Skip to main content

Annual Letter, Fall 2021

[view a PDF of this letter]

Dear Urban@UW community,

As we begin the third academic year to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Urban@UW wishes to acknowledge the ongoing effects of this crisis, which are compounded by systemic forces of inequality and injustice. We feel the grief, the uncertainty, the weariness. And we are buoyed by the perseverance, commitment, and solidarity of moving forward together in this unprecedented era of transformation. We are glad to be in the work with the urban-focused faculty, staff, and students of the University of Washington, and our partners near and far, to manifest cities that foster health, wellbeing, resilience, sustainability, equity, and justice.

Over the past year, Urban@UW has been involved in many such efforts.

Urban@UW Spark Grants

We supported our first round of Spark Grants projects on urban displacement and urban ecological renewal, both with cross-disciplinary teams and community-driven approaches. We look forward to sharing the results of these projects soon! We were thrilled to receive sponsorship of the Spark Grants program through the Smart and Connected Communities RCN “MOHERE: Mobility, Health, and Resilience: Building Capacities and Expanding Impact,” led by Radha Poovendran. Additionally we have awarded funding to two new projects for 2021-2022, each addressing health and homelessness in complementary ways.

Fostering Urban Scholarship

The projects Urban@UW contributed to focused on access and belonging in urban realms, through bridge funds and in-kind support. These included:

  • The Urban Camas Meadows Project is a collaboration led by Ken Yocom between the Burke Museum, UW Facilities, the Department of Landscape Architecture, Urban@UW, and other stakeholders to generate and communicate knowledge of culturally significant camas meadows in the Pacific Northwest and develop ongoing maintenance and management plans for this unique landscape type on the UW campus. This 3-year program is funded by the UW Campus Sustainability Fund and Urban@UW.
  • Living Landscapes Incubator, led by Josh Lawler, is a collaborative effort to support pilot initiatives, projects, or programs focused on the understanding and/or design of livable, sustainable cities. Urban@UW is a co-PI in this effort.
  • Nehemiah Initiative, led by Donald King and Bishop Gary Tyson with many other collaborators , is a faith-based community development initiative whose mission is to empower the African American community in the Seattle region and beyond to support the retention of historically Black institutions by advocating for development of real property assets owned by those institutions. Engaging UW faculty including Renee Cheng, Rachel Berney, and Branden Born, Urban@UW has pledged research support to this project.
  • Stay Healthy Streets: Urban@UW is supporting Rachel Berney and team in an evaluation of the equitable distribution and use of the Safe and Healthy Streets mechanism put into place by Seattle’s Department of Transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Urban@UW is supporting this project through funding data analysis and visualization..
  • Sensol Systems is a student-led innovation in crosswalk technology to increase safety in our streets. Urban@UW is working with Ken Yocom to provide support for this collaboration.
  • A study of the recent King County initiative moving people from homeless shelters to hotel rooms to help slow the spread of COVID-19, part of the Homelessness Research Initiative, is co-authored by Rachel Fyall and Gregg Colburn, HRI faculty co-leads. Read the final report here.
  • The Doorway Project is a years-long partnership taking a community-engaged, healing-centered approach to addressing youth homelessness in the U District. This team is led by Seema Clifasefi. Read their annual report here.

Convening Scholars and Practitioners

Additionally, Urban@UW continued to partner in convening scholars and practitioners around urban-related topics.

  • We provided support to the Northwest Climate Science Conference
  • Urban@UW was a partner for EarthLab’s Lunch & Learn series on collaboration
  • We provided support for West Coast Poverty Center’s annual summit on the topic of pandemic-era challenges and priorities for creating a more equitable future.
  • We supported the research symposium “Just Sustainabilities in a Post-Pandemic World”, led by both the Built Environment PhD and Urban Design and planning PhD students.
  • Urban@UW co-sponsored a panel for the CSDE Autumn 2020 Seminar Series, focused on displacement in historically Black neighborhoods, and featuring Rachel Berney, Ruben Cásas, Kyle Crowder, Donald King, Lynne Manzo, and Anaid Yerena.
  • We also co-sponsored a #CBEChronicles panel on dislocation and civic engagement in public space, with Ruben, Emma Slager, and Rick Mohler.

2020-1 was a year for internal work as well. During the past year, we expanded the Urban@UW Steering Committee, bringing in new voices from all campuses and multiple disciplines. We developed an External Advisory Group, comprising thought partners from private, public, and non-profit sectors, for strategic guidance and exploration. We worked with both of these entities to map our landscape and key priorities to advance the Urban@UW mission. And we collaborated closely with CBE leadership to ensure that our partnership catalyzes positive impact for all involved. Finally, we are thrilled to welcome Rachel Berney as Urban@UW’s Faculty Director.

In the coming year we look forward to:

  • convening more cross-boundary discussions on critical urban topics;
  • collaborating with partners to study and develop new strategies for urban resilience, sustainability, equity, justice, health, and wellbeing;
  • improving our capacity to tell the story of Urban@UW’s past, present and future;
  • working with Urban@UW’s Steering Committee and External Advisory Committee to build more robust models for the initiative’s sustainability;
  • developing mechanisms of support for junior urban scholars of color; and
  • engaging and leveraging emergent opportunities to collectively address urban challenges and opportunities.

We will be reaching out to our communities to get involved in multiple ways. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us–we look forward to connecting.

Rachel Berney, Faulty Director; Associate Professor, Urban Design and Planning

Jen Davison, Director; Assistant Dean for Research, College of Built Environments