Franco Montalto, Drexel University – Building Urban Climate Resilience through Integrated Research, Teaching, and Engagement

On Drexel University Week:  Climate change will lead to numerous challenges.

Franco Montalto, professor in the department of civil, architectural, and environmental engineering, looks into finding ways to mitigate problems through educational practices.

Dr. Montalto is a civil engineer interested in the development of ecologically, economically, and socially sensible solutions to urban environmental problems, with a focus on water resources, nature-based solutions, sustainability, and climate resilience. He directs the Sustainable Water Resource Engineering Lab at Drexel University, and is the Founder and President of eDesign Dynamics LLC, the Director of the North American Hub of the Urban Climate Change Research Network, a Member of the 4th New York City Panel on Climate Change, and an author of the Northeast Chapter of the 5th National Climate Assessment (NCA5).

Building Urban Climate Resilience through Integrated Research, Teaching, and Engagement


By strategically integrating research, civic engagement, and teaching initiatives, university faculty can help increase resilience to climate change and other stressors, and here I describe my attempts to do just that in two environmental justice communities of Philadelphia. 

In the low-lying Eastwick community, our research to simulate the extent and depth of flooding under different climate scenarios makes use of the latest climate science and the state of the art in hydrologic modeling. However, by using these tools to evaluate the efficacy of home-grown flood risk reduction strategies, we have also helped to direct government and media attention to the community’s needs. In the process, the project became the centerpiece of two doctoral dissertations, a problem-based learning project for a masters-level sustainability course, an undergraduate senior design project, and an opportunity for visiting students from Venice, Italy to study flooding in a unique cultural context.

In Hunting Park, one of the hottest and most heat vulnerable communities in the city, my lab worked with residents and a local NGO to develop outdoor, passive strategies for heat relief in the early phases of the pandemic. A team of undergraduate students, faculty, staff, paid residents and civic scientists designed, built, deployed, and evaluated the effectiveness of shade structures, sprinklers, and new greenery deployed across six blocks. The project created heat relief and temporary local jobs, while beautifying the neighborhood, empowering community leaders, building social cohesion, and helping our NGO partner to advance other important community conversations.

As our society mobilizes to become more resilient to climate change, university faculty have an increasingly important role to play. By focusing on the challenges climate change poses to our communities and our professions, we can deliver customized, timely, no-regrets, and actionable knowledge where it is most needed, forge new and critical partnerships, and mentor students not just in science, but in its appropriate application in an uncertain and vulnerable world.