Dr. Debra F. Laefer
Professor, NYU Center for Urban Science + Progress
Just Below the Surface
The configuration and administration of aboveground spaces is a daily consideration in municipal governance and the topic of extensive legislation. Zoning, building permits, congestion charges, curb management, and air rights are just a few examples. While efforts to control and design municipalities can be traced back to at least Vitruvius, there is a paucity of consideration for equivalent below ground spaces, even in the twenty-first century. Yet, with two-thirds of the world now living in cities, comprehensive mapping and management of the urban subsurface is a critical component to providing the efficient and resilient infrastructure needed to protect cities as healthy, functioning centers of economic growth. This talk addresses the scope and complexity of such an undertaking, highlights current efforts in the mapping and management of our subsurface, and illustrates the imperative of doing this now.
With degrees from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (MS, Ph.D.), NYU (MEng), and Columbia University (BS, BA), Prof. Debra Laefer has a wide-ranging background spanning from geotechnical and structural engineering to art history and historic preservation. Not surprisingly, Prof. Laefer’s work often stands at the cross-roads of technology creation and community values such as devising technical solutions for protecting architecturally significant buildings from sub-surface construction. As the density of her aerial remote sensing datasets continues to grow exponentially with time, Prof. Laefer and her Urban Modeling Group must help pioneer computationally efficient storage, querying, and visualization strategies that both harness distributed computing-based solutions and bridge the gap between data availability and its usability for the engineering community.