Bold Ideas: Living Environments for Tomorrow
Mcity busses driving on a street
Bold Ideas: Living Environments for Tomorrow

LIVING ENVIRONMENTS
FOR TOMORROW

Co-leads: Alec Gallimore (Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, College of Engineering) and Jonathan Massey (Dean, Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning)

Group Members: Kate Cagney (Institute for Social Research), Chad Jenkins (College of Engineering), Matt Lassiter (College of Literature, Science, and the Arts), Nancy Love (College of Engineering), H. Luke Shaefer (Poverty Solutions/Ford School of Public Policy/School of Social Work), Trina Shanks (School of Social Work), Ruby Tapia (College of Literature, Science, and the Arts), Matthew VanBesien (University Musical Society)

What do tomorrow’s ideal living environments look like? How can we rethink/reshape them so everyone can thrive?

The Challenge

A supportive, healthy living environment is essential for a good quality of life. And yet, so many of the places where we live today—from cities and suburbs to rural communities—have significant challenges. They are not designed for adaptation, growth, or reparative and restorative processes. They have few resources to help those who need special care. And they often have barriers that discourage people from connecting with others who are different from them. How can we rethink and reshape our living environments so everyone thrives?

How important is the societal challenge of creating equitable, supportive living environments to you?

The Vision

We envision living environments that encourage and enable a healthy lifestyle, including physical activity, social interaction, and educational and arts opportunities. They would offer easy access to gathering spaces and nature areas and facilitate community among diverse populations from across socio-economic groups. These ideal spaces pursue integration of communities and reinforce civic-minded and community-focused behaviors that strengthen society.

We know that where people live affects the opportunities and resources available to them, like quality health care, access to higher education, and their ability to get a good job. Creating access to affordable, quality housing, which plays a key role in one’s socio-economic status, is critically important. Including opportunities for restorative and reparative justice are also a key component in an equitable, supportive living environment.

How well does this vision resonate with you?

The Initial Bold Ideas

Connected communities

What if we could develop the most promising innovations for the communities of the future right now, in our own backyard? We propose the creation of Michigan Connected Communities, a network of experiential learning environments for prototyping tomorrow’s thriving neighborhoods. At the center would be the MiVillage complex, located on North Campus, which would include a student housing living laboratory (MiQuad), a community care center (MiFamily), an innovation park (MiPark), and an arts accelerator (MiArts). Together, these four pieces would test and demonstrate human-centered technologies, approaches to civic spaces, and new ways of communal living that could be applied more broadly beyond the university. Additionally, MiVillage would connect to MiCity, the base for U-M activities in Detroit, through an ultramodern transportation corridor (MiCorridor) already being developed. 

Michigan Connected Communities would showcase and further the innovations of faculty, staff, and students across the entire University of Michigan, as well as the broader region. It links our campuses, it develops a model living environment, and it creates the exciting opportunity for on-campus and near-campus engagement with corporate and civic partners. With discussions currently underway regarding the future of North Campus, this is an opportune, once-in-a-lifetime moment, with U-M poised to embrace a bold vision like this, which could redefine the entire university.

 

Developing innovative housing

Bringing together thought leaders from across the U-M community, a special initiative, Michigan Housing Innovation Challenge would develop action-based projects focused on new ways to make housing more affordable, healthy, and sustainable. Experiential design courses would engage interdisciplinary groups of students in problem-solving related to challenges in the construction and design of housing and communities. U-M scholars would work with partners on community-led, action-based, multi-disciplinary research projects to enhance society’s ability to develop, design, and adapt housing in ways that empower communities and families to thrive, including deeper racial and socio-economic integration and increased resilience to climate change.

Scholars at U-M are well positioned to contribute to knowledge about the most innovative ways to build new housing—through new building processes, materials, and design. Our faculty are equally well positioned to contribute to society’s understanding of how communities should be designed and how to pattern housing stock to enable families to flourish.

 

Partnering with rural communities

Rural areas encompass 97 percent of U.S. land area and, in Michigan, one in five Michiganders live in these areas. These communities are remarkably diverse in terms of topography, household income, educational attainment, racial/ethnic composition, economic base, and political affiliation. And these populations typically do not fare as well as their urban counterparts across five important social determinants of health: 1) economic stability; 2) education; 3) social and community context; 4) health and health care; and 5) neighborhood and built environment. 

A U-M Rural Collaboratory would partner with rural communities to support their vision for sustainable futures and would be a hub of resources and community building. It would include a social impact or public design clinic, where U-M faculty and students are practitioners who work with rural residents to address local environmental and infrastructural challenges. The collaboratory will strive for equitable partnerships using cooperative design processes. It would function as a hub of resources and community building, with potential emphasis on enhancing digital, and educational, connectivity. Finally, the collaboratory will support infrastructure to foster multidisciplinary research.  

 

Community justice and decarceration

Almost 2 million people in the U.S.–-nearly one out of every 100—live in a prison or jail. These “carceral living environments” are characterized by overcrowding, violence, and unhealthy conditions that reveal that incarceration is an enterprise of punishment rather than one of “rehabilitation,” as many believe. As we look to improve and raise up the living environments of our community, the abysmal realities to which incarcerated populations are subjected must be addressed. 

The development of a multi-platform community-service initiative and an interdisciplinary research program that challenge the notion that criminalization, policing, punishment, and prisons make communities safe could begin to address these challenges. Partnering with local organizations and existing decarceration programs by contributing our research and scholarly activist expertise in anti-carceral initiatives, we could design and build structures for education, public health, and safety that aim to make prisons obsolete. Expanding access to education within prisons and on our campuses for formerly incarcerated people and impacted communities is an important part of this objective.

Which of the bold ideas in this section spoke to you the most, and why?

Which do you think is least important for us to pursue, and why?

Are there other bold ideas related to this concept that we are missing?

Who are thought leaders in your network that might be interested in providing insights or feedback on this concept?