Post-Pandemic Sustainabilities


Just Landscapes

Street Ecologies

Street Ecologies: Technology, Imagination, Resilience with Minda Martin, Kathleen Wolf, and Elizabeth Umbanhowar

The global COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns of the past year redirected attention to the critical need for access to safe, outdoor spaces to support human physical, social and emotional health. Cities around the world sought innovative approaches to expand opportunities for people to enjoy urban nature while maintaining physical distancing and other COVID-sensitive protocols. Initiatives to rethink streets beyond strictly corridors for auto traffic and instead as spaces for human well-being and connection included Barcelona’s Superblocks project and the City of Seattle’s Stay Healthy Streets. At the same time, city streets and highways garnered renewed attention as sites of oppression, resistance, and protest during what was a tumultuous US national election and in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the rising of the Black Lives Matter movement. Such events remind us of the vital role streets play as complex social ecologies that foster or inhibit the circulation of ideas, bodies, and economies. In terms of land use alone, urban streets and parking lots have a significant footprint sometimes occupying as much as 40 percent of the total area of a city. Though dominated by vehicles, these right-of-ways are technically and otherwise significant public spaces, though clearly fraught in terms of meaning, ownership, and utility. Both historically and today, streets occupy both a central role in serving as vital infrastructures, poignant metaphors, and as stages for the testing of democratic ideals. At the same time, they are liminal spaces in which vulnerable populations such as the homeless and communities of color are further ostracized and imperiled, sites of technological surveillance and state-sponsored harms.
Speakers for this panel will argue the contradictory and critical role of streets in the imagination, construction, and occupation of cities particularly in the face of historical crises, and speculate on their future as resilient corridors that support mobility, public space, biodiversity, human health, and social cohesion. Kathleen Wolf, researcher in environmental psychology (UW), will translate the influence of transportation systems in contemporary issues of urban environments and mental health, including the opportunities for salutogenic benefits of nearby nature. Filmmaker and educator Minda Martin (UW Bothell) will examine the connections between personal and institutional histories and issues of social justice and representation in her discussion of her film work examining the Seattle freeway revolt. In her presentation, “Virtually There: Useful Cinema and the ‘Disappearance’ of Pedestrianism in the Mid-Century American Urban Streetscapes” PhD candidate and landscape lecturer Elizabeth Umbanhowar will explore “pedestrianism” and its presence in urban cinematic representations of the 1950s and 1960s America. Through a comparative study of non-fiction “useful cinema” from Seattle, Copenhagen and Los Angeles, she argues that film offers design historians unique insights into the powerful role of media technologies in shaping urban streetscapes and their imaginaries during the ascent of auto culture and urban renewal.

Equitable Water Systems

Women and Water in India: Designing Landscapes of Empowerment by Alpa Nawre

UN surveys from forty-five developing countries show that in two-thirds of the households that do not have a source of water, women collect water. This precludes women and girls from engaging in other productive or developmentally appropriate activities. In such a context, spaces that ensure reliable and proximate water directly impact the quality of lives of women. But the impact of designed water spaces can have an effect far beyond mere water security. In the Indian sub-continent, the ‘baori’ and ‘talaab’ are two traditional systems of water management that have made a space for women in daily life and matters of governance, respectively. A baori is a stepped well, a historic structure typically found in north-western India and talaab is a hindi word used to denote a man-made pond in central India. While the baori physically defined spaces for women as water management systems that were often commissioned for or by powerful women themselves, the talaab defined a socio-cultural space for women by its accessible nature. Through discussions on the construction and use of these traditional systems of collecting and using water in the Indian sub-continent, this study recognizes the essential role of vernacular water management infrastructure in the empowerment of women. These socio-cultural lessons are critical for designers and other stakeholders to understand when engaging with developing designed environments as illustrated through a recent project of designing and building a public space adjacent to a talaab in Dhamori village in India.

Clean Water and COVID in Peru by Leann Andrews, PhD, RLA, SEED

Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Clean frequently. Eat well and hydrate. For one in eight people around the world living informally this public health guidance that requires access to clean water is not possible. The entire livelihood of residents of an informal amphibious community in the urbanized Amazon Rainforest revolves around water, yet, access to safe water is a constant challenge, especially for mothers and young children in the community. Furthermore, Peru’s enforced stay-at-home COVID mandates and curfews place additional stressors of food and medicine insecurity for those who work in the informal economy. Distributed infrastructure and at-home sustenance fishing and farming may be the difference in surviving a pandemic on top of already existing co-infections such as vector and water-borne diseases, malnutrition, parasitic infections, and poor mental wellbeing.  Furthermore, these solutions may improve the health of animals, lighten the urban footprint, and reduce human contact with remote animals, measures which may help to prevent the next pandemic.  This session will explore water-related health research and practical environmental solutions designed to bolster One Health and increase resiliency in the amphibious community.

Just Transportation

Post-Pandemic Transportation

Investigating the Temporary vs. Longer-term Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Mobility by Giovanni Circella

The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily disrupted activities in the United States as well as all over the world, with huge impacts on transportation. Our research team at UC Davis has launched a large behavioral study to investigate the evolving nature of the impacts of the pandemic, and its temporary vs. longer-term effects on society and transportation. Building on previous data collections from before the pandemic, we administered several additional rounds of surveys primarily among residents of 17 metro regions in the United States and Canada, building a longitudinal dataset with information from before and during the various phases of the pandemic. So far, more than 10,000 respondents have participated in the study. Additional information on this project can be found at the website: In this presentation, I will present summary results from this project focusing in particular on (1) the adoption of telecommuting, among various groups of workers, and the likelihood these might continue to work remotely (even if on a part-time basis) in the future, (2) the impacts of COVID-19 on the use of various travel modes, including the use of private vehicles as well as public transportation, (3) the adoption of e-shopping and of app-based mobility services, and the temporary vs. longer-term nature of these changes as economic activities reopen, and (4) the changes in the ownership and use of privately-owned vehicles, and the attitudes towards car ownership (and car-less/car-light lifestyles), and the implications these might have in the medium term on transportation, among various segments of the population.

Paratransit Services for People with Disabilities in the Seattle Region During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons for Recovery Planning by Lamis Ashour and Yiyuan Wang

Introduction:  Along with all public transit services, paratransit services for people with disabilities experienced substantially reduced demand and an increased need to provide equitable services while protecting their clients and staff’s safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Paratransit services provide a lifeline for their clients’ essential mobility needs, including access to medical appointments and grocery stores. In the absence of pre-existing pandemic response plans, examining transit agencies’ responses to provide paratransit services during the pandemic can help inform planning for post-pandemic recovery and future disruptive events.
Methods:  In September 2020, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 15 decision-makers, planners, and drivers working for the primary transit agency in the Seattle region – King County Metro – and its paratransit contractors.  Interview questions were designed to identify current services, policy gaps, and critical challenges for recovery planning and post-pandemic paratransit services. Interview transcripts were analyzed using NVivo software to obtain essential themes.
Results:  The interviewees provided insights about (1) paratransit service changes in response to the pandemic, (2) anticipated impacts of a returning demand on paratransit service efficiency, equity, and quality during the recovery period, and (3) innovative approaches for maintaining post-pandemic equitable paratransit services while balancing safety measures with available resources.
Conclusions:  Study findings suggest that paratransit service providers should consider (1) developing guidelines for future disruptive events, (2) examining alternative methods for food delivery to clients, (3) planning scenarios for delivering equitable services in the post-pandemic recovery period, and (4) increasing resilience possibly by establishing partnerships with transportation network companies.

Transportation Equity

Just and Sustainable Transportation Post-Pandemic by Stephan Wheeler

During the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of people worldwide changed their transportation habits. Individuals who had routinely flown across continents or commuted dozens of miles daily on congested roads suddenly found themselves working at home or not working at all. Parents who had shuttled children from one activity to another no longer spent hours daily as family taxi drivers. After long days on Zoom millions of people began walking or biking for exercise.
Post-pandemic we have the chance to rethink transportation planning in light of the opportunities for more local living shown to us recently as well as the ongoing climate change and social equity crises. The question of how we all get to where we need to go more sustainably post-pandemic requires thinking outside the box of traditional transportation planning in four main ways. First, it means rethinking “where we need to go” in terms of lifestyle and behavior. More local living must come to the fore, especially in terms of air travel but also in terms of long-distance daily commuting. Second, it means improving urban form, design, and land use mix so as to reduce mobility while improving access to jobs, schools, shopping, and recreation near where people live. Third, it means foregrounding equity in all dimensions of planning and design. While people remain segregated by class, race, and ethnicity, they will need to travel at unsustainable levels to reach workplaces and other essential destinations. Fourth, sustainable transportation means prioritizing human-powered travel modes and electrifying all others using renewably generated electricity, so that no fossil fuels are consumed. Together, these four strategies can lead to just and sustainable communities in terms of transportation.

Public Space, Long Commutes, and Civic Engagement: The Role of Neighborhood Parks by Dr. Anaid Yerena and Dr. Rubén Casas

This project seeks to understand the impact of dislocation, a term we use to describe the experience of increases in distance between where people live and work, by posing the following question: how does dislocation impact whether, when, and how people use neighborhood parks to engage with others in the community? Given the import of public spaces to democratic societies, if, when, and how people use public spaces matters to both residents and civic leaders who decide whether to fund and maintain them.
Our study site, Tacoma, Washington, has almost three acres of public land, including 69 parks. This availability presumes usage. Whether or not–and how–residents use the parks available to them in or near their neighborhoods has been measured in general, but not in relation to people’s commutes. Research has yet to explore whether the benefits we associate with availability to parks and greenspace are actually experienced by residents with above-average commute times. According to a recent Census report, average commute times went up for all major U.S. regions. Tacoma happens to be in one of the top ten areas where people face the longest commutes to and from work with the longest average travel time in its region (32.5 minutes).
In this presentation we provide an overview of the study within the context of these larger forces–forces impacting so many in Puget Sound, but especially those who experience disproportionate impacts on account of their social-economic status, race and ethnicity, and/or immigration status.

Just Communities

Food Sustainability

Growing a Healthy Community Foodscape, Food System & Food Economy for the Culebra River Acequia Communities, Costilla County, Colorado by Devon G. Peña, PhD

Decades of structural violence (poverty, racism, land and water loss, cultural marginality) and intergenerational historical trauma – all associated with the illegal enclosure of the 80,000-acre common lands known locally as “La Sierra” – have undermined and diminished the capacity and resilience of our local agri-food system. While the historic use rights to the common lands were restored in 2002 and actual legal access restored starting in 2005, considerable damage has been left in the wake of the near 50 years of denial of these land rights.
A startling historic fact underlies the design principles informing this project: The enclosure of La Sierra common lands (1960-2005) was accompanied by a shift in the structure of our economy: We experienced changes from a diverse polyculture subsistence and local-regional market agriculture economy focused on sheep, goats, and dairy cows to an export-oriented alfalfa and beef monoculture that produced cash for an emerging non-local food consumer culture. In other words, our farmers stopped feeding our own community. The resulting negative health impacts have been as dramatic as the underlying forces of this deleterious structural shift.
This project is designed to significantly improve community health in the Culebra River acequia villages of Costilla County by reviving and strengthening our local agri-food system, rekindling our polyculture agroecosystem traditions, growing community food sovereignty and security, and supporting the creativity and commitment of our younger generations to remain living and investing in their villages by co-creating and participating in an interwoven array of local institutions and initiatives to generate agriculture-based wealth and keep it in the community.

Food Sustain-Ability: Overcoming Ableism in the Alternative Food Movement by Shannon Tyman

What does a sustainable *and* inclusive food system look like? In what ways does our food system exclude some community members? Here I specifically consider the implications of ableism in the alternative food movement. I continue a conversation begun by queer, feminist philosopher Kim Q. Hall (2014); she explicitly asks, “Might disability bring something else to the table [of the food movement]?” (177). First, I highlight ways in which the food system is disabling, but also the ways in which the food movement is perceived as overcoming disability (thus positioning disability as “bad”). I then use the example of Joel Salatin, the exalted regenerative farmer, to highlight how multiple oppressions intersect in the alternative food movement. I conclude with some thoughts on how we might conceptualize productive directions for food activism in order to achieve a more comprehensively just food system and a politics of inclusivity.

