November 21, 2019 by the LHC Team


Each Fall and Spring semester we focus in on a public health topic to encourage policy action among our stakeholders. We call this our Semester Spotlight program. This Fall was our first semester rolling out this program; we decided to start with the Built Environment. As our city continues to grow and re-develop, we hope to spark conversations about how the environment we build affects the public’s health.

BES agenda email

This semester, we hosted a number of seminars centered on this issue, and decided to top it all off with the Built Environment Symposium – a six-hour meeting highlighting some the work being done both nationwide and here at home. We started the day with Dr. Natalie Colabianchi from the University of Michigan; she spoke about her research on the built environment’s impact on physical activity. Then we moved across the hall for a coffee break, which featured five community partners working on improving the man-made environment. Our Lightning Talks Expo featured six brief presentations about different programs and initiatives both around UAB and elsewhere. After the Expo, Ryan Gravel delivered the keynote presentation based on his book, Where We Want to LiveGravel is known for developing the initial concept for the Atlanta Beltline, a project that repurposed unused and abandoned rail lines that circled the city of Atlanta into a thriving and heavily used loop of trails and parks around the city. After Gravel’s talk we had a time for networking in which attendees were encouraged to ask any of the presenters more questions about research, policy, and interventions.

We had a full day of learning, inspiration, and networking. Click through the different perspectives of the LHC staff below:

  • My experience at the symposium as a student was a little different from others’ because I had to balance my time between the event and my classes. During the morning coffee break I manned the Symposium hosts table and provided guests with information about the Lister Hill Center as well as our co-hosts. I was able to tell guests more about the LHC, including our lunch seminars and Semester Spotlights. In addition, an organization I’m active with, We Envision Alabamian Renewable Energy (WEARE), participated in the tabling event. It was a beneficial experience to be able to easily network and share the projects we have been working on.

    The part of the symposium I found the most impactful was being surrounded by a group of like-minded individuals, all in differing levels of the professional and academic world. Every person who attended the event was there because they care about improving and learning about the built environment. The Symposium fostered a creative space for myself and other attendees to discuss our own experiences with research, work, and advocacy. The Built Environment Symposium left me in a productive mood, energized by the atmosphere we were able to create.

  • I am incredibly proud of our work this semester, especially the Built Environment Symposium. We began planning this event in May, an entire six months before the event itself. Without the input of our co-sponsors (Institute for Human Rights, Environmental Health Sciences, UAB Transportation & Sustainability) we wouldn’t have even known where to start. We also couldn’t have gotten the word out to such a broad audience without the help of the Freshwater Land Trust.

    What I was the most impressed with last Tuesday was the conversations. One of our major goals for this Symposium was to get people talking to each other about ways to collaborate and come together. Not only were people from different groups doing just that, they were speaking up and asking important questions. I’m so happy that we were able to bring together a hundred people from diverse backgrounds and get them to speak to one another about an issue that’s so important. Also, I’m excited to see what else we can do as a Center in the future!

  • As the newest member of the Lister Hill Center for Health Policy team, I was looking forward to the inaugural Semester Spotlight event. I was happy to learn that the topic for this year’s symposium was the Built Environment. I have been involved in a number of projects looking into the effects of the built environment on both individual and public health during my tenure in the UAB Center for the Study of Community Health. As someone new to the Center, I was thrilled with the robust turnout and the range of backgrounds and interests of those who attended the event as well as the insightful feedback during the Q&A at the end of the symposium.

    I was impressed by the insightful views that the Symposium’s two main speakers, Ryan Gravel and Dr. Colabianchi brought to the table regarding the interaction between health, place, and most notably the built environment within which each of us interacts daily. Lastly, as a person who designs maps on a daily basis, I was thrilled to see that in addition to the engaging and map-filled presentations of the two main speakers, each of the six Lightening Talk presentations featured maps that helped concisely visualize and highlight how location and our built environment impacts our Birmingham community and surrounding environs. The event facilitated the interaction of city, academic, and community partners in a way that encouraged engagement and creative brainstorming that will help move forward the discussion of how thoughtful and collaborative planning can reshape the environment we live and share.

  • The Built Environment Symposium provided many different views from those of a city employee, to an academic, to a non-profit, to a community member. From an academic perspective, Natalie Colabianchi challenged the room to consider how changing parks may change the way they are used and Jeff Walker, Chair on Criminal Justice at UAB, encouraged the audience to think of maps as more than just a way to display data. Both provided data that was incredibly complex but valuable for city planners.

    The room was full of energy all day with many people hoping to see more thought given to intentional city change. This made Grace Graszer’s presentation incredibly relevant. Understanding the way Atlanta is providing loans to developers that work with the community to maintain local character is a novel way to consider changing neighborhoods. Policies such as this one may help Birmingham to maintain affordable housing. Ryan Gravel left the audience with many things to think about in terms of how people are displaced and what it means to move from concentrated poverty to dispersed poverty. These are complex societal issues that will need to be thoroughly evaluated and require a solution that brings together many of the diverse partners that were at the symposium. The symposium provided more questions than answers but started a conversation that will hopefully continue at UAB and Birmingham for years to come.

We want to thank everyone who joined us for the Symposium! We hope you enjoyed your time with us and you learned a thing or two. Sign up for our monthly newsletter to keep tabs on future events with the Lister Hill Center!

BES Recap Footer