Making Science Actionable

There are few precedents for understanding the current pandemic; it’s not exactly the kind of disaster we’ve been expecting. But long immersed in the city’s interconnected ecologies and infrastructures, the New School’s Urban Systems Lab is exploring how many of the key indicators of vulnerability to this crisis overlap with those of another: climate change. With the approach of summer’s heat, continued efforts to contain the virus will place particular pressures on the city’s most vulnerable. We heard from the Lab’s Timon McPhearson, Christopher Kennedy, and Luis Ortiz about their efforts to gather the information that matters most now, and make it useful to policymakers and communities trying to find solutions in a complex and ever-shifting situation.

Combining the New York City Department of Health’s COVID-19 case data (broken down by zip code and plotted along the y-axes in the graphs below) with demographics from the 2017 American Community Survey (represented along the x-axes and in the maps to the right), the Urban Systems Lab has developed a series of visualizations that help illustrate the pandemic’s impact across various indicators of social vulnerability, such as median income and population density.

The Lab has also been measuring other impacts of the virus along with efforts to contain it, including the availability of testing kits and the efficacy of social distancing measures. You can explore their ongoing research into the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic here.

A plot graph comparing the electric load of recent years to that of 2020 in New York City. Electric loads are currently lower than normal, suggesting that city’s energy peaks are driven by office, commercial and industrial uses.

A screenshot from an interactive map highlighting heat risk across New York City. The map incorporates several other layers of social, ecological and technical factors relevant to both the climate and COVID-19 crises.

The Urban Systems Lab is an interdisciplinary research, design, and practice space at The New School that examines the social, ecological, and technological systems (SETs) that drive persistent patterns and challenges in cities. The Lab’s work spans the globe, from Beijing to Berlin, Valdivia and San Juan, New York, Lisbon, Melbourne and Oslo, advancing cutting edge science, data visualization, and science communication to improve the lives of the most vulnerable and decision-making from local neighborhood to city, regional, and global scales. Timon McPhearson is the Director of the Urban Systems Lab. Christopher Kennedy is the Assistant Director of the Urban Systems Lab. Luis Ortiz is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Urban Systems Lab.