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Annual Letter, Fall 2018

Greetings and Happy Autumn:

Launching year 4, we are honored to acknowledge the remarkable work of our colleagues in Urban@UW as a university-wide initiative stewarding powerful partnerships across sectors and disciplines that impact cities and urban systems. This work expands the extraordinary commitment of the UW to community-engaged scholarship and teaching, catalyzing impact throughout the region.

With ever stark predictions of climate change, population growth, and both environmental and human health challenges, it is increasingly critical to consider the contributions and challenges of urban development. Cities must be a part of the solutions and responses, as they are a significant part of the problem. Such challenges require innovative methods and approaches that only emerge from the collective knowledge of broad arenas of expertise. We are committed to supporting collaborative and deeply cross-disciplinary scholarship and teaching. This thinking grounds our efforts to expand a strong network across the university as well as Seattle and the nation, connecting research and approaches to catalyze new collaborations addressing urban challenges.

To do this work well, we are seeking new ways to broaden UW support for the kind of research and teaching—cross-disciplinary, community-engaged, and impact-oriented—that can truly benefit urban landscapes and communities. We are collaborating with the Carlson Leadership and Public Service Center in the stewardship of the UW’s self-assessment for designation as Carnegie Community Engaged Campus through the Carnegie Foundation. We continue to partner with leaders and doers in the UW’s Population Health Initiative, the new EarthLab, the West Coast Poverty Center, the Center for the Studies in Demography and Ecology, the Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities, and the eScience Institute among others to identify best practices for collaboration and community engagement that leads to real, productive, and enduring impact.

With support from the Bullitt Foundation Thought Leadership initiative we have launched a network of four university/city partners in the PNW as an Emerald Corridor Collaboratory, seeking best practices in co-creating research and knowledge (UBC/ Vancouver; PSU/ Portland; WWU/Bellingham; and UW/ Seattle). Additionally, Urban@UW is leading a Seattle-focused project to re-imagine the right of way as a part of the public realm.

With our community both within the UW and regionally, we have expanded our Homelessness Research Initiative. Led by Rachel Fyall (Evans School of Public Policy and Governance) and Gregg Colburn (Runstad Department of Real Estate studies), this collaborative project has brought together faculty and community leaders to grapple with the complexities of housing and homelessness. You can find out more in our report highlighting just some of those faculty. The initiative supported three important research projects this past year:

  • Critical Narratives, an effort to engage students in thinking critically about the dominant narratives around homelessness and disrupting and reimagining these narratives in order to effect cultural and policy change;
  • Student Survey, an initiative to identify and assist UW students experiencing housing and food insecurity across all three campuses; and
  • Doorway Project Learning Café/Navigation Center, an effort in collaboration with YouthCare to develop a resource center for homeless youth that is based on research and interacts with UW faculty and students to increase understanding, learning and teaching opportunities around homelessness. This project is funded through the state legislature.

In the coming year we are working with leaders from Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University to develop a regional-university convening to share and expand homelessness scholarship. We are fortunate to be in a region where we have support from our leaders, both in our academic institutions and in our government. We hope to contribute to transforming our collective work into a force that successfully addresses the complex challenges of our region’s housing and homelessness.

Understanding the powerful potential of data science, technology, and engineering to contribute to social justice and equity efforts, we have supported Urbanalytics in their partnership with University of British Columbia to launch and steward the Microsoft-sponsored Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative. This effort led at UW by Bill Howe (iSchool) is generating new partnerships across the region as we tackle urban challenges that are rarely confined within city boundaries.

In partnership with a broad community of engineers led by Radha Poovendran, Chair of UW’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, we are leading a NSF- funded Smart and Connected Cities workshop to explore how technology and engineering can address the societal challenges of homelessness and environmental inequities. This will take place December 10 & 11, 2018 bringing scholars and practitioners from across the world together to grapple with the complexities of the challenges and of cross-sector collaboration.

As many may recall, in the fall of 2016 we launched an Urban Environmental Justice Initiative. As fate would have it, the timing was not ideal and despite a fantastic workshop, our community needed to turn their attention to responses across the region and nation. Nevertheless, we continued the work. We contributed to the Center for Creative Conservation’s Nature/ Health discussion, and supported the Urban PhD Symposium led by graduate students interested in urban design and social justice. We funded a graduate student to develop an analysis on the state of urban environmental justice research in Washington. We partnered with the Climate Impacts Group, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and Front and Centered to examine the state of knowledge on how climate change is interacting with environmental and social justice with a report, “An Unfair Share”, released in August 2018.

Collaborative efforts, from this work to the recent IPCC report, make it clear we need broad coalitions to address the environmental and human impacts of climate change. In the coming year, Ken Yocom (Department of Landscape Architecture) is leading the effort to build partnerships with community and civic leaders to identify how best for the UW to contribute to their leadership and efforts to build healthy resilience and well-being in their neighborhoods. Let us know if you are interested in this work.

We continue to build on our capacity for convening scholars as networking, including last academic year a working meeting for those in urban sanitation and water treatment research, and another on affordable housing practices and policies. Each of these topics contributes to a greater understanding of what we must address if we are to create a just and equitable urban environment for all people.

It is fantastic to be a part of a community in which so many are stewarding aspirational collaborative initiatives. Together we can truly change our future to be one that supports all people and our landscapes in ways that actively foster health, justice, and resilience. If you are interested in the work we do, check out our website– recently revamped. We continue to host an Allurban listserve that shares regular opportunities, events, and resources related to urban issues and scholarship. We look forward to working with you!



Thaisa Way and the Urban@UW Team