |