Logo: University of Southern California

Viterbi School hosts the NAE National Meeting on Megacities

Infrastructure, energy, environment, transportation and natural disasters were focus of Symposium
Lisa Heckaman
February 22, 2011 —

David Sedlak, Jean-Pierre Bardet, Yannis C. Yortsos, Thomas O'Rourke,  Charles M. Vest, Donald L. Paul

Engineering and managing large urban centers was the focus of the National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) 2011 national meeting hosted by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. 

Distinguished academics from Cornell, Berkeley, the RAND Corporation and USC with expertise in energy, environmental quality, infrastructure, transportation, and natural disasters, explored the challenges of planning, building and managing megacities. The NAE event also included poster presentations on parallel research by USC faculty.

Yannis C. Yortsos and Charles M. Vest

In his opening remarks, Dean Yannis C. Yortsos framed issues of megacities as part of the  NAE Grand Challenges, which include “restoring the urban infrastructure” and “access to clean water.” In October 2010, USC also hosted the Second National Summit on the NAE Grand Challenges.

“We are thrilled to host this NAE National Meeting at USC, and welcome back the Academy to the heart of Los Angeles – one of the two megacities in the US,” said Yortsos.

NAE President Charles M. Vest said the symposium was part of an outreach effort by the NAE. He addressed the magnet high school students who attended the meeting and explained that the NAE is very involved in increasing the public’s engagement to engineering and wanted to attract more bright young people to the field.

Speakers included Thomas O'Rourke, the Thomas R. Briggs Professor of Engineering, Geotechnical Disciplines at Cornell University; Donald L. Paul, the William M. Keck Chair of Energy Resources and director, USC Energy Center; David Sedlak, professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of California, Berkeley; Constantinos Sioutas, the Fred Champion Professor in the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Viterbi; Martin Wachs, senior principal researcher and former director of the Transportation, Space and Technology Program, the RAND Corp; and Thomas Jordan, William M. Keck Professor of Earth Sciences, USC, who is also director of the Southern California Earthquake Center.

Solomon Golomb, Andrew Viterbi, Sanjit Mitra
O’Rourke reviewed the future characteristics and directions of infrastructure, as illustrated in case studies for New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. He quoted President Dwight D. Eisenhower regarding readiness for unpredictable events. When he was commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, he said that “in preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless; but planning is indispensable.”

Paul presented a comprehensive picture of energy requirements, particularly for transportation in the megacity. He also discussed a recent Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and USC Smart Grid project, summarizing that “security – energy security in all forms – physical, national, cyber – are key issues for society, business and government.” He stressed the need “to take into account population growth and the enormous scales involved.”

Sedlak’s presentation on water highlighted usage in megacities, particularly Los Angeles. He noted that all water supplies are under threat and that Los Angeles needs to look at alternative water resources. Sedlak suggested the city might reinvent its urban water systems by a combination of conservation, desalination, reuse, and urban water harvesting.

Emile Houndonougbo and his students from MaST High School, who attended the event

Sioutas discussed the effects of emitted nanoparticles from transportation and traffic. Nanoparticles in the ambient air have recently identified as major health risks. Sioutas pointed out to the importance of light rail as an alternative with beneficial environmental health impact.

Wachs discussed the need to increase (rather than decrease) mobility in the world’s megacities, but by using alternative means of transportation. He contrasted this need with the reality that in the rapidly developing countries the rate of growth in the number of automobiles is constantly increasing, replacing public transportation. This growth is worldwide and is accelerating most rapidly in Asia.

Jordan's lecture covered the importance of fine-scale simulation to predict the impact of future natural hazards, and particularly earthquakes. Capturing these effects faithfully requires high-performance computing and the development of accurate numerical codes. Conducting alternative scenarios can aid in the advance warning of impending natural disasters and assist in preparedness.

Jean-Pierre Bardet, professor and chair of the Astani Department and director of the USC Center on Megacities,  and Roger Ghanem, professor in the same department moderated the sessions.

Access the webcast of the event here
 The complete National Meeting Symposium on Megacities program and Speaker bio's can be found here.