Sustainable solutions ensure social equity (fairness, justice in terms of access to and allocation/distribution of community resources).  Social and cultural diversity are equally as important as biodiversity, ecological diversity, economic diversity.

Why does this area of excellence matter in sustainability?

Community engagement (inclusive, collaborative, participatory processes in governance) tools and techniques are critical to the successful implementation of sustainable design and planning projects.  Cities and metropolitan regions are locations with greater sustainability capacity because of higher density and diversity, as well as their potential economies and efficiencies of scale.  There is and will be a long-term demographic transition toward greater global urbanization, intensified formal and informal settlements, and the impacts of climate migration and displacement, which will in turn also impact communities. Through these migrations, it must be ensured that environmental justice will be served and all communities are properly represented, including indigenous and minority populations.

Key questions:

  • At what scales of governance are social/cultural equity issues most effectively addressed, and by what means?
  • What are the current 'best practices' regarding the use of new technology to help facilitate community engagement?
  • In what ways and to what extent are social/cultural aspects of vulnerability critical to community resilience?


Toby Applegate (GEO), Paul Barten (ECo), Sarah Berquist (SSA), Kristina Bezanson (ECo), Elizabeth Brabec (LARP), Julie Brigham-Grette (GEO), Brett Butler (ECo), Paul Catanzaro (ECo), Michael Dipasquale (LARP), Jeffrey Ebdon (SSA),Theodore Eisenman (LARP), Piper Gaubatz (GEO), Mark Hamin (LARP), Elisabeth Infield Hamin (LARP), Katherine Kahl (ECo), Marla Lindsay (ECo), Frank Mangan (SSA), Ezra Markowitz (ECo), Anita Milman (ECo), Darrel Ramsey-Musolf (LARP), Amanda Robillard (ECo), Robert Ryan (LARP), Charlie Schweik (ECo), Frank Sleegers (LARP), Stan Stevens (GEO), Eve Vogel (GEO), Paige Warren (ECo), Benjamin Weil (ECo)

For more details about our faculty, staff, and researchers engaged in this area, please visit the SES Society, Community & Culture Directory page.

*Department of Environmental Conservation (ECo), Environmental Microbiology Group within the Department of Microbiology (Micro), Department of Geosciences (GEO), Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning (LARP), Stockbridge School of Agriculture (SSA)

Featured Projects

Project 1: Future of Our Pasts

Contributors: Elizabeth Brabec, Professor LARP and Director, Center for Heritage and Society, UMass along with 27 other authors from 19 countries, all appointed members of the Climate Change and Heritage Working Group of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites).  ICOMOS is the official advisory body to UNESCO World Heritage on issues of cultural heritage

The “Future of Our Pasts” report was prepared under the scientific leadership of ICOMOS’s Climate Change and Heritage Working Group. The ICOMOS Triennial General Assembly held in 2017 in New Delhi, India adopted Resolution 19GA 2017/30 entitled ‘Mobilizing ICOMOS and the Cultural Heritage Community To Help Meet the Challenge of Climate.’ (see Resolutions p. 18) The Climate Change and Cultural Heritage Working Group was formed in order to further the resolution’s ambitious aims.The report highlights a number of ways in which the core considerations of cultural heritage intersect with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, including heightening ambition to address climate change, mitigating greenhouse gases, enhancing adaptive capacity, and planning for loss and damage.

Project 2: From Pavement to Parks: China’s Revolutionary Squares in Transition

Professor Piper Gaubatz, Department of Geosciences
Contributors: This ongoing project has benefitted from the assistance of a number of UMass students, including Georgia Bass, Melissa Bonaccorso, Thomas Coughlin, Kachi Choi, Jieyao Ding, My Huynh, Kaveri Sastry, and Samuel Weedon

With Tian’anmen Square as a model, cities throughout China built large public plazas to stage patriotic events in the years following China’s 1949 revolution.  In the late 1990s, however, many cities began to transform these centrally-located swathes of pavement into park-like green areas and transit hubs.  This project documents and analyzes this urban landscape and environment transition, in the context of better understanding the Chinese urban development model which is now being exported to countries throughout much of Asia and Africa.