The Department of Geography, The Office of Educational Equity, The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, the Schreyer Honors College and the Office of Undergraduate Education have joined together to offer this undergraduate public scholarship and service-learning opportunity for students in the Schreyer Honors College, holders of Bunton-Waller fellowships, and Mitte Scholars of the College of Business Administration at Penn State. However, all students at University Park are eligible to apply. The financial sponsorship for the project in the last few years has come primarily from the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity at Penn State and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.
The project is to build an interdisciplinary research initiative on urban poverty in the United States, using Philadelphia as a case study for field work. The conventional approach defines poverty as an "economic" problem that can be corrected through more jobs and higher incomes; however, history shows that such "solutions" have offered little help to the long-term resolution of the problem. Instead of asking why households do not make more income, suppose we ask the substantive question of why poor households have problems with adequate nutrition, housing, transport, health care, and so on. The answers we get to these questions are different from those that use the conventional approach. Consider commuting costs as an example: such costs depend on the geographical distribution of residences and jobs, available modes of transport, insurance rates. Finding ways to reduce transport costs of inner city residents, of course, is another way of increasing their "effective" income. We can do this by studying transport patterns in great detail in the Philadelphia "space economy" and helping to initiate an action program based on such research.
THE PROJECT'S VISION
Working with Penn State undergraduates in specialized fields, we will extend the logic of this transport analysis to issues of food, housing, energy, and small business development. Instead of focusing on income and poverty, we will take an interdisciplinary substantive approach by asking why specific people in particular places spend what they do on meeting basic needs in the hope of finding less expensive, technically more benign, and ecologically less destructive ways of satisfying those needs. The university has the capacity to develop a new discourse that could re-valorize the inner city by focusing on urban gardening, urban architecture, rebuilding homes with local effort, alternative modes of transport, "telecommuting" instead of physical commuting, creative ways of making safe neighborhoods, and so on. We wish to draw on the disciplinary expertise of undergraduates to build such a program of research, learning, and service at The Pennsylvania State University. The program is designed not only to change communities but also change student's perception of themselves by empowering them to recognize the value of their skills in making the world a better place for all to live in.
YouTube: PHILADELPHIA FIELD PROJECT (8 minutes)
Joining the Philadelphia Field Project