ASU faculty, students assess Navajo Nation land use planning

January 13, 2015

Nearly one year ago, approximately 20 residents of the Navajo Nation’s Black Mesa Chapter gathered at their chapter house with community leaders and a small group of Arizona State University faculty and students. Some of the residents had traveled long distances to participate.

“The roads are our main concern,” said one elderly woman. street in Chinle Download Full Image

“Eighty to 90 percent of our homes need repair,” expressed another community member.

As they spoke, an ASU student, herself a member of the Navajo Nation, took notes on large pads of paper. Later, the student transcribed the discussion into the Navajo language, so it could be read by all members of the community.

This was a “visioning session” – one element of a 2-year collaborative project between the Navajo Nation’s central government and ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

ASU-Navajo Nation collaboration

In 1998, the Navajo government passed the Local Governance Act, a piece of legislation that for the first time gave significant governing authority to the nation’s local jurisdictions, called chapters.

A key provision of the act was to allow the chapters to administer and manage the lands within their jurisdictions, and produce community land use plans. This was an innovation – a first effort among U.S. Native governments to decentralize their planning efforts while still linking planning to the central tribal government.

In 2012, ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning received a contract to evaluate this new planning approach, and after two years of work a final report was distributed in December 2014.

“This was the first effort to systematically assess land use planning in the Navajo Nation,” explained David Pijawka, professor of planning and principal investigator for the ASU project. “An important aspect of the project was to bring Navajo students into the planning process." 

Pijawka's research team consisted of six Navajo students, along with one non-Navajo graduate student.

To date, 97 of the nation’s 110 chapters have developed “Community Based Land Use Plans” that have been approved by the Navajo central government. Pijawka’s team was charged with evaluating the existing plans and the process used to develop them and, especially critical, to consider whether the plans have been effective in improving conditions for Navajo communities.

The 1998 legislation mandates that each chapter update its land use plans every 5 years, involving the local community in the process. A key goal for the ASU study was to identify existing problems and barriers to effective planning to facilitate improvements as updates are initiated.

The evaluation

The ASU team took a multifaceted approach to evaluating the chapter land use plans. They obtained and analyzed land use and development plans from non-Navajo American Indian communities across the country. They conducted an in-depth review of 22 of the 97 approved plans, including samples of very rural and more urban chapters.

During the period of the study, two chapters were in the process of organizing to update their land use plans – Chinle and Black Mesa. The study team worked closely with each of the two chapters’ leadership as they developed planning elements for the updates. As well as adding input into the process, the experience helped the team learn about challenges faced.

In addition, the team conducted focus groups with officials and staff from 10 chapters and all five of the Navajo nation’s agencies (regional groupings of chapters). Finally, they conducted in-depth interviews with governmental officials from chapters and governmental departments to learn about planning processes and planning needs.


Based on what they learned from the national analysis, plan review, pilot studies with Chinle and Black Mesa, focus groups and interviews, the team made several key recommendations. They proposed strategies for educating chapter community members about the planning process and for developing visioning and community engagement opportunities like the session at Black Mesa. They recommended several types of visioning approaches.

In addition, the team felt that the mapping capabilities of GIS – geographic information systems – offer valuable tools for both local and national planning. Many of the current chapter land use plans identify the importance of environmental and cultural resources. GIS can be used to inventory these resources and integrate them into community plans. GIS technology can also help with identifying suitable locations for development and protection.

Next steps

With the report just delivered to Navajo Nation officials, a proposal is already in the works for a follow-up project. The officials have requested that ASU planners develop a short, concise handbook that will provide a guide that chapters can use as they begin their community land use plan updates.

In addition, the central government has moved ahead to improve expertise in planning by hiring 16 planners who will be stationed at administrative support centers throughout the nation.

The enthusiasm for ASU’s work may be best illustrated by a comment made at one of the visioning sessions by an elderly resident: “Thank you for bringing our children back home to improve our lives.”

Note: Report co-authors were James Gardner, who completed a master’s degree in urban and environmental planning; professor David Pijawka; and Eric Trevan, a doctoral student in community resources and development. Five other ASU students participated in the project: Shaina Begay and Seneca House, who have now completed bachelors’ degrees in urban and environmental planning; Monique Reveles, an undergraduate in the School of Sustainability; Alesha Sloan, who completed a bachelor’s degree and in urban and environmental planning and is in her final semester of a master’s degree in the same field; and Chandler Willie, a designer and graduate student in the Herberger Institute.

The School of Geographical Sciences & Urban Planning is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

Barbara Trapido-Lurie

research professional senior, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


Collaborations with industry aim to boost solar energy technology

January 13, 2015

Two Arizona State University engineers – Mariana Bertoni and Stuart Bowden – will have roles partnering with industry as part of an effort by the U.S. Department of Energy to aid photovoltaic manufacturing and supply-chain companies in advancing their technologies.

Their projects are among research and development endeavors the Department of Energy is supporting through its SunShot Solar Manufacturing 2 program, which is providing more than $24 million to 10 solar energy technology manufacturers based in the United States. Bertoni solar panel Download Full Image

The program supports development of innovative technology for novel manufacturing equipment and processes that will reduce costs and increase efficiency.

Bertoni, an assistant professor, and Bowden, an associate research professor, are faculty members in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. They both also are Senior Sustainability Scientists in the Global Institute of Sustainability.

Bertoni will work with SolarWorld Industries America Inc. to develop technology for a novel silicon ingot growth, the process by which the material for solar cells is manufactured. Funding from the Department of Energy will help transition SolarWorld’s proprietary NeoGrowth manufacturing process from pilot stage into early-stage production.

SolarWorld is the largest U.S. solar panel manufacturer and one of the world's largest solar-technology producers, headquartered in Hillsboro, Oregon.

The project will upscale the NeoGrowth production capacity to 300 megawatts of high-quality silicon wafers at a cost that is competitive with wafers on the open market.

Bertoni will identify the most detrimental defects present in the new crystals grown by SolarWorld and analyze the impact of the crystals on the performance of solar cells. The results will help SolarWorld optimize growth conditions to minimize as-grown defects and maximize the power-conversion efficiency of the final solar cells.

“This technology has the potential to revolutionize the wafer manufacturing industry by increasing throughput and quality when compared to current market technologies,” she said.

Bowden will work with Technic Inc. to eliminate the use of silver in the manufacturing of solar energy cells, and replace it with copper, a more abundant and less costly material. The goal is to develop a copper-plating technique that will reduce the cost of making solar cells without a decrease in performance quality.

Technic Inc. has established a global reputation for technical excellence in the electro-deposition of precious metals. It has more than 20 global facilities in 14 countries and is headquartered in Cranston, Rhode Island.

The solar photovoltaic industry presently uses 15 percent of the world’s silver supply. Replacing it with copper will allow the industry to grow by a huge magnitude and work at terawatt levels, Bowden said.

For his project, an ASU research facility will house the first installation of machinery for the new copper-plating process that will enable production of industrial-scale solar cells that do not require silver.

The two projects “demonstrate ASU’s leadership in collaborating with industry partners to bring new technologies out of the lab and into the market,” Bowden said.

A grant of $4 million to SolarWorld Industries America includes $400,000 for Bertoni’s research.

A $900,000 grant to Technic Inc. allocates $400,000 for Bowden’s research.

The projects boost ASU’s growing research activity in photovoltaic technologies for solar energy generation.

The largest part of that research portfolio is the Engineering Research Center for Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies – or QESST – supported by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy to solve technological and economic challenges to harnessing solar power on larger scales. Read more.

Bertoni and Bowden are part of the QESST research team.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering