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Urban@UW Research Spark Grants awardees announced

Published on August 18, 2020

Downtown Seattle with a view of the Space Needle.
Downtown Seattle, WA. Image Credit: Pixabay

Urban@UW is excited to announce the awardees for our Research Spark Grants program. The two proposals selected address urgent urban challenges in our region, with a strong focus on community engagement and vulnerable populations.


Co-creating an Adaptive Community-Science Network: Supporting Tribal and Grassroots Action through the Puget Creek Watershed Assessment

Urban communities in the Lower Duwamish River (LDR) have been underserved and overstudied. Legacies of settler-colonialism, industrialization, and redlining have reduced LDR ecosystem function, paved over green space, and contaminated soils and waters. In 2001, the EPA declared this stretch of the river a Superfund site due to high levels of contaminants in its sediment, shellfish, and fish, which pose risks to the communities that live, work, and play in and around the river. While some cleanup has already occurred, remaining contaminants and stormwater runoff continue to be a problem. Research addressing these issues in the LDR is often initiated by academics, not responsive to community needs, or duplicates the work community organizations are already doing.

This project addresses this gap in urban research through co-created community-driven assessment, visioning, and dissemination.

For decades, the Duwamish Tribe and its NGO partners have driven accountability and contaminant remediation, while supporting local residents’ connection to this industrialized yet vibrant river. This project supports these efforts by establishing a “Science Shop”—physical and digital research infrastructure grounded in community need and protocols, and housed at the Duwamish Tribe’s Longhouse. The team envisions this infrastructure to be both social and material —a process for learning and sharing across academic, Indigenous, and local knowledges, linked with a lending library of field equipment for mapping and monitoring soil, water, and organisms. They will also form a Duwamish Valley Research Coordination Network (DVRCN) to enable UW and agency researchers to co-design projects that meet community needs in the short and long term.

To pilot this project and convene this network, the team will use a community co-generation approach to pursue an urgent priority of the Duwamish Tribe: a watershed assessment of Puget Creek and the LDR. This proposal directly grows out of the Duwamish Tribal Services’ (DTS) Ridge to River Trail project, a community-led feasibility study that investigates the potential to remediate contaminated watershed lands and connect a series of currently unlinked trails running along the LDR to culturally significant Duwamish sites, including the current day Longhouse, t̕uʔǝlaltxʷ (Herring’s House) and y̓ǝliqʷad (Basketry Hat) village sites.

Project Team Members:

The core team is majority BIPOC, and includes first-generation, queer, transgender, and female scholars, across ranks, disciplines, and UW campuses.


How Dislocation Impacts Civic Engagement in Parks and Greenspaces

This project seeks to understand the impact of dislocation, a term used here to capture the experiences of people impacted by long commute times, on civic engagement. The PIs posit that long commute times correlate with decreased civic engagement as people have less time to encounter others in public space. In this project, they ask: how does dislocation impact whether, when, and how people use neighborhood parks and green spaces to engage with others in the community? Currently, many U.S. households experience dislocation as commute times have grown generally across the U.S. in the past 20 years. As people spend more time commuting they spend less time on leisure. This redistribution of time impacts the use of parks and green spaces even in regions in which there are abundant and high-quality ones. This project will measure just how much of an impact dislocation has on park use in the Central District of Tacoma, Washington.

Given the import of public spaces to democratic urban societies, whether or not—and how—residents use public spaces, is an important question to civic leaders, community members, and policymakers because parks represent an investment in the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities. Understanding park and public-space use among those who experience long commutes is an initial step in understanding how revisions to public life that have happened and will continue to happen in a neoliberal society are impacting the social fabric of our communities. Given the well-documented correlation between public space and public life, the impact of dislocation merits further study because this phenomenon could also help explain the breakdown in civic norms and lack of cohesiveness that’s riled the U.S. in the first part of the 21st century.

Further, the impact of dislocation on park and greenspace usage merits greater critical attention because not everyone is experiencing dislocation equally. According to a report published by the Urban Institute in early 2020, “researchers found that the average person using some form of government housing aid is likely to face tougher odds of getting a job near their neighborhood than the average job seeker who is not using assistance.” This disparity is especially apparent between Seattle and Tacoma. If Tacoma-area residents are experiencing higher rates of dislocation in general, especially those in low-income households, then the questions we pose in this study takes on greater social justice exigence. Tacoma may well enjoy abundant and high quality parks and community facilities, but not everyone is benefiting from these. If people living in poverty and BIPOC are the ones who experience the highest degree of dislocation, then they are also the ones less able to benefit from parks and green spaces. This means that we continue to have a public commons where people of color and lower-income residents are largely absent.

Project Team Members:

Casas and Yerena are frequent collaborators: they co-covened a Community-engaged Pedagogy Community of Practice in their role as Faculty Fellows in the Office of Community Partnerships at UWT; contributed curriculum for the new Latino/a Minor at UWT; presented at community events on their joint research; and are working on a joint publication examining the role of parks during pandemics.

Learn more about Urban@UW's Research Spark Grants program here.
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