Informal Resilience and Urban Equity

What is Accountable and Equitable Community Planning and Engagement in 2021? Observations from and Aspirations of the City of Seattle’s Community Planning Division by Lauren Flemister

What does it mean to be responsive to diverse communities in light of continued disparities intensified and highlighted by COVID-19, state violence carried out by public safety organizations against black and brown people, hate crimes perpetrated against Asian members of our communities, and systemic bias in many layers of government? The destructive fibers that have been interwoven into the fabric of America are represented in how government engages and serves its communities and in how urban planning policies and programs have shaped neighborhoods. As a practitioner, it is imperative to interrogate the possibility to disrupt a system designed to exclude and subjugate and serve as a change agent. How can public servants who believe in accountability and action underpinned by racial equity and justice find ways to advance the public’s agenda and do meaningful work led by community? This constant and rigorous examination of what it means to truly be a social justice-focused community planner in America in 2021 will be discussed in this presentation.

Urban Informality: Whose Resilience? by Adnya Sarasmita, PhD

This presentation reflects on what resilience means in the context of urban informality, its everyday actors, and the current global health pandemic. The empirical study looks at how informal street vendors and other informal or quasi-informal workers in Malang, Indonesia, responded to the quotidian and anticipated challenges before the Covid-19 pandemic, their sudden loss of resilience early in the pandemic, and the various ways that they contributed to the resilience of urban dwellers later on in the pandemic. We consider the risks that these informal and quasi-informal actors took on in their critical role in the distribution network goods and services during a time when much of their more formal counterparts were temporarily inaccessible. We then ask the question of ‘whose resilience’ is being enhanced when it is some of the most vulnerable members of the population who have to take on the highest risk to ensure that cities can operate as efficiently as possible during a global health pandemic. When informal actors resort to carrying business as usual despite the exceptionally high health risks in order to maintain their economic viability, is that a showcase of their resilience, or does it speak more to the society’s failure to provide them with an appropriate safety net?

Community Directed Research

Risk and resistance: Forming collaborative and co-generative research strategies to mitigate contamination in community gardens by Melanie Malone, PhD

While acting as sources of food and income along with many other environmental benefits for communities that have been marginalized, urban community gardens also often contain contaminated soils (and sometimes plants). Risks to gardeners are not adequately addressed due to inadequate, unclear, and inconsistent guidelines for risk. In the rare instances where contamination is addressed, top down models are frequently employed and the community is informed about acceptable levels of risk, expected to conform to the scientist’s recommendations, and change behavior. This communication strategy has limited success, because it excludes those most effected and fundamentally does not aim to increase environmental education or involve the community in the decisions about their risk. For example, although gardeners know how they interact with soils in gardens, have knowledge about specific practices at the sites, and concerns about specific ways they can be exposed to contaminants, none of these factors are taken into account.  Further, risk models include value judgements by risk assessors and people are told what risk they experience rather than being listened to about the risks they experience and perceive in gardens, a phenomenon common in sites where marginalized communities are exposed to contamination. This perpetuates environmental injustices in garden spaces, and risk to gardeners is insufficiently investigated when gardeners’ concerns are not addressed.  In this study, I summarize methods used to address the barriers listed above, followed by more detailed recommendations of how community researchers can collaboratively work with communities, and resist oppressive systems of risk.

Participatory Built Environment Design and Research for One Health, the InterACTION Labs program by Coco Alarcón

Iquitos city, in the Peruvian Amazon, has expanded over the last decades without the implementation of an urban development plan. This has resulted in large areas in the intact rainforest being cleared eradicating habitat for hundreds of species and neglecting ecological services that benefit public health. The limited greenspaces, lack of maintenance of the public realm, and habitat destruction have resulted in health emergencies. Toxic levels of air quality, major dengue and other and zoonotic disease outbreaks, malnutrition, and poor mental health that residents are experiencing have their roots in environmental destruction. The neglected environment and subsequent health problems require solutions with holistic approaches- dual urban design and health strategies to identify strategic environmental and public health actions for “One Health,” and capacity building to train professionals who can sustain and build upon these ambitions. The InterACTION Labs program was created to address these needs.
InterACTION Labs goals are: 1) To design, build, and test community-based environmental interventions that address One Health problems and study the intervention impacts, and 2) To train interdisciplinary teams in One Health approaches examining the built environment’s role in global health. The program started in 2016 in the amphibious informal community of Claverito in Iquitos. Interventions include residential floating gardens and a waterfront park with community gardens and a community center. These built environment interventions are design in partnership with the community and interdisciplinary teams, including epidemiologists, nurses, landscape architects, ecologists and more of whom guide the interventions and study the impacts.
The preliminary results of the interventions have shown an increase in biodiversity and improvements in mental wellbeing, food security, safety, and social health. For the next years, the team is working with the local government to develop public health programs and policies that address the pressing health and ecological issues in the region.

