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Jefferson Smart and Healthy Cities Forum Draws Hundreds to Virtual Event

Forced by the COVID-19 pandemic to host a vibrant event via Zoom, the 2020 Jefferson Smart and Healthy Cities Forum offered interdisciplinary experts from the University and across the country the opportunity to widely share their insights into housing policy and the evolution of cities as smart and healthy cities, among other important topics.

The two-day gathering drew experts from an interdisciplinary team from the University and beyond.

The event was sponsored by the AARP and the University’s Institute of Smart and Healthy Cities, a nascent initiative that seeks to “advance the development of the urban environment into smart and healthy cities through innovative collaboration across the architecture, design, engineering, health and science disciplines

From a University perspective, the event and mission brought together experts from the College and Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) and the College of Population Health (JCPH) to share valuable insights that could improve the future of cities across the globe.

The event—which drew some 450 virtual attendees and was part of DesignPhiladelphia—was held on Oct. 14 and 15, 2020.

The topic on day one was housing and policy. It centered on how city governments can collaborate with developers, architects, urban designers and community organizers to create policies and programs “to provide high-quality and affordable housing while fostering economic growth and ensuring sustainable neighborhoods.”

Moderated by Jefferson’s real estate program director Troy Hannigan, panelists included Philadelphia Planning and Development director Anne Fadullon, City Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier, Orange Splot LLC founder and CEO Eli Spevak and Jeremy Avellino, principal and design director of Bright Common.

“There was a really interesting discussion about issues in Philadelphia, including how policy impacts gentrification and in what ways we can bring more affordable housing to the city,” says CABE Dean Barbara Klinkhammer. “Eli Spevak brought an interesting perspective of how they made progress in these areas in Portland, Oregon, though Portland has a much different median income than Philadelphia, which impacts the implementation of different housing policies.”

The second-day event—organized by Klinkhammer, CABE professor Edgar Stach and the AARP Pennsylvania’s Yocasta Lora—focused on how best to evolve cities in a smart-and-healthy direction using self-driving cars, 5G and AI and other smart technologies.

Moderated by AARP National Director of Livable Communities Danielle Arigoni, panelists included JCPH founding Dean Emeritus Dr. David B. Nash, along with Strong Towns president Charles L. Marohn, Texas Tech University College of Architecture assistant professor Dr. Peng Du and Anton Germishuizen, senior vice president of and business leader of buildings at Stantec.

Experts discussed housing policy, urban evolution and more at the event.

“We had two very different panels bringing together individuals and decision makers here in Philadelphia and from around the country,” says Klinkhammer of the event.

That manifested itself on day two, when the discussion turned to how best to evolve urban areas into smart and healthy cities. It came as no surprise to many attendees that the tangible impact of COVID-19 offers many insights into what the cities of the future may look like, including more outdoor dining and roadways closed off solely for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Calling him the “Dr. Fauci of Philadelphia,” Klinkhammer notes that Dr. Nash discussed the lessons that can be learned from these times and applied to making our cities smarter and healthier in the future. One major impact of this will be businesses moving from office space to more remote workspaces.

“What will that mean for real estate and restaurants when they deal with less business from lunch or after-work crowds?” she asks, noting that bicycle- and public-transportation shifts could be coming à la Amsterdam, Netherlands, which panelists offered up as an example of a future model for American cities. “They were worried about the American city after COVID-19, particularly brick-and-mortar real estate.

“How will cities change? Philadelphia has a great advantage because outside the downtown business area, it is comprised of many residential neighborhoods. We need enough green space that people will continue to want to live in Philly. The question becomes how best to offer high-quality amenities available in the suburbs—schools, infrastructure and green spaces—in the city itself.”

Both Klinkhammer and Stach note that changing the format of the event meant a loss of in-person networking opportunities, but expanded the reach for attendees to check in without having to come to Philadelphia.

For her part, Klinkhammer says that the future could see a blend of in-person and virtual events comprise this important annual gathering.

“Under the umbrella of Smart and Healthy Cities, we could talk about controlling COVID-19, how cities can accommodate these sorts of crises, adapt buildings to the new paradigms including work from home, and the whole spectrum of what makes cities healthy and livable,” Stach says.

“Dr. Nash is an amazing thinker. He thinks and talks like an architect, about clean air, walking, making public transportation better, food deserts and other topics,” Stach continues.

The forum comes at a time when the Institute is pushing forward toward a vibrant future in a cross-disciplinary pursuit across CABE, JCPH and the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce.

Stach says there will be design studios to examine how Philadelphia can evolve in the next 20 years, which will focus on three areas: the Vine Street Expressway Corridor, the area including Jefferson’s Center City Campus and the Philadelphia Rail Yards near 30th Street Station.

His architecture and design students are already proposing ideas to cut down on food waste (in the form of an app that matches people who need food with sustenance that would otherwise go to waste) and, among others, personal carbon-footprint calculators.

“There has been a big boost in this sort of knowledge, and I am blown away by the depth of conversations and interactions around it,” Stach says. “What is really running the Institute is us, the human beings.”

The lectures from both days of the forum can be viewed via this link.