Professor Arnold Spokane has been awarded a Knight Fellowship in Community Building from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the University of Miami School of Architecture. Spokane, a person-environment psychologist, is the only social scientist to date to receive a Knight fellowship.
The Knight fellows meet six times over the course of one year with eminent architects, urban planners and developers to study ways to design and redesign urban and suburban environments to better meet the needs of inhabitants. The program culminates in a "charrette" in which the fellows meet with local planners, developers and community members to contribute to the revitalization of urban and suburban neighborhoods to reduce sprawl and improve the social and physical health of residents.
More than 200 such redesign projects have been completed since 1993, funded either by private developers or the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Two notable examples are Seaside Florida, and Celebration Florida, a real estate development and social experiment by the Disney Corporation. New Urbanism, a philosophy of redevelopment outlined in a book by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck entitled "Suburban Nation" encourages a neighborhood with a discernible center, a variety of dwelling types and purposes (workplaces, shops, homes) walkable schools, and streets that are interconnected.
According to the Charter of the New Urbanism, neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population, communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car… and urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice." In good design, activities of daily living should occur within walking distance, allowing independence to those who do not drive, especially the elderly and the young. Porches, windows, doors facing the street, and other architectural features can encourage more "eyes on the street", and, thus more community monitoring and involvement in the social behavior of a neighborhood.
Spokane’s recent $3.3 million joint NIH grant with the University of Miami is an interdisciplinary project to study the relationship between the built environment behavior and health in an urban Hispanic neighborhood, East Little Havana Florida. Working with epidemiologists, architects, city planners, and psychologists, the project is mapping the architecture of the neighborhood and studying the effects of the architecture on the behavioral health of elderly residents over time. It is this collaboration that led to the fellowship.
The interdisciplinary study of architecture, behavior, and health is a new field of public health that combines the insights and understandings several professional specialties to promote public health. This emerging field will have implication for the design and redesign of communities in the U.S., and in underdeveloped nations, as well as for the practice of public health and mental health.
Posted on Tuesday, March 12, 2002