Podcast: Institute for Smart and Healthy Cities Unites Three Colleges in Cross-Disciplinary Effort

CABE, Kanbar and Pop Health come together to develop cities in face of climate change, social inequity, rapid urbanization and health disparities.

When the University’s Institute for Smart and Healthy Cities launched in January 2021, it marked the start of a multi-college effort to advance the development of the urban environment through collaboration across the architecture, design, engineering, medicine and health-science disciplines.

The initiative has united the College of Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), the College of Population Health and the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce—showcasing the positive impact of the merger between then-Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University.

For this episode of The Nexus Podcast, we spoke to Institute leadership to discuss how this mission represents the cross-disciplinary opportunities brought about by the 2017 merger of two distinguished universities.

Rapidly urbanizing cities are centers for innovation and prosperity, but cities also significantly impact the environment and their inhabitants. –Dr. Edgar Stach

The Institute aims to become a world-renowned leader in developing smart and healthy cities in the face of climate change, social inequity, rapid urbanization and health disparity. To that end, it set out to assemble interdisciplinary teams that did not typically collaborate in the past.

Dr. Edgar Stach—Institute director and professor of architecture at CABE—also notes that the time is right to continue “preparing students for the work of tomorrow and to plan future actions and solutions for health-centric urban planning.”

“Rapidly urbanizing cities are centers for innovation and prosperity, but cities also significantly impact the environment and their inhabitants,” Dr. Stach says. “The urban environment is a complex interwoven system of different factors, all affecting human health and well-being.”

Along with Dr. Stach, the Institute is helmed by co-directors Tod Corlett from Kanbar and Dr. Katie DiSantis from Population Health.

Those initial connections that people had prior to the merger were a great foundation for when we did merge. When we wanted to find people for collaborative efforts, it made it easier. –Dr. Louis Hunter

By 2025, the vision for the Institute is to have Jefferson “recognized by leaders and innovators from government, academic, industry and practice environments as the primary resource for the development of smart and healthy cities to address pressing issues such as health disparities, climate change, environmental justice and transportation.”

In April, the Institute announced the first round of Smart and Healthy Cities Fellowship Grants, which represent single-year seed funding to support transdisciplinary research and further grantseeking. The five multidisciplinary grants cover work in:

  • Stress Reduction in Healthcare Waiting Areas: Lingering Concerns: Reimaging Areas of Waiting–in Healthcare Environments
  • Smart Aging in Place: A Holistic Approach to Integrate Design and Technology for Aging Well
  • Health Education: Designing a Center of Excellence Model for Urban Child Welfare Services
  • Urban Mobility and Population Health: Create a Smart Mobility Platform for Analyzing and Visualizing the Effects of Urban Mobility on Population Health in the Center City of Philadelphia
  • Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Environments: SOFT–a Deployable, Stress-relief and Adaptive Safe Space
Smart and Healthy Cities
The first round of of Smart and Healthy Cities Fellowship Grants offers a level of transdisciplinary support which speak to the benefits of the merger.

As these grants represent a major step forward for the Institute, several recipients also explain, on the podcast, how this level of transdisciplinary support speaks to the benefits of the merger.

That includes Dr. Louis Hunter—associate professor in the department of physical therapy and director of Global Strategic Initiatives for the Jefferson College of Rehabilitation Sciences—who teamed up with Lisa Phillips from CABE’s interior design program for the stress reduction in healthcare waiting areas grant.

“Those initial connections that people had prior to the merger were a great foundation for when we did merge,” he says. “When we wanted to find people for collaborative efforts, it made it easier. We wouldn’t have been able to find each other otherwise.”

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