Stevens opens its doors to Professor Alexandros Washburn and his CRUX program
14 Nov 2014
Source: The Stute
By: Olivia Schreiber
Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast two years ago, but the effects of her tumultuous path can still be seen. Although hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis are unlikely to hit the New York City area, the potential still exists for fatal consequences. How do we combat unlikely, but devastating events such as Hurricane Sandy? The answer may lie with Professor Alexandros Washburn, former chief Urban Designer under Mayor Bloomberg, and the newest program at Stevens – Coastal Resilience and Urban Xcellence (CRUX). Professor Washburn took some time out of his day to discuss CRUX, what courses the program offers, and why he chose Stevens to be his new workplace.
What exactly is your program?
Professor Washburn: The program stands for Coastal Resilience and Urban Xcellence. It’s a research and education center dedicated to the proposition that coastal cities can increase their resilience to climate change while simultaneously improving their quality of life.
How would you define resiliency?
Let’s go back to risk. It’s quantifiable. Risk has two components: probability and consequence. Even though we have a lower probability of hurricanes hitting us, we have a higher consequence if they do. We can lower probability by lowering carbon emissions. But to decrease consequence, then the city has to adapt. That is what gives me a clue as to what resiliency is. So resiliency is a whole basket of actions you can take to help your city adapt.
You and Stevens were both dramatically affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Is this one of the reasons why you came to Stevens? How did you go from being Chief Urban Designer of New York City to a professor at Stevens?
CRUX believes that resiliency and quality of life can be best achieved in coastal cities by combining three disciplines: hydrodynamics, urban design, and complex systems. Stevens has Alan Blumberg, who knows more about the moving of the waters more than anyone else in the world. When the plane went down in the Hudson, the NYPD called him, not FEMA. Now, urban design is what I bring to the table. Stevens is well-placed. Here we are, in the school of complex science, now with a framework of urban design. And here we have an incredible variety of building types and coastal types, from bungalows to skyscrapers, from concrete revetments to marshland.
Within the CRUX program, what types of courses will students be able to take?
We’ve approached the education curriculum from an interesting perspective. What would a chief resilience officer need to know to change their city? The first thing you need to know is: how do you change a city? What is resiliency? How do you make risk sustainable? How do you communicate the need for resiliency?
So the courses that are going to be offered will surround these types of questions?
Yes, exactly. We want to focus on how we make cities more resilient and better places to live.
Where is your program now in terms of being available in the spring semester?
The program is going through the graduate curriculum committee. It’s a long process. Course structure is an idea, an idea in support for a larger thesis. Remember, we need to continually ask ourselves how we make cities more resilient while improving the quality of life. These courses start as an idea and get fleshed out as a syllabus as I work with experts in my field and others from Stevens.
Are your courses only graduate-level courses?
They are also available to undergraduate students. Everything that we approach is so complex, so we need to have a studio environment. There is a role for a whole variety of both skill levels and skill sets. We also had a Stevens scholar do research this past summer, and we’d love to have more scholars do research this summer.
Where do you see your program in five years?
I think this program can change perceptions and mindsets. It will also change our toolset for changing these problems. I worked in the Bloomberg government, one of the best run municipal administrations in the country before, during, and after Hurricane Sandy. Particularly after, we were struggling on how to respond. We simply did not have the analytical tools or data to make quick, accurate decisions. This program will make this toolset. We will teach students at Stevens and students from all over the world.
The CRUX Program will most likely be available this coming spring. For those who are interested in taking a CRUX course, conducting research, or learning more about what the program entails, contact CRUX@stevens.edu for more information.