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2018 Social Justice and Equity in the Engineering of Smart and Connected Communities Workshop Report

PI: Radha Poovendran

Professor and Chair, Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering University of Washington, Seattle.



Communities are expected to provide for the basic needs, economic prosperity, and overall well- being of their citizens while managing the challenges of population growth, aging, and resource scarcity. The Smart and Connected Communities (S&CC) initiative meets these challenges by developing socially responsible technologies that improve efficiency, safety, and sustainability of communities across diverse and heterogeneous populations.

The University of Washington, in partnership with Missouri S&T, Washington University in St. Louis, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, hosted a workshop on "Social Justice and Equity in the Engineering of Smart and Connected Communities" as part of the NSF-funded SCC-RCN project "MOHERE: Mobility, Health, and Resilience in SCC: Building Capacities and Expanding Impact." The goal of the workshop was to focus on scholarship and strategies around engineering and smart-city technologies that contribute to strengthening the health and resilience of underserved and at-risk communities in cities, particularly those experiencing homelessness. The workshop brought together scholars and practitioners from fields spanning engineering, social sciences, social work, and humanities, as well as representatives from industry, local government, and international partners in Ethiopia, India, and Ireland. The workshop was held from December 10-11, 2018 at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, WA.

The workshop was organized around the themes of (i) Environment, Climate, and Equity, (ii) Mobility, Equity, Poverty, and Health, and (iii) Disaster Preparedness, Resilience, and Equity. Organizers and participants broadly considered how technology and engineering practices associated with the rise of smart cities might be adapted to address the needs of the most vulnerable. Additionally, the workshop explored how interdisciplinary and collaborative research and teaching can have an enduring impact on communities; how stratification, existing infrastructure, and public policies shape the context of engineering solutions; and how engineers and social scientists may better collaborate to understand the social impacts of engineering responses to urban challenges. Central to each of these objectives was integrating the contributions of engineers and social scientists to catalyze socially-beneficial technologies. Further information can be found at:


The workshop planning committee consisted of:

  • Thaisa Way, Executive Director, Urban@UW, UW
  • Radha Poovendran, Professor and Chair, Electrical and Computer Engineering, UW
  • (overall PI of RCN)
  • Hedwig Lee, Professor, Sociology, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Julian Marshall, John R. Kiely Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering, UW
  • Lara P. Clark, PhD Candidate, Environmental Engineering, UW
  • Andrew Clark, Assistant Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • Sajal Das, Daniel St. Clair Endowed Chair Professor, Computer Science, Missouri S&T
  • Jeffrey Ban, Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UW
  • Scott Allard, Professor, Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, UW
  • Jeff Berman, Thomas & Marilyn Nielsen Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental
  • Engineering, UW
  • Ann Bostrom, Professor, Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, UW
  • Katie Idziorek, PhD Student, Urban Design & Planning, UW


Monday, December 10, 2018

8:00am - 8:45am
Breakfast and Registration

8:45am - 9:00am
Session: Welcome
Speakers: Radha Poovendran (UW), Thaisa Way (UW)

9:00am - 9:40am
Session: Keynote: "Leading with Equity"
Speaker: Mami Hara, General Manager & CEO, Seattle Public Utilities
Session Summary: This keynote talk discussed the challenges of equitable growth in S&CC with a focus on the Seattle metropolitan area. CEO Hara discussed challenges to equity in cities, including growing income inequality; climate-driven changes; housing discrimination and inequality; environmental justice; and challenges and barriers to equitable work. The keynote concluded with questions regarding prioritizing equity, risk management, community engagement, and addressing resiliency and affordability, which framed the first day's discussion.

9:40am - 10:30am
Session: Opening Panel: "A City's Equity Challenges: From Homelessness to Climate Change" Panelists: Mami Hara (Seattle Public Utilities), Adrienne Quinn (Distinguished Practitioner, Evans School of Public Policy and Governance), Nicole Vallestero Keenan-Lai (Executive Director, Puget Sound Sage)
Moderator: Katharine Lusk (Initiative on Cities, UW)
Session Summary: Seattle occupies a remarkable role as an urban system. Unprecedented growth has increased income inequality and led to hundreds if not thousands of community members being priced out of their neighborhoods or out into the street. Overlaid on historical practices of segregation and grappling with the amplified effects of gentrification, Seattle's neighborhoods are feeling the strain of economic acceleration at the same time that climate change begins to exacerbate the impacts. This session gathered leaders from across Seattle and the region for a nuanced discussion of one city's challenges and brought outside perspectives to explore these challenges.

