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What is Town+Gown?

Town+Gown is a systemic action research program that aims at increasing evidence based analysis, information transfer, and understanding of the City's built environment. The City's built environment serves as an ideal laboratory for those working in the City's physical spaces and in the built environment disciplines. Town+Gown provides a link where practitioners work on projects as equal partners with academic partners.

What does "built environment" mean?

The built environment is a recognized multi-disciplinary field consisting of five disciplines:

  • Management
  • Economics
  • Law
  • Technology
  • Design

These disciplines are plotted on a matrix, with the horizontal axis representing a continuum from 'hard' (paradigmatic) to 'soft' (non-paradigmatic) disciplines, while the vertical axis represents a continuum from the applied to the pure disciplines. Town+Gown has modified the original expression of the core disciplines to make them more suitable for the program, adding geography to encompass the urban planning field and adding engineering disciplines and the allied design fields to architecture as key components of design, as indicated in this chart.

Why was Town+Gown created?

Over the years, calls have been made to increase research activities in the built environment. Town+Gown's response to these calls need scales long-standing structural hurdles that have made increasing built environment research difficult. These include low levels of investment and public sponsorship, inadequate linkages between research and application, and the fragmented nature of the construction industry.

How does Town+Gown work?

Town+Gown facilitates partnerships between academics and practitioners on built environment research projects (the Research), generating discussion and follow-up research (the Reflection) aimed at making changes in practices and policies (the Action).

  • The Research: The Research Agenda is a key tool to move the systemic action program along through the academic year cycles. Town+Gown continually works with participants to update the Research Agenda to reflect built environment trends in academic thought and research as well as in practice. All are welcome to suggest new research questions, which is a shared built environment resource. The questions are expressed broadly as umbrella research concepts which schools and practitioner partners can use to work together to craft more defined projects.
  • The Reflection: Town+Gown disseminates research results and fosters on going discussions. The annual review, Building Ideas, abstracts the project reports, which are available to Town+Gown members. Town+Gown also organizes collaborative symposia and other events, bringing academics and practitioners together to focus on the results of research with an eye to future research and potential action.
  • The Action: Most research projects lead to follow-up research that will support future changes in practices and policies. After several action research cycles, Town+Gown has generated several ongoing action learning sets, which consist of related completed projects and symposia conversations, and the potential to use results of research produced.

Who participates in Town+Gown?

Town+Gown is open to all who wish to participate:

  • Gown consists of academic institutions with departments and graduate programs in fields that overlap with built environment disciplines.
  • Town consists of built environment practitioners. Within Town, there is one subgroup consisting of public owners and another consisting of non-public practitioners interested in collaborating on projects.

What does "systemic action research" mean?

Systemic action research is a type of cooperative inquiry involving both practitioner and academic as equal partners in knowledge creation. It accepts multiple modes of inquiry and analysis to generate research results, the purposes of which support changes in practices and policies via a collaborative feedback process.

Systemic action research is appropriate for complex and dynamic social systems, like the built environment, where issues require the relevant context in order for participants to understand and analyze them. Conducted via an open process, with multiple perspectives and research methodologies, systemic action research activity becomes a broad iterative feedback process consisting of research, reflection and action, termed "action learning sets." Action learning sets, repeated over time within a systemic action community, can provide the necessary evidence-based research to move the complex social system along.

What can Town+Gown do for members of Town?

  • Include your relevant research questions in a comprehensive built environment Research Agenda.
  • Disseminate the Research Agenda widely to get your research questions in front of all participating schools, increasing the chances that applied research on your issues will result.
  • Provide the broader policy and practice context for your research questions and establish continuity for the larger issues, so that one project can lead to various follow-up and related projects over time.
  • Identify and pursue cross-agency and multi-disciplinary issues so that more than one school can work on pieces of broader issues.
  • Bridge the academic/practitioner divide for research questions picked up by the service learning programs as well as funded research projects.
  • Make contacts and manage relationships on projects with academic programs, faculty advisors and student teams from project inception to "peer" review.
  • Provide access to the academic consortium contract for built environment research.
  • Publish Building Ideas annually, abstracting completed projects, presenting the results of all completed projects, and, in a clearinghouse function, make the final project materials available to members of Town on follow-up research projects.
  • Sponsor collaborative discussion events on completed projects among Town+Gown members as a foundation for developing possible changes to practices and policies.

What can Town+Gown do for members of Gown?

  • Provide a comprehensive and coherent City-wide research agenda with real and relevant questions for use by experiential and in-service learning programs to develop capstone projects, workshops, studios, law clinics and internships, and by professors in developing courses, case studies, and academic research projects.
  • Bridge the divide between academics and practitioners for experiential and in-service learning programs.
  • Provide a Letter of Collaboration to researchers or grant proposals (e.g., NSF, NIST)
  • Make introductions and help manage relationships with practitioner partners on projects from project inception to peer review.
  • Provide opportunities for academics to engage with public policy makers on place- and data-based inquiries and analyses.
  • Increase exposure of applied academic work product among practitioners.
  • Publish Building Ideas annually, which presents the work of academic programs to a wider audience of built environment practitioners.