A win-win: working together to increase the impact

Source: UM-Dearborn

UM-Dearborn student Jacques Jones cuts down small trees and trims overgrown brush in the alley way. Photo by Sarah Tuxbury.

A jointly sponsored UM-Dearborn – UM-Flint Collaborative Research Funding Program awarded up to $160,000 for four collaborative research projects.

Detroit residents are reclaiming and repurposing underused spaces for neighborhood use. They’ve removed tires and trash from alleyways, organized meetings to discuss community space needs, helped install rain barrels in alley-facing garage downspouts and more. And UM-Dearborn professors Paul Draus, Chris Pannier and Jacob Napieralski have worked right alongside them.

Closer to Hamtramck — in Detroit’s Campau/Banglatown neighborhood — Benjamin Gaydos, UM-Flint associate professor of design, utilizes equity-based design practices to help communities make a positive impact in their neighborhoods. With his design firm goodgood, Gaydos works with Detroit-based organizations and community organizations as they work to transform their neighborhoods into model examples of urban sustainability.

These U-M professors have worked in the city for years doing similarly focused work, only miles apart. But they didn’t combine their research superpowers until the UM-Dearborn – UM-Flint Collaborative Research Funding Program brought them together with RescueMINature Now, a grassroots community organization based in northwest Detroit, and Korey Batey from DAVIS, aka Detroit Ain’t Violent It’s Safe, a local leader in the alley activation movement.

Created by UM-Flint Chancellor Deba Dutta and UM-Dearborn Chancellor Domenico Grasso, the jointly sponsored UM-Dearborn – UM-Flint Collaborative Research Funding Program funded up to $160,000 for four collaborative research projects.

Collaborating with Global Detroit, an advocate for inclusive communities, Gaydos led a team of designers, anthropologists, and organizers to develop a community-centric methodology for equitable development in Banglatown.

In its first cycle, four projects were funded, representing a wide range of disciplines and topic areas.

“Both UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn are urban institutions devoted to the betterment of our communities. These collaborative research projects showcase what is possible when researchers forego traditional disciplinary and institutional boundaries to work alongside community stakeholders,” Dutta said. “Working together toward common goals will continue to open new research avenues and funding opportunities for future projects.”

Funded projects are:

The e-bike boom: Examining key safety factors on e-bike potential to promote sustainability and equity in Detroit

Research Team: UM-Flint Associate Professor of Geography Greg Rybarczyk, UM-Dearborn Assistant Professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Fred Feng, UM-Dearborn Associate Professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Shan Bao and UM-Flint Assistant Professor of Information Technology and Informatics Thiago Ferreira.

External Collaborators: UM-Ann Arbor Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning Anthony Vanky, California State Polytechnic University-Pomona Lecturer of Geography Lorne Platt and University of Florida Research Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Xiang ‘Jacob’ Yan

Inclusive Design in Shared Autonomous Vehicles for People with Parkinson’s Disease

Research Team: UM-Dearborn Associate Professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Shan Bao, UM-Flint Assistant Professor of Psychology Nathaniel Miller, UM-Flint Associate Professor of Computer Science Charlotte Tang

Effectiveness of an ACL Injury Prevention Program on Kinematic Performance in Amateur Youth Soccer Players using Inertial Measurement Units

Research Team: UM-Flint Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Tzu-Chieh Liao, UM-Dearborn Bioengineering Associate Professor Amanda Esquivel and UM-Flint Clinical Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy William Suits.

Alley Activation as a Community Resilience Strategy for Post-Industrial Cities: An Urban Acupuncture Proof-of-Concept Approach

Research Team: UM-Dearborn Professor of Sociology Paul Draus, UM-Flint Associate Professor of Design Benjamin Gaydos, UM-Dearborn Professor of Geology Jacob Napieralski, and UM-Dearborn Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Christopher Pannier.

Community Partners: Detroit Ain’t Violent It’s Safe/Korey Batey and Rescue MI Nature Now/Zenaida Flores, Janai Frazier, Tharmond Ligon, Jr., Brodrick Wilks

The project’s announcement has been a year in the making. The chancellors shared the initiative with the campus communities in 2021, and began implementing collaborative research events in early 2022. To bring the two campuses together, nearly 200 faculty, researchers and staff members from UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint participated in research talks and networking workshops to share ideas and explore new partnerships.

As a result, several interdisciplinary faculty teams were formed and cross-campus proposals were submitted for funding.

Draus said their group is grateful for the new grant program. He said the lack of access to green space and natural areas is a major health and quality of life issue in post-industrial cities like Detroit — and especially for communities of color. He said collaborative initiatives, backed by funding, help develop partnerships and plans to create beneficial functions for underutilized urban spaces, like alleyways.

Some ideas for reclaimed alleys include neighborhood gardens, designated walk and bikeways, pop-up shop business corridors, educational areas to learn about native plants or water retention methods and more.

Gaydos said the collaborative research grant is a tremendous opportunity to deepen the impact of the work currently done and expand existing research networks. He said it’s important to promote urban revitalization at a local level and support urban acupuncture design, which is where public space doesn’t need to be ample and expensive to have a transformative impact.

Gaydos and Draus said the UM-Dearborn – UM-Flint collaboration will take the work they were doing separately to the next level.

“Building off previous projects—with a set of research nodes that can extend to many other fields—the project promises to benefit both the Dearborn and Flint campuses, as well as the city of Detroit, through advancing urban research, enabling innovation, and providing opportunities for students to engage in project-based learning and research,” Gaydos said.

The next cycle of the UM-Dearborn – UM-Flint Collaborative Research Funding Program will take place in early 2023.

Back to News + Stories