COLA Connections Newsletter: April 2015

Housing Innovative Thought: Dr. Danielle Smith’s Malmö Experience

Malmö University and RIT have more in common than one might think. One of Sweden’s largest universities keeps its environment interdisciplinary, collaborative, and innovative, not unlike RIT. Its technical degrees in engineering, computer science, and design are informed by its liberal arts programs. This is why the universities can benefit and learn much from their partnership, in the works since 2009.

Dr. Timothy Engström, philosophy department chair for RIT, initiated the research partnership through a series of guest lectures, applying his philosophical perspective across many disciplines in their school. The partnership ramped up in 2013, when RIT hosted faculty from Malmö University in a symposium to deepen existing collaborations and spark new ones. Then, last October, 31 RIT faculty members traveled over to Malmö in the partnership’s biggest move yet. Cultural perspectives and disparate research collided in a fusion of ideas that can power teaching, scholarship, and innovation at both universities and their home cities. The experience was structured into communal discussions to pitch synergetic research, education, program development, and exchange programs.

This valuable transaction wouldn’t be possible without the many brilliant individuals from RIT whose research is internationally relevant. Dr. Danielle Smith, a professor in our Department of Sociology and Anthropology, is one such person. She said that the collaboration with Malmö University provides “an important opportunity for me to expand my own research from the local to include global comparative perspectives.”

Her work as a sociologist has primarily involved the impact of environment on the well-being of vulnerable populations such as refugees. She researches issues regarding their successful resettlement in urban environments, where these people live, grow, and work. Exploring other global perspectives is essential to a better understanding of this dynamic. “We must also harness the best available sustainable technologies and good practices,” she said. The Malmö conference gave her critical insight into these issues while at the same time benefiting from her expertise and perspective. Malmö is the perfect setting for her investigation, as 30% of the population were born abroad and another 11% of the population are Swedish-born with foreign-born parents. The city has large immigrant communities from the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe.

This vibrant, diverse population brings an exciting mix of cultures to Sweden’s landscape. “Malmo is an absolutely beautiful city, which balances historic sites with striking contemporary architecture,” Smith said. She drew inspiration from a tour of the Western Harbour, a residential neighborhood on the southern coast designed to maintain energy self-sufficiency and provide affordable housing to city residents. The neighborhood is also openly designed to encourage a sense of community between neighbors. It has many clean, green spaces for children to play in. Smith said that the possibility of adopting similar models to enhance community cohesiveness in Rochester was one of her biggest takeaways.

Smith left Malmö convinced that if politics allow, local policies can be developed and applied that address the housing needs of vulnerable people. These policies could conserve both energy and financial resources in the long-term. This type of forward-thinking, practical application is exactly what makes the Malmö partnership thrive.