Just Systems

System Cycles & Justice

Embodied Carbon in MEP Systems: A Simplified Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Method for MEP Systems in Commercial Office Buildings of the Pacific Northwest by Barbara Rodriguez Droguett

This research expands on preliminary studies to estimate embodied carbon in building systems in commercial office buildings with the aim to advance the understanding of the role that mechanical, plumbing and electrical (MEP) systems play in the whole building embodied carbon. Previous studies on building embodied carbon using Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment (WBLCA) have expanded extensively over the last ten years. However, these studies are mostly focused on estimating the embodied carbon of life cycle stage A (manufacturing) and encompass only the structure scope of the building. The goal of this project is to provide estimates of the range of material quantities consumed and embodied carbon of MEP systems. In order to answer this question, a simplified LCA method is proposed. The first part involves the development of a systematic framework to assess embodied carbon in MEP systems (MEPec). A second stage involves the application of the assessment framework to measure the embodied carbon of MEP systems in 16 hypothetical representative office buildings in Oregon and Washington. A final stage is a validation stage where the embodied carbon of MEP will be assessed using a traditional LCA method in an existing buildings.  This project is currently being funded by The Charles Pankow Foundation, Skanska USA and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The participation of the Industry Advisory Committee was key to the success of this project. Mechanical and Electrical Engineers from the Pacific Northwest assisted in defining the systems and establishing the material quantity estimates.

Energy Justice of Clean Energy Technologies by Yohan Min

The recent global climate change has led to the development of various clean energy policies and technologies. Clean energy technologies such as rooftop solar and electric vehicles are proven to increase resilience in response to the impacts of climate change in addition to economic, health, and environmental benefits. However, social equity issues have emerged with the current rapid transition of energy systems toward clean energy, represented by inequitable societal transformation with undesirable burdens such as increased electric bills and imposed regressive taxation through incentives for adoption and carbon tax, especially on vulnerable or underserved communities. Furthermore, sustainable and resilient clean energy seems disproportionally accessible and available to the communities due to the affordability of technologies, which will address energy burden and energy poverty. Energy justice in terms of clean energy technologies and vulnerable communities will be discussed followed by policy implications to increase the adoption of technologies and to enhance energy equity.

Post-Pandemic Cities

City Centers by John Owen

While city centers will retain many of their regional functions because of their infrastructure, access and centrality, recent projections indicate that the daily employment retail activities will continue to diminish.  How can we reverse these trends?
Faced with declining downtowns in the 1960s, designers and researchers (Jacobs, Whyte, Lynch, Sommer, Cooper-Marcus, etc.) developed and applied a set of insights and design tools regarding how the people interact in the urban environment to help revitalize urban centers.
Today, the challenges are greater due to the speed and depth of technology-driven change. This calls for a fundamental re-thinking of the role of a downtown and the physical conditions needed to support that role.  I’ll suggest one possible paradigm as an example:  “the downtown as its own community made up of distinct neighborhoods” (illustrate).  There are existing models for this concept that we can use to add to and refine our urban design tool kit.  For example, an unresolved challenge is humanizing large scale buildings at the ground level.
However, such an urban model will call for more ambitious measures to achieve a real transformation. As development in South Lake Union illustrates, a more comprehensive, strategic approach will be necessary.  Such thinking was behind Seattle’s ultimately successful revitalization efforts in the 1970s and ‘80s, but addressing downtowns’ fundamental economic, environmental, and social issues will require institutional change and new tools for building collaboration. Fortunately, social scientists have recently produced useful information to assist us with this challenge. (relevant examples).  Just as we have used social science about human/environment interaction, designers and planners must incorporate this new knowledge regarding human, group, and organizational relationships if we are to achieve greater social equity, community cohesion, and inter-organizational/jurisdictional collaboration.
Equally important, As Damon Centrola points out in his book, Change, our disciplines will be more effective in adapting to emerging challenges if our professional and academic communities can collaborate on this dramatic experiment of post-covid city building.

