CSDE Research Areas:
Sarah Elwood’s research interests and publication history include the social and political impacts of spatial technologies such as GIS, the role and power of community-based planning and local activism in shaping urban geographies, urban environmental justice, and qualitative research methods. Her past research in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Milwaukee considered two kinds of questions: 1) the implications of GIS use for participation and power in neighborhood-based collaborative planning, and 2) the relevance of various local political, organizational, and technological variables in shaping the effectiveness and sustainability of so-called “public participation” GIS practices.
She is currently working on a research, teaching, and community outreach project that focuses on the use and impacts of geographic information systems and GIS-based spatial knowledge in neighborhood revitalization, and urban planning and problem solving. In collaboration with two community development organizations in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, the project seeks to develop knowledge in urban geography about the changing activities of grassroots citizen organizations in urban governance processes that shape neighborhood needs and conditions, by showing how their role and power in this context is affected by use of computer mapping and analysis technologies such as GIS. Working with staff and residents from these organizations, the project has created a spatial data library for use in the neighborhood revitalization activities of the partner organization, such as housing development, business and employment development, community organizing, youth and family advocacy, and crime and safety organizing. As part of experiential learning activities in GIS and urban geography courses, undergraduate students at DePaul University and the University of Arizona have worked with these organizations to plan and implement GIS-based spatial analysis projects using these data. Sarah is currently developing a Seattle-area contact to continue the service learning portion of the project since relocating to UW. The project’s educational activities are intended to develop students’ skills for and commitments to public service and active citizenship, and their critical reflection upon the social and political implications of their conceptual and applied learning. In its broader societal contributions, the project will develop knowledge and practices intended to help to answer fundamental questions about how to improve quality of life in American inner city neighborhoods, and create strategies that encourage robust democratic practices that involve neighborhood residents in the very decisions that affect them and their neighborhoods. This project is supported by the National Science Foundation.