State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

New Faculty: Nilda Mesa joins the Urban Design Lab

Nilda Mesa
Nilda Mesa, the new director of urban sustainability and equity planning at the Urban Design Lab.

Nilda Mesa has joined the Earth Institute as director of urban sustainability and equity planning, a new program of the Urban Design Lab. With a long history of leadership and innovation on sustainability issues, Mesa’s expertise will be an asset to the Urban Design Lab’s goals for designing sustainable cities.

“At the crux of urban sustainability planning is a mix of design, data, open information and respect for people, and a commitment to embed equity into the large and small-scale decisions that affect communities,” she said. “For decades, the Earth Institute and Columbia University have been at the forefront of sustainability, leading the world on the science as well as the solutions. I am delighted to join my brilliant and dedicated colleagues and connect once again with students, faculty and researchers to launch the Urban Sustainability and Equity Planning Program at the Urban Design Lab, and to teach in this fast-changing field. There is no better place than this lively community in this great city to innovate, collaborate and teach on sustainability for the sake of this and future generations.”

Most recently director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Mesa led OneNYC, the city’s path-breaking long-term sustainability plan, overseeing environmental reviews and citywide policy development and implementation on such areas as energy, climate change, green building standards, recycling and the circular economy, environmental justice, air quality, water, parks and natural resources, and sustainable transportation.

Prior to joining the de Blasio administration, Mesa worked at Columbia University in several roles, including as the founding assistant vice president of environmental stewardship, adjunct professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, and as the associate dean of administrative affairs at the Graduate School of Journalism. In addition to her new role as director of urban sustainability and adjunct senior research scientist at the Earth Institute, Mesa will be returning to the School of International and Public Affairs to teach a course in sustainable development this fall term, as well as a new course in urban sustainability and equity to begin in spring 2017.

“Nilda Mesa has been a colleague of mine for many years, and I am thrilled that she is returning to Columbia University and the Earth Institute,” said Executive Director Steven Cohen. “I am confident that the Urban Design Lab’s new program in Urban Sustainability and Equity Planning will flourish under her leadership. The staff, students and researchers at the Earth Institute will surely benefit from having her expertise and experience among our ranks.”

Previously, Mesa served in the Clinton Administration in key environmental policy roles at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the U.S. Air Force, and at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as counsel to the NAFTA Taskforce, where she led U.S. legal negotiations with Canada and Mexico and implemented legislation related to trade and the environment. Mesa began her career at the California Attorney General’s Office enforcing toxic waste and natural resources laws. She has served on boards including the NYC Energy Efficiency Corporation, the Urban Green Council and Second Nature. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Northwestern University. She was born in Cuba, and has lived in Harlem since 2001.




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