Dick Sadler, PhD, MPH

Sadler.Rick 314.V2

Associate Professor

I am a Flint native and urban geographer with expertise in environmental science, GIS, food systems planning, and land use policy in legacy cities. I attended the University of Michigan-Flint (BSc, 2007) to pursue my life-long dream of becoming a cartographer, and later attended graduate school in the Department of Geography at the University of Western Ontario (PhD, 2013) to--among other things--immerse myself in the Canadian system of urban planning. More recently, I was awarded a Bloomberg Fellowship to study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (MPH, 2020). My experiences growing up in the Flint region--where industrial growth, subsequent deindustrialization, and fragmented planning practices have had a profound influence on the built form--shaped my drive to resolve inequalities that arise from imbalances between the salutogenic and pathogenic properties of urban areas.

My research interests reflect this concern and include an integration of urban planning and public health topics related to neighborhood/built environmental effects on health. Some such topics include local food systems, urban agriculture, access to healthy food, crime, urban disorder, blight elimination, residential segregation, and active travel. Methodologically, I combine spatial analysis and community-based participatory research approaches to address challenges in the urban environment.

My work is underpinned by an upbringing oriented around compassion and stewardship, experiential training in cultural competence, and a recognition of historical processes of structural racism and discrimination that have exacerbated spatial and health inequalities. Throughout my work, the overarching goal is to strengthen the understanding between the built environment and health behaviors/outcomes with the objective of shaping land use policy to build healthier cities.

My reason for focusing on cities is that they have natural competitive advantages--that's why the earliest civilizations built them, and not suburbs! Unfortunately, our society has been artificially subsidizing suburban development at the expense of urban sustainability for many decades. Thus, many of the challenges that Flint faces were not inevitable, and can be corrected through sound urban planning policy. By better understanding the links mentioned above, I aim to strengthen the case that investments should be made in our cities for the sake of not only health and well-being, but also economic efficiency, competitiveness, and sustainability.

I hope that my research triggers changes in large-scale societal perceptions around cities such as Flint, thereby increasing investment, diminishing public health problems, increasing public safety, and improving quality of life. I moved back here specifically because I wanted to be a part of the Flint community as we continue to evolve into a healthy, vibrant city region. Our area has great assets and wonderful people, and I see many opportunities here for meaningful community and professional work.


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