Spring 2019 Applied Research Seed Grant Program

The 21st Century Cities Initiative 2019 Applied Research Seed Grant awards support Johns Hopkins faculty teams conducting cross-disciplinary research that examines and shapes the future possibilities of cities as dynamic hubs of opportunity, inclusion, and innovation. In 2019, 21CC awarded seven seed grants in our third round of the funding program. Projects were awarded across multiple schools and disciplines at Johns Hopkins and include projects in Baltimore City, other US cities, and international cities.

New Haven Debt Map

Research Team:

  • Vesla Weaver, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Political Science and Sociology, School of Arts and Sciences
  • Emily Zackin, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences
  • Annie Harper, Instructor, Department of Psychiatry at Yale University

City/Community Partners: New Haven Financial Empowerment Center and The Community Builders

Description: American families with low to moderate incomes are severely burdened by multiple forms of debt, from mortgages, credit cards, and student loans, to installment, payday, pawnshop and personal loans, to arrears on all kinds of obligations such as rent, utilities, taxes, legal financial obligations, child support, and bank fees. When families struggle with debt, cities bear the costs of helping them deal with the consequences. This interdisciplinary, community-based project seeks to better understand the scope of debt facing families in New Haven, Connecticut. The team will collate existing data, identify and develop plans to fill gaps in knowledge, and develop policy recommendations and a process to put those recommendations into practice. Currently, cities lack the local level data needed to formulate effective responses to myriad problems resulting from debt. This project will develop a model for cities to access existing data about debt, gather additional needed data, and use that data to develop realistic programmatic and policy recommendations that disrupt vicious cycles of financial encumbrances.

The Environmental Hopkins Observation Network (e-HON)

Research Team:

  • Katalin Szlavecz, Research Professor, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, School of Arts and Sciences
  • Ben Zaitchik, Associate Professor, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, School of Arts and Sciences
  • Tamas Budavari, Assistant Professor, Department of Applied Mathematics & Statistics, School of Engineering

City/Community Partners: Baltimore City Office of Sustainability and Baltimore Green Space

Description: The Environmental Hopkins Observation Network (e-HON) will focus on Baltimore green spaces to assess the value of green infrastructure to physical environment and social well-being. The first stage of the project includes user-friendly software development and sensor calibration and testing. In the second stage, field deployment, data collection and additional observations and sampling will take place in pre-selected green spaces in Baltimore City. These green spaces will include forest patches, urban parks, and vacant lots. The site selection process will include close collaboration with Baltimore City Sustainability Office and Baltimore Green Space, a local NGO. The spatial and temporal resolution of e-HON will be scaled to capture local environmental conditions, and of the way residents experience and are exposed to them. The study connects to several ongoing projects and initiatives in Baltimore City such as the Green Network Plan, and thus the findings of this research will have clear utility to local policymakers.

Opportunity Zones in West Baltimore: A Baseline Evaluation

Research Team:

  • Sandra Newman, Professor, Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Sciences
  • Michael Snidal, Doctoral Candidate, Urban Planning, Columbia University
  • Malo Hutson, Director, PhD in Urban Planning Program, Columbia University

City/Community Partners: Baltimore City Council Members Leon Pinkett, Kristefer Burnett, and John Bullock

Description: This project will assess whether and how the federal Opportunity Zones program (“OZ”) is attracting capital and economic development to the very distressed neighborhoods of West Baltimore. The research team will conduct extensive interviews with community and government officials, program managers, developers, and fund managers about the OZ program. These interviews will be used to document and analyze how much new capital the OZ program has attracted to West Baltimore, what specific real estate and small business projects are being supported by the program, whether and where OZ capital has bridged equity gaps, and who is benefiting from this program.

