Faculty Spotlight

SCHOOL OF EARTH & ENVIRONMENT

Faculty Spotlight

The modern world as we know it has been designed for fossil fuel transportation, says assistant professor of geography Jennifer Kitson, Ph.D. “It’s all encompassing,” Kitson says. “The Industrial Revolution ushered in a fossil fuel era. It changed how and where we work and live, and how we choose to spend our recreational time.”

In a world where half of the human population lives in cities and 75% of carbon dioxide emissions originate in cities, Kitson believes, “What happens in cities is going to shape the future of humanity.” Today, urban geographers such as Kitson lead the change toward creating more sustainable city and suburban environments. Doing so requires a fundamental shift in how people think.

With a growing global consciousness toward environmental health and sustainability, Kitson and other urban geographers study how to retrofit urban spaces for human-powered mobility and how to design public spaces using universal design, so that they are accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

“We depend on our senses for survival, but in this post-Industrial Revolution world we have built environments in which we neglect our senses,” Kitson says. Today, urban geographers are rethinking cities for humans, not motorized transportation. “Our environment shapes what we think, how we behave and how we feel,” Kitson says. “Now that we know the science of it, we understand how materials and design shape our mood, empathy and decision-making abilities. We have the opportunity to redefine our living spaces and working spaces to maximize living and positively impact our emotional wellbeing and physical health.”

As an urban geographer, Kitson belongs to a relatively new subset of geographers who help to shape our world. Until recently, she says, “Our society hasn’t prioritized studying what makes the ideal environment for humans to thrive.” Kitson’s research helps to answer this question, building a better world for our fellow humans.