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Spark Grants Complete Collaborative Research on Artificial Turf, Food Bank Home Delivery, and Urban Streetwear

Published on November 7, 2023

a side by side photo of the front and back of a jacket with patches and other decor.

An electronic denim jacket, an artistic collaboration to depict Black residents’ urban experiences. (credit: Bret Halperin)

Over the past year, three teams of researchers from the University of Washington tackled a host of urban challenges in our region with the support of Urban@UW’s Spark Grants. In September 2022,  Urban@UW awarded $20,000 to each team in order to amplify collaborative research-to-practice with a focus on today’s urban issues. The three UW teams of researchers addressed a variety of topics.

Toward Interactive Sonic Narrative Streetwear to Support Urban Community-Based Amplification of Space, Place, and Belonging

For this project, Brett Halperin, PhD Student, Human Centered Design & Engineering and Daniela Rosner, Associate Professor, Human Centered Design & Engineering worked with Afroditi Psarra, William Rhodes, CHANNELS (Kai Leshne), and the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP), in partnership with community organizations Washington Community Action Network, Be:Seattle, and Rolla Renters Association, to create an electronic denim jacket that plays music, poems, and stories of Black residents’ urban struggles alongside moments of joy and successes in fights for justice.

The electronic denim jacket refashions the AEMP’s (Dis)location Black Exodus print zine into a digital, wearable format. The jacket builds upon the (Dis)location series both materially and spatially as a multi-city coalition spanning sites of community partnership including the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle, St. Louis, and New York City. It foregrounds themes of place, space, and belonging, as well as aims to raise awareness for urban issues related to intersections of housing, climate, and racial (in)justice.

The jacket contains a LilyPad MP3 microcontroller loaded with audio files, embedded wearable speakers, and interactive patches sewn with conductive thread that trigger the audio to play from the speakers when tapped upon with a metal thimble attached to a chain necklace. Some of the materials come directly from the zine, while other aspects extend the zine content through new artistic collaborations. All of the audio tracks in the jacket can be listened to on a playlist, which connects to the jacket via a QR code printed on a patch.

The team plans to continue working together, to exhibit the artifact in more cities beyond Seattle, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as explore the possibility of CHANNELS wearing the jacket while performing his music on tour. They will also work on other ways of addressing urban inequities through creative design mechanisms that build upon the knowledge produced in this process. Check out the video documentation and blog post about this project!

Analysis of a Food Bank Home Delivery Program

The research team led by Giacomo Dalla Chiara, Post-Doctoral Research Associate, Urban Freight Lab, performed preliminary research to study the home delivery programs of food banks in Seattle. Specifically, they gathered and processed anonymized data on volunteers’ food pickup and delivery activities. Through surveys and data collection, the team fond knowledge gaps and key system challenges. They found that demand for home delivery services exceeded supply, and that several food banks have waiting lists of people wanting to enroll in the program. With more resources, more deliveries could be made. The team also identified Little Free Pantries–a network of unattended, often privately owned small pantries located in the public right-of-way– as a potential alternative emergency source of food in the vicinity of food-insecure communities. Leveraging the initial data collected, the knowledge gaps identified, and the network of project partners, the team will continue with its aim of piloting test solutions to improve the performance of the home delivery programs of Seattle food banks.

Artificial Turf: A Climate Resilient Urban Space?

This team, with collaborators Rebecca Neumann, Associate Professor in  Civil & Environmental Engineering, Catherine De Almeida, Assistant Professor in Landscape Architecture, and David Butman, also Associate Professor in CEE, sought to understand the effects of artificial turf so that designers, community groups, and agencies can make informed decisions about this material choice. Through literature reviews and data collection at parks with and without artificial turf, the researchers considered aspects that are important for climate resiliency–defined as ability to sequester carbon, use minimal water, provide stormwater capacity, facilitate cooler air temperatures, sustain positive mental and physical health, and enable a range of activities with good durability. The work was conducted with guidance and input from Mithun, a design firm focused on equitable and sustainable urban development.

person kneeling under playground equipment with a tool in their hand. They have a clipboard.

Undergraduate Aaliyah Morris records the temperature of artificial turf underneath playground equipment at Yessler Terrace. (credit: Civil and Electrical Engineering)

Two undergraduate researchers, supervised by PI Neumann and Co-PI Butman in summer 2023, carried out field measurements in the public parks. Data indicated artificial turf promotes notably warmer air and surface temperatures than ground covered by woodchips and live grass. The warmer temperatures with artificial turf were due to low energy reflectance of the material (i.e., the turf absorbs a large amount of thermal energy). Surveys of park visitors showed that people enjoy the greenness of artificial turf, especially in the winter when the Seattle sky is grey, but that they dislike the hot temperatures. Four Masters of Landscape Architecture students advised by Co-PI Catherine De Almeida in AY 2022-23 produced a document titled “A Guidebook of Research, Applications, and Alternatives to Artificial Turf” that summarized findings and provided recommendations for alternatives to artificial turf for landscape architects, as well as potential directions for future work and considerations.


While Urban@UW’s Research Spark Grants are on hold while we focus on the Research to Action Collaboratory, you can learn more about previous Spark Grant projects.

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