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Dornsife Students Make a Difference in the Changing Urban Landscape of Philadelphia

Dornsife students surveying pier visitors

June 3, 2019

Dornsife Students Assess Impacts of New Public Space: Cherry Street Pier.

The Dornsife School of Public Health (DSPH) is committed to improving the conditions in which people live right here in the Philadelphia region. During the winter 2019 term, DSPH students in the Applied Survey Research in Epidemiology course translated their new skills into practice by partnering with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) to assess and evaluate impacts of their new public space called Cherry Street Pier.

“I appreciated the opportunity to step outside the classroom and get real hands-on experience in such an interesting and beautiful place,” says Dustin Fry, MPH, a first year PhD student in the department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at DSPH.  

Cherry Street Pier is a year-round, mixed-use public space on the central Delaware River waterfront. Built into the shell of a century-old municipal pier, the repurposed space was developed for all of Philadelphia to enjoy with concessions, performances, exhibitions, markets, and other activities. Unique from other DRWC piers, this one includes artist studios containing more than 15 artists in residence.

The students worked in two groups, one surveying the artists in residence on their experience working on the pier and the other surveying visitors about the ways they use public spaces and/or art to enhance their emotional well-being. Once complete, students presented their findings to the DRWC.

The first group presented feedback about the artists’ experience working with the DRWC. “Our survey helped the DRWC get a better idea of the artists’ experience in working at the Pier. We hope they will continue the conversation with these vendors to ensure their relationship remains as mutually beneficial as possible,” says Fry.

The second group shared demographic information about visitors, their experiences at the public space, and background research about the links between art consumption, mental health, and wellbeing. “The DRWC can use this data to plan future activities at the pier that could really benefit the community. Continuing to collect visitor data might offer a different perspective for the corporation to consider as they plan new public spaces in the future,” says Rini Jose, MPH, a first year PhD student in the department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at DSPH.

The course was led by Jana Hirsch, MES, PhD, assistant research professor, and co-instructor Yvonne Michael, ScD, SM, associate professor, both in the department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at DSPH.

“Survey design doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In order for survey results to be useful, the entire process has to be responsive to, reflexive of, and shared with the communities in which the research takes place,” says Hirsch. “This course gives students a unique opportunity to apply what they were learning and make a difference in the changing urban landscape of Philadelphia.”

The course enabled students to gain real-world experience that will be useful in their future careers. “Most importantly, the course taught me how to translate research findings to broad audiences in a way that makes sense, and that is also meaningful for the community,” says Jose.