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Interview: OSU Planning Professor Jennifer Evans-Cowley

Brent Warren Brent Warren Interview: OSU Planning Professor Jennifer Evans-Cowley
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OSU City and Regional Planning professor Jennifer Evans Cowley, who now also serves as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Administration in the College of Engineering, has never had a problem keeping busy. Whether teaching, tweeting, presenting at conferences or leading planning efforts in places like the Mississippi Gulf Coast, she has developed a reputation as a leader in her field; helping to frame the debate on the future of urban planning and our cities through the lens of technology.

In the following interview, Cowley shares her thoughts on new urban innovations that Columbus could try, the impact planning students from OSU have had on the city, and her latest challenge; teaching a class of 17,000 students.

Columbus Underground:  Can you tell us a little about the Technicity course and what your expectations are for it?

Jennifer Evans-Cowley: TechniCity is a free massive open online course designed to enhance the knowledge of people across the globe. We have 17,000 people registered so far. This course is all about technology and how it is applied in our cities. It covers everything as simple as the sensors that trigger the street signal to change so that you can walk across the crosswalk to much more complex technology that will allow us to ride in driverless vehicles. Technology is rapidly transforming our cities and we thought it would be great to spend a few weeks digging in and exploring it all.

We wanted to bring together people from across the globe from lots of different disciplines to talk about cities. We have people from more than 60 countries who plan to participate, so it will be great to learn about the innovative things happening across the globe.

CU: How does the StreetSeen app fit into the course and how do you see it being used in the future?

JEC: StreetSeen is a fun little app that allows people to put together visual surveys. For example, you might here people say “you know Columbus should really be more like NAME THE CITY”. This tool lets you let people vote on what they like better with images from any two places. Or just pictures from one place. It’s a tool to help people understand what people like about cities better. For example, I am planning to do a little study trying to understand what streets people would find most desirable to ride a bike down around Columbus. This is just one of the tools we will be playing with in the course.

CU:  What are some urban innovations that you think Columbus should try?

JEC: Well I have just been overwhelmed with all kinds of amazing ideas. One simple one I thought was just great is installing solar powered trash compactors. The compactors when they re full send a signal to the refuse department to come empty the container. This saves a lot of manpower and keeps the sidewalks clear of blowing trash. Philadelphia is using these.

Another idea I really think Columbus should try is an Urban Protoyping festival. Columbus can bring together all kinds of creative people who build all kinds of things that would go in our urban environment. For example in San Francisco one designer built a prototype called Pulse of the City. You stop and it takes your pulse and creates a unique musical piece that is based on your unique heart rate. How fun is that!

CU:  Can you talk a little about the CRP program and the impact its graduates and students have on Columbus?

JEC: City Planners are amazing!! I mean look at all the exciting things you get to do like writing for Columbus Underground along with your other urban exploits. In all seriousness the City and Regional Planning program does a great job in preparing people for creative and exciting careers centered around making our cities and regions thriving places to live, work, learn, and play in. It seems like every time I hear about some exciting project in the city there are city planners behind it. Just take the Columbus riverfront, planners were involved. The new OSU campus housing being planned, planners are doing that. I’m sure readers can name all the things they are excited about in Columbus and our planners are somewhere behind the scenes helping all these great things happen in our city.

CU: Anything else you’d like to share about your current research?

JEC: Preparing to teach 17,000 people is a pretty all consuming effort. Outside of that I’m working on the Mississippi Gulf Coast on creating a regional sustainability plan that will help ensure a more resilient coast. We get to work on exciting topics such as regional food systems, air quality, water transportation and all kinds of other topics. I’m continuing my research around technology and its impacts on cities and I am sure this class will spark lots of new research ideas.

Photos by Rebecca Brown of www.becca-anne.com.

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