It takes vision to lift neighborhoods out of despair.

Vision to look past the overgrown lots and rows of abandoned housing and see the real potential of those who call these communities home.

That vision – along with expertise in criminology, sociology, and public health – is what defines the Building Blocks team.

Experts from RTI, Penn, and Columbia University have been working together to create a strategy to make communities safer, healthier, and happier. Building Blocks will build on the successful place-based interventions tested by our team members to help cities around the country revitalize their communities.

Meet the team.

Pamela K. Lattimore, PhD, RTI

Principal Investigator

“We want to bring the amazing results demonstrated in Philadelphia and elsewhere to every town in America. The research shows simple improvements to the physical environment make neighborhoods safer and the people who live there healthier. We need your support to turn this idea into a national movement!”

Dr. Lattimore is Director of RTI’s Center for Justice, Safety, and Resilience, an organization of more than 100 scientists who focus on improving understanding of crime and related problems, criminal justice systems, safety threats and responses, and prevention and intervention activities. Her thirty-year career has focused on interventions that reduce criminal behavior and improve the operations of the criminal justice system.

Matthew DeMichele, PhD, RTI

Project Director

Dr. DeMichele performs research with RTI’s Center for Justice, Safety, and Resilience to investigate complex problems facing criminal justice systems. His research interests include criminology, corrections, risk assessment, program evaluation, and terrorism/extremism. Dr. DeMichele conducts research for local, state, and federal governments as well as for private foundations. He has published government reports, policy essays, and peer-reviewed publications.

Charles Branas, PhD, Columbia

Principal Investigator

Dr. Branas has led large-scale scientific work to transform thousands of vacant lots, abandoned buildings, and other blighted spaces that has improved the health and safety of entire communities. His work was the first citywide experiment of urban blight remediation and it has shown to be a highly cost-effective solution to persistent urban health problems like gun violence.

John MacDonald, PhD, Penn

Science Director

Dr. MacDonald has led a large-scale scientific evaluation of the impact of business improvement districts on reducing crime and improving health in communities. This work has received national coverage for showcasing how efforts to manage public spaces by business improvement districts helps local communities. He worked with Dr. Branas on the first large-scale evaluation of vacant lot remediation on crime and health in Philadelphia.

Eugenia South, MD MS, Penn

Community Engagement and Implementation

Dr. South’s research focuses on how neighborhood context impacts health and safety in urban environments. She worked with the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society to pilot a randomized controlled trial of vacant lot greening, the first prospective experimental analysis of a community greening intervention. The work has been featured in national media outlets including NPR and the Washington Post, as well as international media.

Phillip Graham, DrPH, MPH, RTI

Community Engagement and Implementation

Dr. Graham is Senior Director of RTI International’s Drugs, Violence, and Delinquency Prevention (DVDP) Research Program in the Center for Justice, Safety, and Resilience (JSR). He has over 20 years of experience conducting community-based research and evaluation. He has investigated the effects of witnessing community violence and the development of ethnic identity among African American male adolescents.