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Smart-sustainable or hazardous neighborhoods? Youth perspectives on urban environments

Authors: Hamil Pearsall*, Temple University, Michele Masucci, Temple University, Alan Wiig, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Topics: Hazards and Vulnerability, Geographic Information Science and Systems, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: qualitative GIS, data production, hazards, youth
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Given the growing skepticism and public leadership that counters the known scientific image in the US, there is a need to ask what is data and what is knowledge, and how might alternate modes of data collection counteract the governance shifts disrupting conventional modes of data collection. Although a setback for established environmental research, this political era may open up spaces for marginalized actors to take the lead in creating new ways of knowing urban environments typically dismissed as places of poverty and unemployment. We critically examine the concept of the ‘smart sustainable city’ through the perspectives of high-school aged youth to understand their ways of understanding the city. We engaged 40 youth involved in a 6-week summer program “Building Information Technology Skills (BITS) in a series of group discussions and qualitative mapping exercises to identify what the youth saw as critical urban environmental hazards in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the types of solutions that are required to address them. Our study uncovers a disconnect between what youth see as critical urban environmental hazards and what the science community and policy makers prioritize. The youth also expressed pessimism that the key tools of the smart-sustainable city (technologies) could affect near future change for the most pressing issues, and many highlighted the barriers that youth face to being able to enact meaningful changes in their local environments. Our study suggests that qualitative GIS reveals need for change in the way environmental problems are identified, framed, and characterized.

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