Log Lunch with Christina Rosan ’96: Climate Change Planning in Philadelphia's Communities

On April 14, students, faculty, and community members were joined by Christina Rosan ‘96, an associate professor of Geography and Urban Studies and Environmental Studies at Temple University, for her talk titled “Climate Change Planning in Low-Wealth Philadelphia Communities: Reimagining Sustainable Cities.” The log lunch chefs served delicious cauliflower and sweet potato tacos with crispy chickpeas, a spicy feta and cucumber salad, and double fried plantains. The dessert was undeniably the star of the show: gargantuan slices of tres leches topped with copious amounts of light and fluffy sweet cream. Friday’s log lunch was certainly a meal to remember.

Rosan, a former log lunch chef herself, began her talk with an overview of her career path since her time at Williams. She grew up in Brooklyn and attended the Williams-Exeter program in Oxford for the duration of her junior year. Immediately after graduation, Rosan taught English for WorldTech in Ecuador. She then worked at the Woodrow Wilson Center in DC where she worked on a comparative urban studies project, studying interconnected environmental issues. She went on to attend MIT where she acquired a PhD in Urban Planning, and began working at her current job as an associate professor at Temple University where she teaches classes on sustainable cities, the urban environment, public policy for urban regions, sustainable environments, and many more. Rosan is also an author and writes about the ways in which society can contribute towards creating more sustainable, resilient, greender, healthier, and equitable cities. 

Rosan then turned to the question: “what does a sustainable city look like?” As it turns out, a sustainable city looks like all sorts of things! Joyful gathering places; community participation in government; walkable neighborhoods; biophilic design; living with nature; and so much more. A key message that seemed to pervade all aspects of Rosan’s talk was the fact that sustainability is undeniably a community endeavor. 

Rosan then spoke about her work on PREACT (Planning for Resilience and Equity Through Accessible Community Technology) – a multipurpose and multi-scalar climate preparedness and neighborhood planning software application informed by community need and community assets. She explained that intersectional and community informed policy tools and processes are urgently needed to identify the most vulnerable communities for community informed and equitable interventions.  For example, Rosan lives in Philadelphia, an area with many different levels of overlapping challenges. Philadelphia struggled with gun violence, garbage, failing schools, 40,000 vacant lots, and a history of redlining and disinvestment. Rosan highlighted the fact that planning for environmental justice and climate adaptation may be long term, but reimagining can make the connection between long-term concerns, present, and future needs. A key step in the right direction is to help inform residents, people who usually focus on the day-to-day, with the right information to allow them to participate in the reimagining of their communities. 

The PREACT index combines many different factors such as waste management, air pollution, existing databases, etc. to inform advocacy/social networking, optimization models, and the allocation of resources. Rosan works to identify solutions that benefit both the community and the environment. For example, she worked on a playground that also structurally helps manage floodwater. The most important step, according to Rosan, is to engage with the community, address language barriers, communicate wants and needs, and to offer trust and support.

Rosan mentioned that many people find themselves in a “struggle space;” people struggle when they feel as though they don’t have time or mental capacity to think about the climate. Thus, Rosan highlights that developing an environment of trust is a key first step. Perhaps one of the most notable takeaways from Rosan’s talk was the fact that she is a self-proclaimed optimist with respect to the current climate crisis. She thinks that if we work quickly and together, and engage in intersectional thinking, we can make massive strides in the right direction.