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Regional Workbench.

The NIEHS has developed the Binational Border Research in Disease and Geospatial Research (BRIDGE) Program to address environmental problems associated with the rapid industrial and population growth affecting Texas, Arizona, California, New Mexico, and the six Mexican states across the border. With implementation planned for fiscal year 2002, the BRIDGE Program will blend multidisciplinary biomedical and nonbiomedical research, community outreach, and technology transfer in a strong partnership of federal and environmental agencies to help eliminate the growing environmental problems along the border. Among the region's problems is a strong need for sustainable development measures.

As a step toward establishing a consortium to address these issues, the NIEHS cosponsored the Binational Conference on Environmental Research and Policy on 12-13 June 2000 in San Diego. The purpose of this conference was to provide NIEHS leaders with a strategic agenda and criteria for supporting future research on border region environmental problems. The conference was also intended as a starting point for a coalition of border universities and industrial and civic partners.

To further this coalition, conference co-organizer Keith Pezzoli and colleagues have developed the Regional Workbench (RWB) Web site, located at http://regionalworkbench.org/. The RWB is a collaborative, Web-based network of researchers and community partners dedicated to furthering the goals of sustainable development. The RWB site links projects, searchable topic maps, data guides, tutorials, and interactive tools for conceptualizing, designing, conducting, and sharing multidisciplinary research. The RWB also provides a mode of communication among universities; industry, government, and community-based organizations, enabling researchers to network with the end users of their research.

Visitors can click on the Knowledge Clusters link on the main page to read more about subtopics such as industrial ecology, urban and regional planning, social capital and community development, and quality of life and health. Each subtopic link leads to a directory of online resources. For instance, under the Industrial Ecology and Systems of Innovation link, visitors can access the Environmental Defense Scorecard, which lists the top environmental issues in specific areas and includes a database of local pollution problems searchable by geographic area or company name. This same link also leads viewers to a new interactive mapping tool developed by the San Diego Association of Governments that lets planners and decision makers see where businesses representing different industries are clustered in San Diego County. Under the Urban and Regional Planning subtopic, visitors can access the National Neighborhood Coalition, an organization that promotes public policies to strengthen the role of the community and neighborhood-based nonprofits, and that fosters efforts to build healthy, sustainable communities. The Quality of Life/Health subtopic includes a link to the San Diego County Quality of Life program, described as "a progressive approach to strategic planning, integration, and improvement of client centered services."

The Social Capital and Community Development subtopic provides a link to the U.S. Department of Commerce Technology Opportunities Program, a merit-based grant program that has yielded practical applications for new telecommunications and information technologies to serve the public. This subtopic also contains a link to the Digital Divide Web site describing federal efforts to provide all Americans with access to Internet technology, which has become crucial to economic growth and advancement. Such efforts include the establishment of community computer centers and the recycling and reuse of old computers.

Back on the main page, the Research Guide link leads to a wealth of data sources, data mining tools, organizational contacts, Internet links, references to existing research and scholarly literature, and specific suggestions for individual and team research projects. Links include the Border EcoWeb, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation/North American Integrated Information System, and SanGIS, a San Diego-based partnership that is responsible for the maintenance of and access to regional geographic databases.

According to the home page, although the RWB's geographic focus is now on the U.S.-Mexico border, especially Southern California and Baja California, the ultimate goal of the project is to create a global network of regionally based research collaboratives seeking the knowledge, methods, and practice necessary to engender sustainable development. The hope is that students will gain hands-on experience in a manner that emphasizes not only multidisciplinary scholarship but also civic-minded workforce development.
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Author:Greene, Lindsey A.
Publication:Environmental Health Perspectives
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Words:694
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