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Planning Like the Pros

The spring Graduate Planning Studio team, left to right: Marcia Kees (instructor), Jon Thompson, Daniel Johnson, Tanya McGee, T.J. Kennedy, Nasibah Elmi, Linda Allen, Michelle Rogat, Bradley Hershenson and Samuel Morreale. 

ALBANY. N.Y. (May 24, 2018) — Looking at a village. Inspecting more than 30 years of its proposals for land use and growth — housing, economic development, transportation, recreation and more.

Calling together key village stakeholders for priorities. Compiling census data. Crafting a preliminary planning document with the village mayor and officials.

Then, developing a public engagement campaign. Conducting a residents’ survey. Piloting village open houses to solicit public input and support.

Is it any wonder that a Master’s in Regional Planning (MRP) from UAlbany often is the immediate step before one becomes a planning professional?

The work above comprised two semesters of labor for the Village of Menands by students in the course “Graduate Planning Studio” — work that will now lead the village to put together its first ever comprehensive plan.

“We’ve researched MRPs from universities all over the country,” said Catherine Lawson, associate professor and chair of Geography & Planning and MRP director, “and ours far and away provides the most hands-on experience.”

The student cohort in last fall’s class was responsible for compiling research, getting stakeholders’ opinions and creating a foundational plan. The spring cohort developed the public engagement aspect, including the residents’ survey that was responded to by 330 citizens.

“The students in both semesters worked diligently to conduct research on Menands and use it to craft a public engagement strategy that collected primary source data from residents,” said Marcia Kees, the Studio course instructor and adjunct professor. “This process provided a wealth of information that the students analyzed and presented to the village. Their efforts created a solid foundation for a Menands Comprehensive Plan.” (Kees and Menands Village Mayor Meg Grenier will meet in June to discuss the next steps to move the plan forward.)

“For me, working on this project in the first semester offered a lot of insight into the world of consulting,” said Ketura Vics, who graduated from the two-year MRP on Sunday. “As a studio, we had to step back and take a look at Menands from a strictly planning perspective in order to determine historic and existing land-use functions. We also took the time to examine what plans had been created in an attempt to improve conditions over the years.”

Brad Hershenson a first-year MRP student who participated in this spring’s cohort of the Menands project, found it tremendously rewarding. “We have been granted the opportunity to assist an important community in setting their vision for future growth and development,” he said. “We were able to draw from the research and products of the fall semester and craft much of our public engagement efforts.”

Kees and the students thanked the “welcoming attitude” of both the citizens and officials. Mayor Grenier praised the quality of the students work. “It's going to put us on good footing to put together our comprehensive plan,” she told the Albany Times Union. “We're so far ahead of where we would've been without the students."

The Menands project is just one of many the MRP studio course has undertaken over the years, to the benefit of several regional communities, including Cohoes, Bennington, Vt., and Albany’s Sheridan Hollow neighborhood. Most have not had two full semesters of students working on their transportation, parks and trails networks, landscape beautification, and business and public amenities enhancements, as Menands did.

“It is essential to understand the ‘nitty-gritty’ actions that need to be taken in order for the simplest of changes to occur,” said Vics, who believes her class’s work will justify the implementation of Menands planning actions. “I think this will be huge. It's so important to have a thorough understanding of how you've gotten to where you are, and where the community wants to go, in order to make tangible changes within a village.”

“Working in collaboration with Mayor Grenier’s great leadership and welcoming staff provided our course with many professional development opportunities,” said Hershenson. “In turn, we hope our academic support leads to improved quality of life for the community members of Menands and to the village’s prosperity for years to come.”

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