The design of cities directly affects human and environmental health, and with health and ecological disasters unfolding around the globe seemingly daily, urgency is growing for public-health and urban-design professionals to collaborate to improve the built environment.
Over the next six months the University of Louisville’s Urban Design Studio (UDS), part of the Department of Urban and Public Affairs, will explore how the city of Louisville can serve as a living laboratory for research, education and experimentation by opening a temporary pop-up called Healthful City Design Studio at 429 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd. in the former Republic Building. The studio will dive into issues and opportunities specific to the heart of downtown and across the street from the Metro Government Development Center. This location is an addition to its current location in the Portland neighborhood.
The UDS initiative will draw on past programs such as the Sustainable City Series’ public forums that raised awareness of sustainable practices and has led to place-making projects such as ReSurfaced and CycLOUvia.
To kick off the pop-up, UDS Director Patrick Piuma, alongside colleague and entrepreneur Sylvanus Hudson, will develop a series of events, workshops, demonstration projects and more to bring together professionals and the local community to explore how the built environment affects health and what it means to be a healthy city. The team will be joined by a growing group of collaborators from different UofL departments, Louisville Metro Government, the University of Kentucky and related organizations and individuals as the direction of the initiative takes shape.
Early events and activities will be focused on outreach and education, getting people together to share ideas about what a healthy city looks like, and collaborative demonstration projects to communicate the importance of cooling urban heat islands, improving air and water quality, planting trees and other vegetation, public safety, welcoming environments and the health benefits of reintroducing nature into urban environments.
“This is an exciting opportunity to pull together the threads of urban planning and design, public health, equity, ecology, engineering, economics and more to focus on how these overlapping facets of the city can not only solve problems we face now, but also position our downtown and city for the future,” Piuma said. “We hope to answer questions like: How do we adapt our city for the changing climate and new realities brought about by the pandemic, and how do we use science and other disciplines locally to improve people’s health and happiness? I believe we have the talented minds throughout our community to examine these aspects of our city, and our hope is to find ways to unlock the creativity needed to become a leader in this space.”
The goal of the six-month effort will be to create a unique urban laboratory for innovation where UofL becomes a stronger partner with the community, public officials and others to develop novel solutions to the challenges our city faces. This initiative is an offshoot of the Downtown Revitalization Team’s Action Plan that calls for making downtown more vibrant, clean, safe and welcoming.
Aruni Bhatnagar, director of the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, said, “The pandemic has revealed the importance of the built environment on health and how valuable safe and healthy places are in promoting public health and resilience.”
“It is critical for Louisville to invest in its natural and built environments to improve residents’ health, as well as be a competitive city in the 21st Century,” said co-chief of Louisville Forward, Jeff O’Brien. “We can design our cities to prepare us for the changing climate and improve our health, all while making the city a more vibrant and equitable place.”
“I’m excited to play a part in this type of creative opportunity for the city of Louisville,” Sylvanus Hudson said. “It is a conscious effort to restore the liveliness of our downtown while improving health and the quality of the built environment.”
The pop-up will open on Monday, Nov. 7. More information about the initiative, upcoming events and ways to get involved will be available through the Urban Design Studio’s website at http://udstudio.org.