Northeastern University selected as finalist in global competition to build premier climate hub in New York Harbor

A view of downtown Manhattan as seen from Governors Island, where Northeastern University is looking to build a facility to combat climate change. Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images

Northeastern University has been selected as a finalist in a global competition to develop a climate-focused research and education hub in the heart of New York Harbor.

The competition invited uni­ver­si­ties and research insti­tu­tions from around the world to submit proposals to build an anchor institution on Governors Island dedicated to conducting climate research and combating the broader environmental crisis, with particular emphasis on shoring up New York City’s climate resilience. 

The Governors Island Trust, the nonprofit overseeing the 172-acre island, in partnership with New York City issued a Request for Expressions of Interest in June. 

David Luzzi, senior vice president for research and head of Northeastern’s COVID-19 testing operation, poses for a portrait. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

As part of the proposal, Northeastern would lead a consortium of organizations to build out the Cen­ter for Cli­mate Solu­tions. Northeastern’s partners in the effort include the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, based in Falmouth, Cape Cod; The University of Tokyo; and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. 

The future climate facility would be equipped to tackle all aspects of climate change, from deep ocean and sea level rise to the urban heat island effect impacting cities and their neighborhoods, says David Luzzi, senior vice provost for research at Northeastern. 

“From the beginning we decided that our approach was going to be one that covered the complete range of challenges associated with climate change, including the challenges they pose to global coastal cities, such as New York City,” Luzzi, who is overseeing the Northeastern proposal, said. 

The partnership, called the Coastal Cities Impact Team, has articulated a vision for how to “program, build, and oper­ate” the facility, which would devel­op solu­tions to help ready com­mu­nities for cli­mate change, and cre­ate edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams to sup­port the development of green jobs in New York City. 

The team’s plans for the site include building “laboratory space, space for start-up companies and entrepreneurs to collaborate on research projects, overnight accommodations, and a public exhibition hall with interactive learning displays.” To that end, Northeastern’s vision for the research center includes housing scientists, engineers and social scientists in a multidisciplinary approach that tackles not only the science of climate change, but its social consequences born of the inequalities it produces, Luzzi said.

“We have built a partnership dedicated to three things: Climate adaptation, climate science, and climate justice,” Luzzi said. 

The Northeastern-led consortium is also partnering with a number of New York stakeholders, including City University of New York and the New School.

“Our Coastal Cities Impact Team would look forward to strong collaboration with the K-12 educational institutions in New York City, including the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School on Governors Island,” Luzzi said. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the four finalists on Wednesday. The other finalists include teams led by City University of New York and the New School; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Stony Brook University. De Blasio praised the finalists for putting forward “thoughtful, bold proposals.”

 “Governors Island is a jewel of our harbor, and today we’re taking an important step toward transforming it into the nerve center for our city’s fight against climate change,” he said.

The trust and New York City set aside $150 million in capital funding for the Cen­ter for Cli­mate Solu­tions. City and trust officials estimate the project could yield 7,000 new jobs on the island, with a roughly $1 billion economic impact for New York City.

“Addressing the climate crisis through inclusive and cross-sector approaches is imperative for cities, and an opportunity that New York City is poised to lead,” Clare Newman, president and CEO of the Trust for Governors Island, said. “The Center for Climate Solutions will advance New York City’s leadership in generating the innovative solutions needed to create a resilient future for cities around the world, while expanding the training and education needed to provide pathways to green jobs.”

The finalists will submit a finalized proposal in the spring of 2022.

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