Social Accountability in Informal Settlements: Building a multi-stakeholder partnership in Kampala, Uganda

Research Team:

  • Ligia Paina, Assistant Professor, School of Public Health
  • Daniela Rodriguez, Associate Scientist, School of Public Health
  • Ummekulsoom Lalani, Senior Research Program Coordinator, School of Public Health
  • Elizabeth Ekirapa, Senior Lecturer and Chair of the Department of Health Policy Planning and Management, Makerere University
  • Freddie Ssengooba, Associate Professor of Health Economics and Health Systems Management, Makerere University

Description: Social accountability for health services in rapidly urbanizing settings is weak and represents an important barrier to achieving sustainable goals. It is particularly complex where municipal governance is polycentric and fragmented and formal lines of accountability are often missing or dysfunctional. Citizens of informal settlements are poor, marginalized, and transient, and cannot claim access to services based on citizenship. In planning for urban health services, programs that are successful in rural areas, such as community-based management of disease, are not sufficiently adapted to account for urbanization dynamics, high mobility, low social cohesion, and the environment in informal settlements. This project will explore the feasibility of social accountability initiatives as a mechanism to improve health access and delivery for Kampala informal settlement residents.

Breaking the “Preschool-to-Prison Pipeline”: Strengthening Health, Wellness, and Psychosocial Environments in Early Care and Education

Research Team:

  • Lieny Jeon, Assistant Professor, School of Education
  • R Christopher Swanson, Associate Research Scientist, Director of IDEALS Institute, School of Education
  • Arik Marcell, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, School of Public Health
  • Christina Harnett, Associate Professor, Licensed Psychologist, School of Education
  • Kyong-Ah Kwon, Associate Professor, University of Oklahoma-Tulsa

City/Community Partner: Baltimore City Head Start

Description: Young children in poverty in cities are often led to the “preschool-to-prison pipeline” disproportionate tendency of children from disadvantaged backgrounds to become incarcerated because of a harsh school climate. One way to break the preschool-to-prison pipeline is by creating positive school environments in early care and education (ECE). The purpose of this interdisciplinary mixed-methods research project is to attend this call by focusing on Head Start teachers’ wellbeing and psychosocial work environments. The team will investigate associations among diverse aspects of teacher wellbeing, including physical, psychological, and professional wellbeing, psychosocial environmental factors, and teachers’ relationships with children and families, which could contribute to children’s wellbeing and development among Head Start teachers in Baltimore City.

Develop “solutions to reduce isolation and related stress of entrepreneurship” for female entrepreneurs in Baltimore’s creative industries: A data-based approach

Research Team:

  • Antigoni Papadimitriou, Assistant Professor of Leadership, School of Education
  • Constantine Frangakis, Professor of Biostatistics, Bloomberg School of Public Health

Description: The goal of this project is to understand the successes, challenges, and needs of Baltimore’s female entrepreneurs in creative industries. Measuring the performance of new ventures is important because they are a major source of job creation and improvement in performance is critical to their survival and growth. Future efforts will be to include a multidisciplinary approach in working with communities in creating interventions targeting multiple aspects of the community including both CIs and entrepreneur effort. Finally, we plan to inform decision makers in order to introduce curriculum with entrepreneurial mindset.

Genetics for the Greater Good: Baltimore Intergenerational Community Listening and Learning (G3BICL)

Research Team:

  • Panagis Galiatsatos, Instructor, Pulmonary Division, School of Medicine
  • Joann Bodurtha, Professor, Pediatrics and Oncology, School of Medicine

City/Community Partners: STAR, Medicine for the Greater Good, Baltimore Parks and Recreation

Description: The long term goal of the Genetics for the Greater Good research project is to educate community health workers/lay health educators (CHE) to encourage families to collect and share their family health history with relatives and healthcare providers, and make informed genetic- and behavior-related decisions regarding prevention, testing and treatments. This project will determine through focus groups the current risk screening practices CHEs discuss and family/teacher preferences for learning about the science of cancer and lung disease in school children and their seniors. It will also assess intergenerational preferences for communication about health, environment, and genetics and interventions to support discussion and follow-through.


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