The Studio: University-Community Partnerships in Microsize

Bruce Stiftel's picture
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I had the pleasure of attending two studio final presentations at the Georgia Tech planning program this month: the Lindbergh/Lavista Community studio and the Friendship Village studio.  I'm hardly a neutral observer: I chair the program; but I'm new here and really didn't know what to expect.  I came away refreshed at the insights of the students and enthused at way the university partners with communities to advance good planning. 

The Lindbergh-Lavista group was asked to offer suggestions to a loosely tied pair of Atlanta neighborhoods that have just started to organize themselves.  They face challenges of congestion, identity, mismatched land uses, and physical barriers.  The student teams recommended a series of innovations tied to nodes, corridors and environmental services that are aimed at overcoming the barriers, and retrofitting careless suburban streetscapes to build identity, promote walkability, increase and enhance bus travel, promote greenspace and manage stormwater.   What really impressed me was their ability to present these ideas in plain clear language that the citizen representatives understood and found persuasive. 

The Friendship Village group had the charge of advising a large-scale land developer on directions for promoting sustainability in the plans for a 210 acre multi-use project in south Fulton County, Georgia.  Their work included site design recommendations modeled after traditional town centers in ten case studies but also included innovative open space and stormwater management proposals and ideas about educational and health care facilities. The diverse professional audience expressed admiration and the developer's lead representative indicated that results exceeded her expectations. 

Classroom studio projects of this sort are never perfect.  They are conducted very fast and blend input from conflicting sources.    That said, the Tech MCRP students handled themselves beyond my expectations.  They produced  ideas that their clients should be able to use to great effect and laid the groundwork for significant improvements to the districts they studied and perhaps to our profession more broadly.   

When we talk of university-community partnerships we usually have larger projects in mind, but planning schools have lots of these little partnerships: studios, course projects, theses, co-op study arrangements.  From my small sample, the direct positive impacts of planning education on practice do not wait for graduation. 

Bruce Stiftel, FAICP, is professor of city and regional planning, and chair of the School of City and Regional Planning program at Gerogia Institute of Technology.

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