MSU Awarded $3.3M Grant to Improve Health in Detroit through Nature Initiatives, Adding E-scooters to Campus

Faculty from Michigan State University in East Lansing received a $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for an experiment designed to improve the health of Detroit residents by cultivating green spaces in the city.
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Greening of Detroit Park sign
An MSU study will examine how cultivating green spaces in Detroit affects residents’ health. // Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

Faculty from Michigan State University in East Lansing received a $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for an experiment designed to improve the health of Detroit residents by cultivating green spaces in the city.

The five-year study will examine how biodiversity in urban areas impact health and wellness. Each year, Amber Pearson, assistant professor of geography in MSU’s College of Social Science, and her field team will assess the health of 700 residents across low-income Detroit neighborhoods. The city of Detroit and the Audubon Society, which are collaborating on the project, are restoring the unmaintained parks in the communities.

“Individuals living in socioeconomically deprived inner cities have disproportionately high rates of cardiovascular disease, cancers, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity, which can come as a result of stress and lack of physical activity,” says Pearson. “We are going beyond previous studies by measuring both physical wellbeing and stress to see if restored green spaces yield positive health benefits.”

Pearson says previous research suggests that parks may reduce stress and increase physical activity, but the causal health relationships between ecological restoration and human health have been difficult to establish. The research also had been conducted in middle-income, non-minority populations.

Pearson’s team has been working with churches and community partners in Detroit and going door-to-door to recruit participants who will help establish baseline health measurements. Their health will be tracked as the parks are restored.

“Detroit is still in the process of recovering from decades of disinvestment in its parks. While major improvements have been made in many areas, there are still neighborhoods that are not yet experiencing the city’s parks renaissance,” Pearson says. “This study will look at what impacts these unimproved parks may have on residents’ health outcomes and how that may change once parks are improved. It is our hope that the results of the study will help to inform future park investment priorities in Detroit and, ultimately, other urban cities.”

The researchers hope to see immediate benefits such as improved perceptions of neighborhoods and increased outdoor physical activity. Other results, such as lowering body mass index and improving cardio-metabolic health, will take longer to come to fruition. Pearson also says she hopes participants will feel empowered through their involvement in the research.

In other MSU news, the university has entered into an agreement with Gotcha to provide about 300 e-scooters to its campus. Gotcha will also provide MSU mobility researchers with anonymous data to help them research the future of human-centric mobility.

“E-scooters are a relatively new, yet (increasingly) popular mode of transportation, particularly for students. To accommodate this, we considered two things: rider safety and data sharing,” says Wolfgang Bauer, associate vice president for administrative services and a university distinguished professor. “We are confident in Gotcha’s approach to encouraging rider safety. Plus, the available real-time data has endless opportunities to advance mobility research.”

Baurer says the data will give researchers the opportunity to analyze traffic density to ensure better management; develop technology solutions to encourage good social behavior such as safe driving practices; see how, when, and why e-scooters are used; develop sensors to predict mechanical failure and enable proactive maintenance; and explore the sociological impact of transportation.

The scooters will be deployed during the fall semester as the MSU Police Department designates storage areas for them.

In April, the MSU Board of Trustees approved an ordinance change allowing electric mobility devices to be operated in campus bike lanes and on roadways.

Gotcha has offices in California, Georgia, and South Carolina. It has been in business for 10 years and offers its services in more than 50 cities and universities across the country.

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