COPH to engage in national design and health research consortium

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Faculty from USF’s COPH and Florida Center for Community Design and Research will focus on Tampa Bay area projects integrating public health and community design

Researchers from the University of South Florida College of Public Health (COPH) and the Florida Center for Community Design & Research (FCCDR), part of USF’s School of Architecture and Community Design, were selected as new members of a national consortium that advances university-led research in design and health.

The Design & Health Research Consortium was established by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA). Teams from more than 20 prestigious schools, including Texas A&M, Harvard University and the University of Washington, work to understand—and improve—the way the built environment impacts public health.

The USF team will examine Tampa Bay’s “urban resiliency” and look at ways improved built environment design initiatives can bolster community health factors, including reducing risks to natural disasters and man-made hazards. They will take into account things like the economic and structural impacts of sea level rise and flood inundation, but most importantly how the population is affected.

The four USF faculty members involved in the consortium are:

  • Taryn E. Sabia, EdM, MArch, MUCD, director of FCCDR and member of the Florida AIA Strategic Council
  • Joe Bohn, PhD, MBA, visiting assistant professor and director of community engagement, COPH
  • Marie Bourgeois, PhD, MPH, assistant professor, undergraduate studies, COPH
  • Elizabeth Dunn, MPH, instructor in the Global Disaster Management, Humanitarian Relief and Homeland Security (GHH) program, COPH


The researchers selected to join the national Design & Health Research Consortium pose in downtown Tampa. (From left) Joe Bohn, Elizabeth Dunn, Marie Bourgeois and Taryn Sabia. (Photo by Shelby Bourgeois)

“The way in which we design the built environment has a direct impact on the health of the community,” noted Sabia. “The Florida Center believes that this strategic partnership and collaboration with the College of Public Health will bring together architects and health practitioners to innovate through community design.”
According to the United Nations, the global population will reach 8.5 billion by 2030, with over 60 percent of people living in urban areas. Continued urbanization—without thought to sustainability and healthy design and development—increases air pollution, limits access to clean water and promotes sedentary lifestyles, among other unhealthy behaviors.

“Integrating public health within community design is an important aspect of planning with the population in mind,” Dunn said. “It means putting the needs of people and their communities at the forefront, and that will lead to healthier living conditions and well-being.”

Bourgeois takes that thought a step further. “Many urban and suburban environments are not designed to facilitate healthy behaviors,” she remarked.

“The leading causes of death in this country are heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular diseases, including stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, such as asthma, and unintentional injuries. Think of how many of these could be affected by lack of access to safe green spaces, fresh food and clean air.”

In pursuit of healthier communities and environments, USF COPH, FCCDR and the rest of the consortium will collaborate to generate new evidence-based research and disseminate the results to local and state policymakers as well as the public. The USF team will begin their research right away and are expected to deliver their results some time in 2020.

“This new partnership has been in the making for years,” Bohn said. “As neighborhoods are revitalized and prioritization of resources becomes essential, decisions must be made that can impact each community’s direction for decades to come. These decisions often have economic impacts as well as population health implications. Issues such as these are key factors in the importance of this new partnership for the Tampa Bay region.”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health