The Pandemic Within: What India's migrant crisis during the COVID lockdown reveals about equity and inclusion in urban planning by Manish Chalana

The abrupt COVID lockdown in India has revealed structural failures in Indian urban planning, which does not take into consideration the circular migrants who constitute a large segment of the urban poor. Circular migrants reside in the cities that constitute their main employment centers for the majority of the year and return to their home villages for the rest. Even as there is vast heterogeneity and diversity within this group, they are more likely to be male, landless, and either lower caste or belonging to other socially disadvantaged groups categorized as the “Other Backward Class” (OBC) by the Indian government. Common wage-earning occupations include domestics, construction workers, retail help, hawkers and rickshaw pullers. They reside in a variety of housing typologies including worksites (factories or shops); informal settlements (or slums); rooming houses in urban villages scattered within the city limits; or simply on the pavement. Despite their massive numbers, circular migrants are generally not enumerated and remain ineligible for any welfare programs around healthcare, education and social housing. These inequities are largely invisible to the rest of the cities’ population, but footage of circular migrants walking for days back to their villages after the COVID lockdown, and in some cases starving to death en route, made the problem shockingly visible to the whole world.
Several urban think tanks in India are already exploring how the spotlight that COVID shone on these inequities may alter future policy and praxis regarding urban governance, migration and employment.  Here, I extend these lines of thought explicitly into questions of urban planning – how can post-COVID planning account for these glaring disparities in the urban context? I draw not only on the initial reconnaissance by researchers at these think tanks, but on my own observations of the lockdown in Delhi. Through this work, I aim to center discourses on equity and inclusion, and draw implications beyond the Indian context, into the Global North.

Equitable Disaster Resilience

Mobile Home Parks and Disaster Resilience in the Houston Metropolitan Region by Andrew Rumbach

Mobile homes are a significant, but often unacknowledged, part of our nation’s affordable housing supply. Today, mobile homes are the single largest source of unsubsidized affordable housing in the United States. An estimated 2.9 million mobile homes are located within mobile home parks (MHPs), which are unique land-lease communities where households own their housing unit but rent the land underneath. The population living in MHPs is predominantly low-income and includes many elderly, disabled, non-white, and non-English speaking individuals.
Mobile home parks are frequently exposed to hazards and disasters. Past research has shown that affordable housing is a key component of the built environment that is at-risk from natural hazards and an important contributor to post-disaster recovery. The limited scholarship on affordable housing and disasters has focused almost entirely on site-built housing, however, and largely overlooked MHPs.  Because of the unique characteristics of MHPs – their mixed tenure arrangements, park ownership structure, and treatment under local laws and regulations – we hypothesize that MHPs are exposed to, and recover from, disaster events differently than other affordable housing types.
Texas, Hurricane Harvey, and the Houston metropolitan area present a unique nexus to study the vulnerability of mobile home parks to disasters, across different geographic, demographic and governance contexts. In this paper we utilize a mixed-methods research design to study the geography of exposure MHPs to flood hazards in the Houston. These findings represent the first-time, comprehensive and comparative analysis of the exposure of mobile home park housing stock of a major metropolitan area to natural hazards. These findings will help planners to more accurately account for vulnerability in the affordable housing stock and design more effective hazard mitigation or community resilience plans and strategies. 

Equitable Disaster Resilience by Ann Bostrom

Decades of research demonstrate the inequitable impacts of disasters. These are often described as disproportionate impacts on vulnerable or marginalized populations, including the poor, BIPOC communities, women and children.  Emerging research highlights how disaster response and risk mitigation policies and practices also favor the better off, contrary to their stated or implied intent.  An opposite, affirming framing is to focus instead on the assets communities can bring to bear in times of stress and in disasters, and engaging communities proactively in resilience.  This talk highlights the differences between these approaches and how research on risk perceptions and communication can contribute to understanding and advancing them.