Utah State University faculty members Keith Christensen and Ziqi Song were recently awarded a $2.5 million grant to examine community planning and policies throughout communities on Utah’s Wasatch Front and the participation of individuals with disabilities. Christensen and Song are associate and assistant professors in departments of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning (LAEP) and Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), respectively.
Areas of particular interest to the researchers include the community environment, social networks, activities of daily community living, and community transport. According to Christensen, the research team will look at more than individuals’ physical access to their communities.
“The first thing you have to do is think beyond accessibility,” Christensen said. “We’re really talking about social accessibility, which is inclusion. Most of the time the bus is accessible—you can get on the bus and you can get off the bus—but that pedestrian network to get to the bus stop is not. The part that we’re most concerned about: is it actually usable? Can you participate in community life using the bus? Does it run at the right times of the day?”
Song, Christensen, and the collaborating team members want to assess the costs in resources, energy, and time for individuals’ participation in daily life, according to the project narrative.
“Some neighborhoods are much better at promoting social interaction,” Christensen said. “You know, they’re neighborly. People are out and about and they see their neighbors and it builds a kind of social cohesion. There are other neighborhoods that are not like that. It‘s not comfortable to be out in front of your house, you don’t see your neighbors, and it’s not a safe and inviting environment. It’s more likely that people with disabilities live in that type of neighborhood than in the other.”
The cross-disciplinary project will coordinate team members from LAEP, CEE, and USU’s Center for Persons with Disabilities (CPD). Each member of the research team is thoroughly invested in the research focus and brings important expertise to the project, Christensen said. Song will address transportation equity and Jefferson Sheen (CPD) specializes in understanding existing policies and needs. Colleagues from LAEP complete the team, including Brent Chamberlain who contributes to the technological aspects of modeling these relationships, Carlos Licon who will be involved with planning policy and its impact on a community’s form, and Keunhyun Park who uses his behavioral expertise to help model behaviors.
Ultimately, the researchers hope to provide a community infrastructure planning tool and community-scale planning practices and model policies, such as city codes and ordinances, that will help individuals with disabilities to live independently, pursue meaningful careers, and enjoy full inclusion in their communities at every level.
Funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, the project began in Oct. 2019 and will continue through Sept. 2024.