/  October 20, 2015

UW students address urban issues, pitch innovative solutions at NextSeattle Workshop

How does a city grow? As more and more people are moving to urban centers throughout the world, what will the modern city look like? How will we ensure that all of its residents, rich or poor, are able to access public goods and services? And for all the creative energy that a city harnesses in one place, how will we make sure that no one is shunted to its margins, left to fall through the cracks? 

These are just some of the questions students began to tackle at NextSeattle, an intensive four-day workshop sponsored by CoMotion, Urban@UW, Undergraduate Academic Affairs, and the UW eScience Institute. The workshop was at its core an academic course in which students “engaged a breadth of disciplines and practices as they explored how to work with diverse communities to foster a more inclusive, equitable and healthy city,” said Thaisa Way, the lead faculty and director of Urban@UW.

NextSeattle, which took place September 25-28, brought together an interdisciplinary group of undergraduates from both UW Seattle and UW Tacoma to address some of the most pressing social issues that the city of Seattle faces: emergency preparedness, public health, job skills training for homeless youth, and technology accessibility. Students heard from business leaders, innovators, public activists and researchers, including Nick Hanauer, co-founder of Second Avenue Partners; Arthur Rubinfeld, chief creative officer for Starbucks; Ruby Love of VenturScale; and Trish Millines-Dziko of TAF. Hanauer talked of how the needs of society will always outpace society’s capacity to fix its own problems, necessitating social and civic innovation. Love spoke about the need for businesses to have social impact in their communities, and Millines-Dziko inspired students with her own story of becoming an entrepreneur and leader. 

“Besides marshaling the university’s resources in the service of some of society’s biggest challenges, the workshop’s purpose was to teach students how to hone their ideas in teams” said Vikram Jandhyala, UW Vice Provost for Innovation and executive director at CoMotion. “We want everyone to understand innovation, even if they don’t become entrepreneurs.” 

Over the course of the weekend, students were divided into ten teams and were charged with addressing one of the four challenges through design thinking and social innovation. Students solicited feedback from the University District community and had access to the CoMotion Makerspace in Fluke Hall, a community-centered space that provides tools, equipment and an open environment. Students also connected with social service providers and policy leaders active in the U-District. 

On Monday, each team pitched their idea to a panel of judges, which selected the top three teams. The third-place team developed a concept called “Urban Beacon,” a means to address hunger in the U-District by strengthening networks among people who are homeless, and leveraging their knowledge of food-procurement opportunities. The second-place team, looking to combat the de-humanizing anonymity to which a city can sometimes subject its citizens, proposed “Say Hello”—a digital platform that would foster a sense of community with photos of locals and personal narratives. The winning team developed an idea called “JobBox,” a mobile career center particularly focused on services for youth who are homeless that would provide counseling support to help job retention.

The second- and third-place teams were each awarded a $500 Urban@UW Feasibility Team Award to develop their concept further, while the first-place team members each received a $1,000 CoMotion Mary Gates Innovation Scholar award, along with a $1,000 CoMotion Feasibility Team Award.
“All the ideas were fantastic,” Way told the teams. “The way you are thinking about the future is groundbreaking.”