10:30am - 11:00am

11:00am - 12:30pm
Session: Environment, Climate, and Equity
Participants: Jacklin Stonewall (Iowa State University), Neal Patwari (University of Utah), Dana Habeeb (Indiana University)
Moderator: Tiernan Martin (Data Analyst and Planner, Futurewise)
Session Summary: The focus of this session was to bring equity into our efforts to protect the environment and climate via smart cities innovations. Such socioeconomic and health equities are a dominant feature in many cities. As we consider technologies that may serve to protect the environment and climate, we must also critically consider the consequences of these innovations for vulnerable populations. These innovations may serve to either entrench or ameliorate inequalities. Stonewall discussed ongoing efforts to build and validate an urban energy model for three neighborhoods in the city of Des Moines, Iowa, including the unique challenges faced by underserved residents who are unable to adequately control the temperatures in their homes through heating and air conditioning. Patwari discussed the idea of smart science, in which individuals are enabled to conduct randomized controlled trials on themselves. Habeeb brought an urban planning perspective on the environmental health hazards associated with extreme heat and how on-body sensors could potentially be used to create stable and healthy micro-climates.

12:30pm - 1:30pm

1:30pm - 3:00pm
Session: Environmental Justice and Health
Participants: Amanda Giang (University of British Columbia), Lara Clark (University of Washington), Julian Marshall (University of Washsington)
Moderator: Julio Sanchez (Puget Sound Clean Air Agency)
Session Summary: This session continued to explore health equity and how it relates to efforts to protect the environment in cities. Air pollution often affects communities that are already vulnerable due to socioeconomic, geographic, and urban planning inequities. Discussions focused on reduction and solutions. Giang presented quantitative and visualization methods to represent environmental injustice by computing indicators of injustice based on a variety of air pollution and demographic datasets. Clark presented ongoing research on tracking air pollution environmental injustice over time, including racial inequities in air pollution exposure. Marshall discussed new air pollution monitoring tools, including case studies of diesel particulate matter, vehicle fuel options, and reduced-complexity air pollution models.

3:00pm - 3:30pm
Coffee and table discussions

3:30pm - 5:00pm
Session: Mobility, Equity, and Health
Participants: Judith G. Gonyea (Boston University), Sarah M. Kaufman (NYU) Moderator: Benjamin de la Pena (Chief of Innovation and Strategy, Seattle DOT)
Session Summary: Lack of access to mobility is a significant obstacle to the well-being of underserved populations. This session explored how smart transportation technologies can promote equity and justice. Questions explored included: Can smart technologies make transportation systems more responsive to community needs? How to make transportation infrastructures nimbler and more flexible, and what are the possible economic benefits? How can smart technologies help to meet the unique needs of seniors, rural communities, small towns, homeless populations, and other underserved groups? How to improve access to the public transportation to solve the first/last mile mobility problem for underserved population? What are the metrics to quantify the gap between mobility and equity/poverty/health, and what are the associated trade-offs, if any? Gonyea presented findings on the older homeless population, in particular a study of women in their fifties experiencing homelessness in Boston, pathways through which individuals enter into homelessness, and possible paths out of homelessness. Kaufman discussed gender-based price discrimination, focusing on whether transportation has a "pink tax", a term used to describe the extra amount women are charged for products and services.

5:00pm - 5:30pm
Wrap-up and report out

5:30pm - 6:30pm
Reception and posters

Session: Public Lecture: "Whose Communities? Recentering Engineering and Engineers, and Moving from Social Good to Social Justice"
Speaker: Khalid Kadir (UC-Berkeley)
Introduction: Michael Bragg, Dean, UW College of Engineering
Abstract: While engineers, both academics and practitioners, are remarkably good at solving problems, engineering approaches to problem solving remove issues from their historical, social, and political context and frame them in technical terms. As a result, engineers are ill-equipped to deal with problems related to social injustice, and are in fact positioned to unwittingly reproduce or exacerbate already existing injustices. Practicing engineering differently entails more than adopting an 'engineering for good' approach, and instead necessitates recentering our work around socio-political questions. This presents us with methodological challenges, and requires us to question our epistemological assumptions. Perhaps more significantly, questioning our epistemological assumptions presents us with personal challenges, as it forces us to more seriously engage with questions of power, positionality, and ethics. Taking such engagement seriously, however, opens the possibility of becoming civically minded, justice-oriented practitioners who are equipped to tackle some of the most pressing problems facing human society today.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

