Penn Institute for Urban Research keeps a city pace

As a university located in one of America’s largest cities, it seems fitting that Penn should have an institute dedicated to all things urban.

And just as cities are fast-paced and ever-changing, the Penn Institute for Urban Research (IUR) has in eight years evolved from a singular research entity into an international resource known for its panels, symposia, and book series.  

Founded in 2004 as an umbrella organization to integrate the research, education, and practice of experts in urban issues from the University’s 12 schools, Penn IUR aims to disseminate knowledge about managing the growth, problems, and design of urban environments.

“Our original purpose was to connect all the urban research across campus,” says Susan Wachter, a Wharton professor who, with PennDesign professor Eugenie Birch, co-directs the Penn IUR. “Now we’re in a situation where others come to us with ideas. It is strategic serendipity.”

Wachter says the Penn IUR is best known for national conferences on urban issues. The gatherings often culminate in the publication of a book. “We’ve grown since 2006, when we first published a book in our series, “The City in the 21st Century,” with Penn Press. [We now have] 30 books either published or in development.”

Issues and ideas investigated by Penn IUR include urban women’s health needs, ballparks as urban anchors, disaster relief, race and health disparities, and social isolation.

But Penn IUR is not only about conferences and books. It also provides hands-on teaching regarding urban issues.

At noon on Monday, Feb. 27, Penn IUR will present an “interactive luncheon” about a board game that Amy Hillier, an assistant professor in PennDesign’s Department of City and Regional Planning, has developed with students from Penn, Haverford College, and local high schools.

Called “The Ward: Race and Class in Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward,” the game teaches about W.E.B. Du Bois' pioneering research in Philadelphia, conducted at the turn of the last century, that demonstrated the connection between racial discrimination and health and economic disparities.

Intended to give players the experience of being a black resident of Philadelphia’s Old Seventh Ward, the game gives students a better understanding of the barriers that race and class created in access to health care, education, housing, and employment. The 90-minute event will take place in Houston Hall.

Additionally, on Wednesday, Feb. 29, Michael Katz, the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History at Penn, will discuss his book, “Why Don’t American Cities Burn?” which explores why American cities have remained relatively free of collective violence since the early 1970s while black men in bleak inner-city neighborhoods have turned their rage inward on one another. The event takes place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Inn at Penn.

For more information, visit the Penn Institute for Urban Research website.

Penn IUR