3 CSAW REU Community-Based Research Tracks
Students will participate in one of three specific research tracks with REU faculty mentors and Atlanta-based organizations.
REU Research Track 1: How community-based organizations are addressing the housing question in Atlanta. Leaders: Katherine Hankins, GSU geography and Andy Walter, University of West Georgia (archival work in consultation with Joe Hurley, GSU library sciences; GIS consultation with Ray Maldonado, GSU Geospatial Laboratories)
Email Dr. Katherine Hankins for questions specific to this research track.
In this research track, student researchers will investigate community-based interventions in the processes shaping the availability of and access to affordable housing in Atlanta. The city’s uneven residential landscape–carved by waves of home foreclosures and job losses triggered by the great financial crisis and the near-completion of the local housing authority’s project to eliminate public housing stock–provides a superlative example of what Engels called “the housing question”: A shortage of affordable housing amid a growing need for it and the inability of the economic system to address this obvious and profound problem. In Atlanta, where unemployment remains above 10% and poverty has increased, the supply of affordable rental units has declined while in some neighborhoods, including those receiving former residents of demolished public housing complexes, up to 50% of housing stock is vacant and abandoned. Students will engage with three nonprofit organizations, all of which are motivated to produce a less unjust urban landscape, but represent distinct community-based approaches to the housing question in the city. These include Charis Community Housing, a faith-based organization that focuses on renovating existing housing stock to create affordable housing in South Atlanta; Habitat for Humanity, an international organization that, working with volunteers and homeowners, seeks to expand home ownership to low-income residents in neighborhoods across Atlanta; and Occupy Our Homes Atlanta, an organization that advocates on behalf of residents who have experienced foreclosure.
REU Research Track 2: Mapping urban green spaces in West Atlanta with West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA) and Trees Atlanta. Leaders: Timothy Hawthorne and Leslie Edwards, GSU geography (archival work in consultation with Joe Hurley, GSU library sciences; GIS consultation with Jack Reed, GSU Geospatial Laboratories)
Email Dr. Timothy Hawthorne for questions specific to this research track.
In this research track, students and faculty researchers will work with community-based organizations and local residents to answer the broader question: what are the social and biological dimensions of Atlanta green spaces? In order to answer this question, first, students will use a combination of GIS, GPS, and related quantitative and qualitative methods to map and understand existing green spaces in Southwest Atlanta neighborhoods near the Beecher-Hampton Nature Preserve (a 180 acre green space in the heart of metro Atlanta). Two local non-profit organizations (the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance and Trees Atlanta) are most interested in developing a variety of geographic research products to: a) showcase the attributes of this urban green space (i.e. native species, non-native invasive species, trails, infrastructure, historical points of interest, hazards and environmental quality issues) and b) understand the physical, social, and historical dimensions of adjacent neighborhoods and properties. WAWA in particular is interested in developing an open source geospatial database, an interactive map, a smart phone enabled data collection and reporting device, and paper maps of the green space and surrounding area. The foundations for such shared geographic knowledge and community-based products will be constructed by REU students. This geospatial data will be overlaid with existing socio-demographic data, including median income, occupancy status, race/ethnicity, gender and age. Such analysis will allow the REU research team and multiple community stakeholders to compare environmental justice issues, social injustice issues, quality of life issues, and the state of “nature” in Atlanta. Another element of research may include on-the-ground data collection and sampling of plots to delineate natural communities and invasive species through GIS and groundtruthing within the Beecher-Hampton nature preserve, which could contribute to the space’s master plan and long-term management strategies. Additionally, REU students may engage in multiple capacity-building exercises with community members to raise the visibility of this neglected green space.
REU Research Track 3: Mapping urban environmental quality in the neighborhoods of Mechanicsville, Pittsburgh, Summerhill, Adair Park, and Peoplestown with SAFE (South Atlanta for the Environment), and Microbial and Geochemical Water Quality in Atlanta’s Chattahoochee River. Leaders: Dan Deocampo, GSU geology; Christina HempHill Fuller, Lisa Casanova, & John Steward, GSU Institute of Public Health (GIS consultation with Jack Reed, GSU Geospatial Laboratories)
Email Dr. Daniel Deocampo for questions specific to this research track.
We will continue our collaboration with SAFE, which is a community-based organization that has been working for years to identify and alleviate environmental hazards in Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU)-V, a collection of five neighborhoods on Atlanta’s south side. This research will test several specific hypotheses related to air and environmental quality in NPU-V, including 1) that ground level ozone varies over fine spatial scales related to urban land use that are not detectable by current monitoring systems in place; 2) that persistent heavy metals in soils and road dust vary over spatial scales related to present and past land use policy, especially transportation infrastructure in use during peak pre-1970s highway usage; and 3) that the composition of airborne particulates, and hence environmental risks, in the separate 0.2-2.5µm and 2.5-10µm are not uniform at the neighborhood and urban spatial scales. To test these hypotheses, researchers and students will carry out interdisciplinary investigations into the airborne and soil/dust environments in NPU-V and the land-use policies and consequential social geographies that relate to these environmental conditions. Students will test several methods of collecting atmospheric particulate samples, and prepare samples for geochemical and mineralogical analysis. Analytical methods will include X-ray diffraction, X-ray fluorescence, electron microscopy, atomic absorption spectroscopy, and others.
We will also begin a new initiative studying microbial and geochemical contaminants in the Chattahoochee River, which flows through Atlanta. At several stations, students will help to collect sediment samples to test the hypothesis that contaminant microbes reside beneath the sediment-water interface at times of low flow, remaining available for resuspension during storm events. Students will learn basic methods of microbial and geochemical analysis, including analysis for viruses and bacterial, as well as the geochemical methods described above.