Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows Program

March 23, 2015

It is a unique opportunity.

The Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows Program is designed to spark new thinking through unconventional, interdisciplinary collaboration and to engage a broad audience in a research topic within the rubric of sustainability. We pair Runstad Center graduate students with emerging industry thought leaders and College of Built Environments faculty for a year-long program of research and international field study.  In prior years, Runstad Fellows have traveled to Hong Kong, Istanbul, and Berlin/Krakow/Detroit.

Last year our Affiliate Fellows visited the cities of Cartagena, Bogotá, and Medellín in Colombia, South America to study “social urbanism”. Their work defined social urbanism as a set of strategies to provide the LOVE, CARE, and SUPPORT of investments in the built environment required to make communities thrive.  In Colombia, a key strategies included “Education = Equity” and “Physical Mobility = Social Mobility”.  Social urbanism as practiced in Colombia demonstrated unequivocally that “people empowered  people engaged  communities changed.”

The City of Medellín’s Planning Director, Jorge Perez, has said that “We need to create cities for life.” Civic leaders had to find ways to communicate with communities, then the communities could constructively join the planning and development conversation. Together they learned that you cannot create value by investing only in built projects, but that the primary investment must be in people. The leaders listened. The people listened to each other. The communities began to thrive.

In Medellín, they built urban escalators and a highly efficient network of cable cars to connect vast hillside communities with the city center, providing people access to jobs and to cultural opportunities. Over several decades, they granted franchises to citizens to hold title to their homes, allowing them to be invested in creating new, healthier communities. Where once had existed only an open landfill, now is a functioning laboratory of bioengineering. Where once their children roamed in danger, they now gather to play musical instruments.

The story continues in Bogotá, where they built 180 miles of separate right of way for bicycles and a sophisticated, ultra-modern bus transit network, connecting people on the outskirts to the heart of the city. They are quietly developing a new Bogotá Arts District, and while landmark buildings the world over have been financed by wealthy benefactors, the first skyscraper in Colombia is being financed by thousands of Colombians.

The Fellows group brought back to the people of Seattle a tale of resiliency and proof of the power of citizens to actually build a “city for life.” To tell the story, they created a presentation both artful and powerful, and have presented this work to the Runstad Center Advisory Board, to the broader professional community in a well-attended session at Impact HUB, to the College of Built Environments community, and, just this past January, to the National Association of Industrial & Office Properties meeting at the Four Seasons in Seattle.

Our current group of Affiliate Fellows are studying in Santiago, Chile, and in Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil. We are excited about what they will bring back to us from a region so ready to discuss affordable housing, social cohesion, and resiliency. One of the Runstad Center’s highest priorities is to provide our top students an opportunity to broaden their worldview, and to engage both the academic and professional communities with fresh inspiration and working models for implementing change in our communities.  Check back this fall when the latest ideas gathered from South America will be presented to our community.