Portland MAXThe National Institute for Transportation and Communities has awarded more than $86,000 to a research team consisting of University of Oregon (UO) School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) faculty members; their UO colleagues from the Sustainable Cities Initiative and the Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management; and officials from the City of Portland. These multi-disciplinary partners will collaborate on a yearlong study, Framing Livability: A Strategic Communications Approach to Improving Support for Public Transportation in Oregon.

The study will happen in conjunction with the Powell-Division Transit and Development Project, which is bringing infrastructure redevelopment and neighborhood revitalization to the Powell-Division corridor in Portland. SOJC researchers will study perceptions of Powell-Division residents regarding neighborhood livability and transportation options.

SOJC faculty members David Remund, Kelli Matthews, Deborah Morrison and Autumn Shafer will co-lead the effort. The research team will also include a select few SOJC graduate and undergraduate students who will assist with data collection, message development and other tasks. Recruitment for these positions will begin soon.

As principal investigator (PI), Remund will oversee all research activities and work closely with three co-PIs: Matthews, Morrison and Nico Larco, co-founder and director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative. During the fall term, Matthews will coordinate internal operations for the project and help manage the student research assistants. During the winter term, Morrison will lead creative strategy and message development for the project. Morrison and Shafer will partner on message testing, a process that will continue into spring term.

“We believe the success of public transportation in Oregon and beyond depends upon public understanding of, and support for, livability,” says Remund, an assistant professor of public relations with a strong background in housing, finance and market analysis. Before arriving at UO last fall, he served on a public transportation committee in Des Moines, Iowa, through his role at Drake University.

Matthews, a public relations instructor, has experience in the public sector, as well, and is looking forward to working on the collaborative project. “The area of Portland we’re focused on is socio-economically, culturally and racially diverse,” she says. “We will be tackling a real world problem that has real life consequences for people who live in the area.”

The research team is proud to have earned the opportunity to use their strategic communication expertise to address a pressing public need. “We hope that the lessons learned can be carried forward as a model for livability-focused transportation projects in other metropolitan areas throughout the United States,” Remund says.