Located in the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the United States, the city of Arlington is a locus of progress between Dallas and Fort Worth in a region that is well on the way to reaching megacity status. The megacity mark is a population of 10 million, and the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington region recently clocked in with more than 7 million, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data. With a population gain of 146,000 residents in 2017, the area also charted the largest growth of any metro area in the United States. "As urbanization increases, so do issues of sustainability, infrastructure, social inequity, and health," says President Vistasp Karbhari.
"Megacities pose an unprecedented need for bold solutions on a global scale, and UTA is uniquely positioned to address these challenges."
It comes down to one question: How do we ensure that growth is healthy and sustainable? Researchers at UTA are tackling that question head-on and answering with discovery, innovation, and impactful solutions.
In the College of Architecture, Planning, and Public Affairs (CAPPA)—a college devoted to issues surrounding building and supporting sustainable communities—students begin working on vital urban concerns early in their academic careers. As graduate students, they gain hands-on experience in surrounding communities through work in the Institute of Urban Studies (IUS). Of late, that experience has included thorough investigations of transportation concerns in the city of Dallas. What IUS researchers have found is that much of Dallas is having trouble just getting to work.
"More than 65 percent of Dallas' population has access to less than 4 percent of jobs by transit," says Shima Hamidi, CAPPA assistant professor and IUS director. "This shows just how much DART [Dallas Area Rapid Transit] and the city of Dallas need to work together to provide better access for a transit-dependent population."
Dr. Hamidi and her team are also working with Tarrant County, looking at walking, driving, and transit in different neighborhoods. Their research focuses on connections between transportation and quality of life and the effects of those connections on the economy. In terms of sociodemographic parity, Hamidi's research indicates that poor areas score low in access to opportunity. A lack of affordable housing is a key factor, as affordable units are often located away from the urban core and not walkable.
"When you think of affordable housing, you think of the intent to provide more affordability for lower- income families, and that may be true with regard to subsidies and other incentives," she says. "But if you add transportation to housing costs, you see a substantial percentage of households living in these units in DFW end up spending even more on transportation than housing, leaving little discretionary income for food, health care, and other household purchases."
The hope is that this kind of research will lead to social change through a call to action. Hamidi and her research team note that to achieve true affordability, development should be located where jobs can be reached, with access to places like schools and health care facilities. In addition, conveniently located affordable housing further encourages the integration of low-income populations into the economy.
While researchers in the IUS collect data and advise cities on how to translate that data into actionable solutions, their work continues to grow. Hamidi notes that over the last two years, the IUS has seen its grants and contracts increase tenfold, keeping the institute's more than 22 doctoral and master's students busy—with an eye on finding data that can make a difference.
In addition to the IUS, the Center for Transportation Equity, Decisions, and Dollars (CTEDD), which is led by Hamidi, is conducting nationally significant research on transportation policy issues, equity, shared mobility, technology, and autonomous transportation. CTEDD has already forged significant partnerships in the region and the state, initiating research projects that assist policymakers.
In a megacity, access is always a concern, particularly when it comes to quality health care. A report by Moody's Investors Service indicates that Texas as a whole is suffering from a severe nursing shortage. According to a 2016 report by the Texas Department of State Health Services, the demand for registered nurses in North Texas is projected to exceed the supply by about 15,600 in 2030.
It is a problem that the College of Nursing and Health Innovation (CONHI) is working to solve. CONHI is the largest nursing program in the state, thanks in part to UTA's focus on technology, with online programs and simulated training experiences that allow nontraditional and nonlocal students opportunities to earn nursing degrees.
Creating more access also includes a focus on excellence. According to U.S. News & World Report rankings, UTA's graduate nursing degrees chart among Texas' best, and the Doctor of Nursing program is ranked the second-best program in the state.
"Notable here are the small faculty-to-student ratios and the extensive talent and skill of a doctoral-prepared faculty," says Anne Bavier, dean of the college. "Our nationally recognized research on issues of health and the human condition gives learners unique opportunities to use and influence science. Our exceptional pass rates provide clear evidence of our success."
