After a Decade, Penn Institute of Urban Research Celebrates Partnerships and Progress

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Media Contact:Amanda Mott | ammott@upenn.edu | 215-898-1422February 24, 2014

With the number of city dwellers expected to double in the next 30 years, bringing the tally to 7 billion city inhabitants worldwide, urbanization poses a wide range of critical issues, including housing, education, food security, energy, crime, economic development, income equality and public health.

For 10 years, the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Urban Research has been tackling these challenges. Founded in 2004 as an umbrella to integrate and advance urban-focused research, education and the practice of experts from the University’s 12 schools, Penn IUR is widely recognized across the University as a model for interdisciplinary collaboration.

“In a decade of work, Penn IUR has helped advance Penn’s vital mission of integrating knowledge across disciplines,” Penn Provost Vincent Price says. “Penn IUR builds essential collaborations among scholars, policy-makers and designers – generating innovative, world-class research that makes a tangible impact on our local and global communities. We celebrate its invaluable contributions and look forward to many more such contributions in the years ahead.”

Eugenie Birch, the Lawrence C. Nussdorf Professor of Urban Research and Education in the School of Design, and Susan Wachter, the Richard B. Worley Professor of Financial Management in Penn’s Wharton School, co-direct Penn IUR.

Birch says the key to Penn IUR’s success has been in its ability to build effective partnerships across the University.

“What makes Penn IUR unique,” she says, “is that it is not owned by any one school. The fact that we are a University resource gives us the freedom to move among schools, departments and centers.”

Examples of campus partnerships include those with the School of Nursing on global women’s health, with the Graduate School of Education on issues of community education, with the School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Criminology on place-based interventions and with the School of Veterinary Medicine on urban food security.

Penn IUR has also attracted national and international partners on events with urban interests, working with public and private partners, including the City of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Major League Baseball, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the U.S. departments of the Interior and Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the World Bank, U.N.-Habitat, the Asia Pacific Economic Corporation, the Organization of European Cooperation and others.

Wachter points to the impact these partnerships have on informing policy and practice.

“Penn IUR’s partnerships with the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, HUD, the World Economic Forum, among others,” she says, “have helped engage scholars and practitioners to work together to better understand the challenges of urbanization in the 21st century.

Since 2006, the Institute has enhanced its research in several ways, publishing 28 titles in its “City in the Twenty-First Century” series with the University of Pennsylvania Press, including Revitalizing America’s Cities, Neighborhood and Life Chances, Rebuilding Urban Places After Disaster, Women’s Health and the World’s Cities and Design After Decline: How America Rebuilds Shrinking Cities.

In 2012, Penn IUR broadened the dissemination of its scholarship and research through two electronic publications, Penn IUR’s monthly electronic newsletter, the Urban Link, and a weekly Urban Research e-Journal published by the Social Science Research Network. SSRN is a Web site and open-access repository for social science research. The e-Journal includes scholarly papers on a wide variety of urban topics and has had more than 100,000 downloads.

In 2006, Penn IUR spearheaded the introduction of the master’s of urban spatial analytics degree to teach the application of spatial technology to business and public-sector decision making. In addition, Penn IUR supports undergraduate and graduate research via an Undergraduate Urban Research Colloquium and the Penn Urban Doctoral Symposium.

Today the MUSA program has 72 graduates working in leading positions in cities across the United States and beyond. The Penn IUR Undergraduate Urban Research Colloquium has paired more than 50 faculty from eight schools with nearly 100 undergraduates from four schools, and more than 60 Ph.D. students have participated in the Penn Urban Doctoral Symposium and related activities to strengthen the community of young urban scholars at Penn.

“There is now a substantial cohort of students,” Wachter says, “who are learning through the MUSA program the innovative techniques and sciences of cartographic modeling geographic information systems and applying them to particular urban areas, whether it is education or health or transportation or food security. So there is a very interesting skilled group of alumni who are working in these fields.”

“Many of those,” Birch says, “who have taken the Undergraduate Urban Research Colloquium have gone on to careers related to metropolitan affairs in law, real estate, city planning, social work, education, nursing and public health.”

Penn IUR will hold a series of special events celebrating its anniversary and highlighting its core partnerships.

At 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 27, Penn alumnus Nick Spitzer of National Public Radio's “American Routes” will head a panel of speakers and performers in an event, City Soundscapes: Music, Words & Identities in Urban America, coordinated with the School of Arts and Sciences’ Urban Studies Program and the Provost’s Year of Sound initiative.

“Looking back, we’ve been beautifully supported over the years by the two committees that oversee us and the president and provost’s office,” Birch says.

“President Amy Gutmann made engaging locally and integrating knowledge across disciplines, key platforms in her Penn Compact,” Wachter says. “At Penn IUR, we’ve laid a strong foundation for implementing these aspirations over the last 10 years.”

Looking towards the future Birch notes, “We aren’t done by any means and look forward to deepening the research and outreach we’ve begun.”

Additional information is available at www.penniur.upenn.edu.

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