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As a professor in a professional program at a public university, I strongly focus on community connections. The final year planning studio hence focuses on improving the future of real communities that surround the university. Each year, I have attracted a sponsoring local authority from a nearby small city to write a planning brief for students to address downtown planning and design issues. I aim to cover the diverse interests of all planning students, but also invite them to engage in site planning and urban design exercises, compiling their work into a final urban planning and design report. The work involves extensive community participation and feedback cycles. By engaging with real-world clients and stakeholders, students connect to their future careers, and the university connects to surrounding communities.


In 2016, students were asked by the Mayor of Georgetown, Kentucky to redesign the fast-growing city’s downtown area, focusing on improving its waterfront and retaining highly educated citizens. The 2016 student outcomes were received very positively by the local authorities, and the report has won the 2017 APA Ohio Award for best student work. The jury commended the work for being “very impressive for a student project … The document is visually pleasing, the graphics are relevant, and the data and maps included within it are absolutely on point." Furthermore, the student project has prompted the City of Georgetown to commission further studies on its downtown waterfront. The full report can be downloaded here.


The success of 2016’s project has prompted the nearby city of Paris, Kentucky to sponsor the 2017 plan making workshop, which I have co-taught with a landscape architecture professor and a practicing urban designer. The workshop’s theme was different, as Paris was much earlier in the planning process than Georgetown. Furthermore, the population of Paris has mostly remained stagnant over the past century. Instead of detailed site designs that were the focus of the Georgetown studio, students were challenged to think of broader scenarios for the future of Paris, yielding planning visions that ranged from age-in-place strategies to green infrastructure. The work was well received by the local community, which packed the local library for the final project presentation.

Plan making workshop

2017 syllabus cover

Georgetown water street

Rendering of Water Street by students Samantha McLean, Yinan Wu, Amber David, Lu Zhao, Jennifer Bakes