Not only is the college supplying Texas' workforce with highly skilled nursing graduates, it is also working to provide communities with support through discovery and outreach. In 12 research labs devoted to health and the human condition, leading projects include a free exercise program for children with developmental coordination disorder and an elderly interface study using sensors to assess fall risk.
Community health is also a focus in the School of Social Work, where faculty and students are serving citizens in a variety of sectors. A current initiative is the Dallas Street Choir project, led by Assistant Professor Anne Nordberg and Associate Professor Courtney Cronley. Dr. Cronley is also leading a multidisciplinary project called GOE! (Gardening and Outdoor Engagement), which engages homeless teens both physically and mentally in gardening projects. Cronley and her group are currently working on creating a national curriculum.
Not only is the college supplying Texas’ workforce with highly skilled nursing graduates, it is also working to provide communities with support through discovery and outreach.
"Our students get the chance not only to learn from the great minds represented through our faculty, but also to participate in professors' community and research projects," says Social Work Dean Scott Ryan. "Hands-on research gives students an extra opportunity to impress future employers, which is vital in our field."
UTA estimates that 90 percent of social work's 115 master's and doctoral students will have positions in the workforce upon graduating this spring.
With funding for research steadily increasing each year—from $2.3 million in 2014 to $3.6 million and growing today—and a rise in U.S. News & World Report's national rankings (it's now in the top 35), the School of Social Work is poised to make an even bigger impact on the health of our burgeoning communities.
In addition to providing support that directly impacts the health of citizens, UTA is concentrating on making sure the physical structures where we live, work, and play are strong. This research, which seeks to bolster aging infrastructure and build a stronger one for the future, is a focus for the College of Engineering.
In the Department of Civil Engineering, faculty are forging new methods to reinforce and extend the life of the pipes that support our cities' water systems. Ali Abolmaali, chair of the department, has been awarded $3.63 million in recently completed or ongoing research grants and projects during the last five years. His work is leading to a new industry standard in fiber-reinforced pipes, now used in highway projects in Texas.
Working with the city of Arlington, his team has inspected 46 miles of underground sewer pipes for failure and other issues and is now prioritizing which pipes need immediate reinforcing. If the Arlington project yields success, it could be adopted by other North Texas municipalities, leading to similar projects statewide.
The department is also working to extend the life of our bridges. Professor Nur Yazdani, through a contract from the Texas Department of Transportation totaling nearly $600,000, leads a team focused on testing a carbon fiber-reinforced polymer for strengthening deteriorated or deficient bridges in the area, potentially an economic and durable solution. He was also awarded a three-year, $735,133 contract to inspect and evaluate new and existing concrete bridge components using nondestructive methods. The project will involve assessing the true in-service load capacity of bridges, which will be helpful in making informed decisions for repair versus replacement. Associated work involves looking at the effects of extreme disaster events.
This research, which seeks to bolster aging infrastructure and build a stronger one for the future, is a focus for the College of Engineering.
These are just a few of the college's many projects that focus on infrastructure. In fact, in the College of Engineering—one of the most comprehensive engineering schools in Texas—researchers are working on a range of issues, from extending the life of Texas highways and byways to helping ease traffic congestion to improving waste management practices globally.
"This is an exciting time in the College of Engineering, as we have many talented professors who have different approaches to problems," Dr. Abolmaali says. "They're all incredibly committed to seeing their work through."
Beyond the work being done in the College of Engineering; the College of Architecture, Planning, and Public Affairs; the College of Nursing and Health Innovation; and the School of Social Work, every college on the UTA campus is working in some way to support our growing megacity. And our researchers are sharing their knowledge through collaborations with universities near and far—across the globe, in some instances.
"When it comes to transportation, water, infrastructure, and sustainability, UTA is finding new solutions and helping North Texas implement them," President Karbhari says. "Because of these discoveries, communities across the world will look to UTA for guidance in creating more livable spaces for an ever-changing environment."
On a Friday night, one of my students was hit by a car while riding her bike home from class.