8:00am - 8:30am

8:30am - 8:35am
Session: Welcome and Overview
Speaker: Thaisa Way (UW)

8:35am - 9:20am
Session: Keynote: "Meta-Principles for Developing Smart, Sustainable, and Healthy Cities" Speaker: Anu Ramaswami (University of Minnesota - Twin Cities)
Introduction: Sajal Das (Missouri S&T)

9:20am - 11:00am
Session: Resilience and Equity
Participants: Dirk Pesch (Cork Institute of Technology), Jayant Gupta (University of Minnesota), Matt Auflick (City of Seattle)
Moderator: Kate German (City of Seattle)
Session Summary: Disaster preparedness and resilience are affected by community and individual economic well-being. The most vulnerable populations also have the least means to prepare for disasters and the fewest resources to mitigate the consequences when disasters occur. Thus, in the engineering of cities for disaster resilience, issues of equity, poverty and health must be considered. This session explored the intersection of disaster preparedness and response, and equity and social justice. Of particular interest were examples from planning and/or engineering, both research and implementations, that considered equity in developing solutions for disaster preparedness. Pesch presented ongoing work on assisted living technologies in the context of lifetime communities. Gupta discussed how real-time spatial pattern awareness can improve city resiliency, and how awareness can be realized through affordable positioning devices. Auflick discussed the Seattle Office of Emergency Management's experience in community engagement on natural hazards and disaster preparedness with a focus on underserved populations.

11:00am - 11:15am
Coffee and discussion: Research ideas

11:15am - 12:15pm
Session: Sustainability and the Smart and Just City
Participants: Araya Asfaw (Addis Ababa University), Nilay Mistry (IIT)
Moderator: Hedwig Lee (Washington University in St. Louis)
Session Summary: This session explored potential solutions for aspects of urban sustainability. Equitable and efficient use of water, power, and other resources is critical for our future. New technologies, ranging from smart meters to artificial intelligence, may help with this effort. Asfaw discussed the challenges faced by the rapid growth of Addis Ababa, including both vulnerability to sudden shocks as well as chronic stresses. Mistray discussed the urban design and policy implications of ubiquitous robots.

12:15 - 1:30pm
Session: Lunch and Presentation: "Interdisciplinary Critical Community Engaged Learning: A Tool for Expanding the Broader Impacts of Research and Advancing High-Impact Student Learning"
Speaker: Cathleen Power (Washington University in St. Louis)
Abstract: This talk focuses on the ways that workshop participants can utilize their teaching responsibilities to further the broader impacts of their research and build relationships with community members to promote the benefits of smart and connected cities for all. Specifically, I propose that teaching interdisciplinary critical community engaged learning courses can provide faculty an opportunity to better train future engineering and social science professionals at the same time that class projects can be used to develop and disseminate research in collaboration with community partners. Community Engaged Learning (CEL) is an experiential learning pedagogy that links academic learning and community engagement within a framework or respect, reciprocity, reflection, and relevance (Butin, 2007). Critical CEL utilizes a social change orientation, works to redistribute power, and build authentic relationships. CEL, when done well, benefits students, faculty, and communities. Research has demonstrated that CEL, historically called service learning, is a high-impact educational practice that deepens students learning, increases the level of academic challenge, facilitates active and collaborative learning, improves student-faculty interaction, and creates a supportive campus climate for students, especially historically underserved students (Kuh & O'Donnell, 2013). Faculty benefit because working in collaboration with community members and students can spark new ideas that lead to new questions and research areas (Curry-Stevens, 2011; Williams & Sparks, 2011), provide additional publishing opportunities (Schindler, 2014; Williams & Sparks, 2011), allow faculty to tap into community knowledge sources that have historically been ignored or underutilized, and build their teaching into grant opportunities as a means of demonstrating the broader impacts of their work. Community organizational partners benefit from the opportunity to educate and train students about the complexity of issues their organization works to address, utilize student work to achieve community goals, engage faculty expertise to address issues important to the organization, access university resources and opportunities, and use collaboration outcomes for future fundraising (Leiderman et al. 2003). In sum, CEL is an ideal tool that can be used to leverage interdisciplinary engineering and social science research for the benefits of communities. If we are to truly have smart and connected cities that benefit underserved and marginalized communities we must build faculty relationships and research across disciplines; break down the "town and gown" divide; including the divides between faculty, community organizations, and community members; and we must train students to think and work across these boundaries.

1:30pm - 2:00pm
Session: Wrap up and next steps
Speakers: Radha Poovendran (UW), Thaisa Way (UW)