Urban planning lab project honored by American Planning Association

Lindsay Stevens, planner-in-residence in Florida State's Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

The Florida Planning and Development Laboratory, the community outreach arm of Florida State University’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning, has earned the prestigious Florida Student Project Award for 2013 from the Florida chapter of the American Planning Association. This marks the third time the association has honored the laboratory for its work.

The award highlights the excellence of the College Park District Action Plan, developed by 11 Urban and Regional Planning graduate students in fall 2012 under the guidance of Lindsay Stevens, the department’s planner-in-residence. The Florida Planning and Development Laboratory worked with several Florida State partners and the College Park Association, a private sector stakeholder group, to complete the action plan that was focused on the neighborhood along College Avenue between the university’s Westcott Building gate and downtown Tallahassee. The district has enormous value to the Tallahassee community and contains historically significant buildings, landmarks and green spaces but has struggled physically and economically in recent decades, failing to attract substantial investment or redevelopment.

The College Park District Action Plan envisions the development of the district into a vibrant urban space and neighborhood by improving infrastructure, encouraging infill development, and ultimately establishing a unique sense of place. The strategies developed by the students working on the project have been embraced by the university, the private sector and the city of Tallahassee’s planning department.

“The university provost and the facilities department, in conjunction with private interests along College Avenue, helped fund this studio project so that we could collectively get a better understanding of the potential of the College Park area,” said Mark Bertolami, director of Facilities Planning at Florida State and Department of Urban and Regional Planning alumnus. “The students in the studio were fantastic and produced a final report that is quite impressive.”

“This is a quality plan that strengthens the ties between the university and the community,” said Tim Chapin, associate professor and chair of the department. “The town-and-gown partnership that funded this plan and supported its recommendations have established a model for district redevelopment that will benefit the city, local property owners, and Florida State for decades to come.”

The Florida Planning and Development Laboratory previously won the Florida Student Planning Award in 2009 for a sustainability plan developed for the city of Colquitt, Ga., and in 2012 for Creating a Community of Scholars, a plan for the future of graduate student housing at Florida State with strategies for creating a sustainable, vibrant and supportive environment.

The graduate students are (front row, from left) Elwyn Gonzalez, Valerie Brookens, Katie Kinka and Harris Berns-Cadle, and (back row, from left) Dave Thorpe, Jeffrey Diemer, Julian Burton, Andrew Young, David Harrison and Brian Austin. Another member of the team, Paul Greilich, is not pictured.

The Florida Planning and Development Laboratory operates much the same as a professional consulting firm, annually securing hundreds of thousands of dollars in professional project work and internship opportunities for Florida State Urban and Regional Planning students and contracting for real-world projects in areas reflecting the diverse interests of the unit’s faculty and students. Once under contract, planning projects are typically staffed through the capstone studio course by five to 12 graduate students in their final year of study. Students participating in the semester-long Department of Urban and Regional Planning capstone studio course are provided with an applied, place-based learning experience that cements the links between their coursework and professional practice.

“The studio is a winning situation for everyone involved,” Stevens said. “Our students benefit from the opportunity to apply the knowledge gained in their master’s program, and the clients value the high-quality and creative work that the Florida Planning and Development Laboratory provides.”

Florida’s oldest and largest graduate planning program, the Department of Urban and Regional Planning has been a leader in planning education for decades and has significantly shaped practice in a state internationally known for innovations in comprehensive planning. The program calls on its large alumni network to provide opportunities for student internships and permanent employment positions for graduates. Further capitalizing on these connections, the Florida Planning and Development Laboratory centralizes and brands the planning department’s work on applied projects, giving students vital experience in their chosen field.