Urban Affairs and Planning (UAP) Associate Professor and Co-Chair Diane L. Zahm, AICP, with UAP’s 2014 Exemplary Department or Program Award, presented by the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) at the January 29 CIDER awards program in Blacksburg. (Photo courtesy of Ralph Hall)

The Urban Affairs and Planning (UAP) Program is a 2014 recipient of Virginia Tech’s Exemplary Department or Program Award. Sponsored by the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER), the award recognizes programs and departments for developing and sustaining innovative and effective approaches to fostering Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) at the undergraduate or graduate level. UAP was formally recognized at the CIDER awards ceremony in Blacksburg on January 29 and a brief video of the award presentation is available (courtesy of UAP Assistant Professor Ralph Hall).

UAP was honored for its extensive history of student and faculty engagement in local, state, and regional planning and policy, and the many contributions it has made to planning practice through student engagement. “All of UAP’s undergraduate and graduate degrees include at least one studio course,” said UAP Co-Chair Diane L. Zahm, Ph.D., AICP, in the program’s awards submission, and the course provides “opportunities for students to work on ‘real problems with real people in real places.’”

“These studio projects serve to transition students from the academic to the professional world. Students are responsible for a scope of work that has been negotiated with a partner organization or agency and for a final product that will be officially adopted into local policy,” Zahm said. “They need to demonstrate professional-level knowledge and skills in a variety of areas. They are accountable to the client, and not just to the faculty member or to peers. The best opportunities for students are those that allow students to work on several phases of a project, or on different issues in the same location.”

The award nomination also noted several recent examples of UAP student projects that have made important contributions to planning practice and community policymaking.

  • Virginia Tech’s Climate Action Plan – Students in the program’s environmental studios and community renewable energy courses engaged in research, data collection and analysis, report writing and presentations for the plan over two academic years.
  • Montgomery County, Virginia, Village Plans – Seniors in UAP’s undergraduate programs developed plans for three village areas in Montgomery County. This work included environmental analysis and mapping, door-to-door surveys, community visioning meetings, and drafting and presenting the proposed plan before the county’s Planning Commission, now part of the Montgomery County comprehensive plan. Additionally, graduate students used the village plans as the basis for study in four different classes, first, to find best practices that the County might adopt to ensure the success of village planning and then to complete a build-out analysis and a review of the feasibility of achieving county-wide goals, given the additional goals outlined in the village plans. This work transferred to another class, where students created conceptual site plans to test Montgomery County’s zoning relative to the goals in the plans. The combined work of students in the two studio and two land use planning classes received the outstanding student project award from the American Planning Association’s Small Town and Rural Planning Division in 2009.
  • Build-Out Analysis for Floyd County, Virginia – As part of a build-out analysis for Floyd County, students introduced electronic response “clickers” in a planning commission meeting. Planning director Lydeana Martin said she saw more engagement in that meeting than she had previously experienced. The clickers were used to gather feedback on the build-out analysis report, which received the 2013 outstanding student project award from the Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association.
  • Town of Fincastle, Virginia – Zahm has been working with the town since 1998 to ensure its planning infrastructure is current and meets state requirements, and that process has created a students-as-staff experience because Fincastle does not have planning staff of its own. Over the last 15 years, undergraduate and graduate students have engaged in studios, classes, independent study projects, undergraduate research, internship placements, and master’s capstone projects related to planning in the town. They prepared the town’s first comprehensive plan (and twice updated that same plan), evaluated and recommended changes to the zoning ordinance, created an historic preservation tour and iPad app, examined opportunities for using form based codes, administered a visual preference survey as the foundation for developing design guidelines, and a host of other projects. Some projects were requested by the town; others were proposed by Zahm or by her students as a way to educate the planning commission and town council on planning issues and planning opportunities.
  • The Economic Development Studio @ Virginia Tech – Studios are one of the many ways that UAP collaborates across campuses, drawing on its collective resources and expertise to address issues of statewide significance. The Economic Development Studio @ Virginia Tech regularly pools the talents of students and faculty from both locations, along with the university’s Office of Economic Development. The 2013 Reshoring to Virginia studio worked with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to explore opportunities for our state to capitalize on the trend of major international corporations choosing to re-establish operations in the U.S.
  • City of Falls Church, Virginia – NCR graduate students evaluated and developed both plans and recommendations for five projects within Falls Church during the past five years, including studies for the North Jefferson Street Industrial Area, the Eastern Gateway study, the Gordon Road Industrial Triangle, the Little City Center Study, the South Washington Street Land Use Study, and the Arts and Cultural District Study, as Director of Planning and Development Services James B. Snyder noted. In addition, Professors Shelley Mastran, Elizabeth Morton, and Ralph Buehler and students have supported Falls Church in updating its Comprehensive Plan and a number of the recommendations provided have been included in the Small Area Plans adopted by the City.
  • “Giving Voice: African American Walking Tour, Falls Church and Fairfax County” – Students in the NCR master’s degree program were recognized with the 2012 Student Project Award by the Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association for this innovative project. Designed as part of a studio class taught by Professor of Practice Elizabeth Morton, students conducted oral histories and created a walking tour of African American sites in Falls Church and Fairfax County with the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation that has had transformative impacts on the community.
  • Innovative Bicycle Sharing Programs Reports – For the last two years, NCR studio teams led by Professor Ralph Buehler have been conducting studies for DC’s Capital Bikeshare (CABI), providing pioneering analysis of the characteristics and economic impact of bikeshare users. Students have also researched innovative bicycle sharing programs in other major international cities, MURP alumnus Tim Maher said. The study proposed several strategies that would enhance the bikeshare experience for this growing program.
  • Eco-City Alexandria – Beginning in spring 2007, the City of Alexandria partnered with UAP and NCR graduate students to design and facilitate a new, strategic collaborative planning process, called Eco-City Alexandria, to create an Eco-City Charter and Environmental Action Plan to guide Alexandria toward sustainability.

Please join with SPIA in congratulating the UAP faculty, students, staff, and alumni on this prestigious recognition!