Research Projects

Geography and urban studies faculty research projects focus broadly on the interconnections among processes of globalization, the implications for sustainability and the impact on equity and social justice. Selected research projects with a spatial analysis focus are included below.

Integrating Satellite Earth Observations for biodiversity decision making in Colombia (Victor H. Gutierrez-Velez)
Funding: NASA
The project aims to integrate Earth Observations from multiple satellite sources to contribute with information for decision-making in biodiversity planning and management in Colombia. We are developing a Decision Support System to help characterize biodiversity status, drivers of biodiversity change, biodiversity change scenarios and priority areas for biodiversity sampling, and monitoring.

Domesticated Elephants and Monsoon-Time Transportation in South and Southeast Asia (Jacob Shell)
This research project focuses on Burmese and northeast Indian forest communities that train Asian elephants as a means of transportation. Up through the current decade, trained elephants have figured as an important option for humans seeking mobility across geographic zones that prohibit wheeled vehicles. Elephant-based transportation becomes especially important during the flooding season, when roads are obstructed. This dual-species form of mobility endures in the overlapping Kachin, Hkamti, Moran and Adi ethnic areas of the Indo-Burmese borderlands. Combining ethnographic fieldwork and archival work, the research project evaluates the potential advantages of these practices from political, ecological and conservation standpoints. View Jacob Shell’s Visual Work

Gentrification and Green Space Development in Philadelphia (Hamil Pearsall)
Dr. Hamil Pearsall is the Principal Investigator on a project examining gentrification impacts associated with the creation of 15 new parks in Philadelphia since 2008. Learn more about Dr. Pearsall’s work.

Social-Spatial Risk and Protective Mechanisms in Urban Adolescent Substance Use (Jeremy Mennis)
Funding: National Institute of Health and National Institute of Drug Abuse
In this study, we propose to collect survey, real-time location and ecological momentary assessment data over a two-year period in a sample of 300 urban adolescents. This unique data set will then be applied to developing multilevel and actor-based social network models of the co-evolution of substance use behaviors, peer affiliations and the use and meaning of geographical space over time. We propose a highly contextually specific research approach to ground social networks within the social environment of adolescents’ lives. We will use Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) methodology via mobile messaging technology to simultaneously assess multiple influences on adolescent substance use in real time. Along with sampled specific coordinate data of location and a series of standard surveys, this approach will integrate the personal, social and environmental processes associated with initiation and escalation of substance use. The goal of this study is to model the evolution of multi-level mechanisms affecting substance use for urban youth. The design gives rise to two related models; 1) a hierarchical three-level longitudinal design with individual change in substance use nested within personal networks, which are in turn nested within neighborhoods and also 2) a non-hierarchical design with individuals non-uniquely linked to locations. The latter is best thought of as a bipartite (or 2-mode) social network, i.e., a network with two distinct types of vertices, in this case “locations” and “individuals,” where ties are only allowed between vertex types. Aim 1: Model changes in substance use over two years, focusing on the moderating effects of individual social network quality (risk/protection) on neighborhood-level predictors (concentrated disadvantage: low education and employment, high public assistance; drug related crime; alcohol availability). Aim 2: Model changes in substance use over two years, focusing on the mediating effects of individual network quality (riskiness) on individual-level predictors: affective, cognitive and behavioral influences. Aim 3: Model change over two years in the co-evolution of substance use and the use of space, defined by a bipartite social network linking individuals to locations, particularly focusing on: (a) Structural tendencies driven by common influence and selection-related mechanisms (e.g. bipartite-graph equivalents of transitivity, reciprocity and other network closure effects typically found in ordinary (1-mode) networks), (b) Main and moderating effects of activity spaces (individuals’ interpretation of locations) and (c) Main and moderating effects of neighborhood characteristics (which are properties of locations).