Sonia Hirt, associate professor of urban affairs and planning and the School of Public and International Affairs in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech, is the first Institute for Society, Culture and Environment senior fellow, announces Karen A. Roberto, institute director.

During spring 2012, Hirt will focus her time on advancing debates on urban land-use policy reform in the United States and working with a team of faculty members on energy sustainability at the urban scale.

In outlining her research agenda, Hirt made the points that global environmental problems have local causes, such as urbanization and deforestation. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. "Partially because municipal laws do not encourage urban density and rarely designate land for greenbelts, U.S. cities spiral to an extent unknown elsewhere in the world," she said, pointing out that zoning for large, separate housing and business districts with no well-developed mass transit results in use of private cars for commuting and shopping.

There has been a good deal of advocacy for mixed land uses and green buildings. And European cities are good models of sustainable development, Hirt said. She will do "cross continental research on municipal policies," analyze how they work in practice, and investigate whether they can be applied in the U.S.

Hirt's project relates to three Institute for Society, Culture and Environment thematic areas – global issues, social complexity, and built environments.

The institute's senior fellowship program is designed to support faculty members who are pursuing an innovative research agenda that has strong potential for significant external funding. The program provides an opportunity for tenured faculty to prepare to lead a project by developing new expertise in a research area or further developing an existing area of research.

Two or three senior fellowships will be available during each academic year through 2015. Applications for the fall 2012 senior fellow are due Feb. 15. Guidelines are posted on the institute homepage.



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