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ND, South Bend to participate in MetroLab Network

| Friday, September 18, 2015

The White House announced a new program on Monday that aims to address urban problems in cities across the country, including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles — and South Bend.

David Murphy, director of the ESTEEM graduate program and associate dean of entrepreneurship in engineering and science, said Notre Dame and South Bend were selected to participate in the MetroLab Network, a program that enables universities and local governments to work together to find innovative ways to address cities’ needs.

“The interesting thing about the South Bend-Notre Dame relationship is we really are kind of punching above our weight in terms of city size,” Murphy said. “We are clearly the smallest city, so we feel blessed and fortunate to be a part of the MetroLab Network. We also feel we have a lot to contribute and are excited to learn from what some of the bigger cities are doing with their university partners.”

Santiago Garces, South Bend’s chief innovation officer and Notre Dame class of 2011, said the MetroLab Network is part of the White House’s “Smart Cities” initiative, which focuses on using technology and science to help communities tackle local challenges.

“The MetroLab Network is a collection of city-university partnerships that are developing the framework to share expertise and share resources, trying to figure out how we can create solutions to problems using new technologies and new approaches,” Garces said.

The MetroLab Network will examine problems such as crime, traffic, air quality, water quality, sewage and education, Murphy said.

Murphy said because Notre Dame is one of the premier research institutions in the country, it could impact communities all over the world by sharing its results.

“The research here at Notre Dame is always ongoing, always challenging, always exciting,” he said. “The question’s going to be how to harness that [research] and direct it to address pressing problems in this city and in other cities.”

As part of the MetroLab Network, Notre Dame and South Bend will get access to expertise and resources they may not otherwise have, Garces said. The program aims to share urban solutions with other cities across the nation.

“As we start confronting some bigger issues, including sustainability, engagement and inclusion of different residents … we will probably benefit a lot from being able to share ideas and share approaches in looking at the entire collection of cities and laboratories that are trying different methods to confront these big questions and big problems,” he said.

Murphy said Notre Dame and South Bend have a rich history of successful collaboration. EmNet, a South Bend-based company that designs and produces technology to control overflow in city sewage systems, is just one example of the effectiveness of this partnership.

According to Murphy, Notre Dame research labs produced a sensor that was eventually installed in South Bend sewer systems, allowing the city to open and close gates and direct the water flow away from areas in danger of flooding. EmNet commercialized this product.

“That’s a great example of technology coming out of research labs at Notre Dame that can be deployed in a very practical setting, in this case the city municipalities,” Murphy said. “We then look to how we can share this technology with other cities.”

Murphy and Garces traveled to Washington D.C. on Monday to attend the “Smart Cities” forum, where South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced the MetroLab Network with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto at a White House event. South Bend was chosen to be one of seven cities on the program’s steering committee, Murphy said.

20150118, By Michael Yu, College Democrats, Development, LaFortune Center, Mayor Peter Buttigieg, South BendMichael Yu | The Observer

Garces said he believes the program has the potential to help generate a sense of civic pride and create economic benefits in South Bend.

“I think that, for South Bend in particular, this opportunity of continuing to redefine itself and make use of our strengths as a city can give us the opportunity to build pride in the city,” Garces said. “We can build a bridge for people that have gone to Notre Dame that are researchers and students and Ph.D.s who might want to stay and work and solve these very exciting problems by developing exciting solutions.”

According to a University press release, Notre Dame and South Bend have chosen four projects on which to focus. The projects will include new methods of cleaning the water in the St. Joseph River, assessments of local neighborhoods, a community-based research course and a downtown wireless network.

Murphy said he believes the MetroLab Network will help Notre Dame fulfill its duty to serve humanity by sharing its innovative ideas with the rest of the world.

“We feel like we are on the cusp of something very cool, in the sense of what this could mean, not just for our cities, but for the world,” he said.

Garces said he is excited to see the partnership between Notre Dame and South Bend continue to produce solutions that could now help solve problems in cities across the country.

“From our perspective, we’re the smallest city in the Network, and the Network grants us access to a level of expertise and a level of visibility that we wouldn’t have otherwise,” he said. “It’s an incredible opportunity for our community.”

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, The Observer's former Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's an ex-Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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