Sustainable Urban Regions Project (SURP)

surpiconInstitutions: University of Southern Maine, University of Maine
Sponsor: National Science Foundation through the Sustainability Solutions Initiative

Maine’s expanding urban regions have brought growth in jobs and housing and created areas rated among the most livable in the U.S. This growth, however, has come at a cost, including rising energy use, habitat loss, and many other problems associated with sprawl. Charles Colgan, professor of public policy at the Muskie School of Public Service, University of Southern Maine, is leading an SSI team that is developing computer simulation models to help cities and towns make more informed choices about how they develop over time.

Why This Project?

Most Mainers now live and work in urban regions, which are shaped by complex interactions of multiple social, economic, and ecological systems. Stakeholders making decisions about the future of these regions, however, have no way to envision the “big picture” of how these systems interact, how these areas will change, or how these changes will affect people and ecosystems. Consequently, policies and plans affecting the future of these regions typically miss key connections and result in only partial solutions to sustainability challenges.

Connecting Knowledge with Action

Portland, ME waterfrontTo more comprehensively address these challenges, Colgan’s team is building large-scale computer simulation models of the Portland and Bangor metropolitan regions using Urban Sim, a widely used simulation system that transforms the interactions between land use, the economy, transportation and the environment into visual representations that aid in planning.

The researchers are gathering data from 85 Maine communities to develop models that will include housing and transportation components and a regional urban energy model to explore the relationships between development density and energy technologies in addressing energy use and climate change.

Once these models are developed, Colgan’s team will work with stakeholders and advisors to examine the sustainability effects of different scenarios that represent relevant policy choices facing the Portland and Bangor metro regions in the future. For example, the models could be used to plan more energy-efficient development and transportation in the face of rising fuel prices, examine development prospects for empty big-box stores, and evaluate situations in which denser development can be most effective at conserving key resources like forests, working farmland, and wildlife habitat, as well as a host of other sustainability challenges.

Team members:

  • Charlie Colgan, Muskie School of Public Service (team leader)
  • Jack Kartez, Muskie School of Public Service
  • Yuseung Kim, Muskie School of Public Service
  • Kathleen Bell, Economics, University of Maine
  • Rob Lilieholm, Forest Resources, University of Maine

Graduate Students

  • Judy Colby-George


Supported by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.