Spring Community and Regional Planning studio seeks to preserve history
By Susan Spinella, Asssitant Director, the Center for Sustainable Communities at Temple University Ambler
How does a township or borough grow without impacting the environment? What is the best way to preserve open space? How can I make a difference in the future of my community?
These are questions that planners ask themselves every day.
At EarthFest 2005, the Department of Community and Regional Planning (CRP) at Temple University Ambler will highlight several undergraduate and graduate projects. A special focus will be on the first undergraduate studio, which is focusing on historic preservation in Springfield Township, Montgomery County.
The planning studio is designed to be a cumulative experience for undergraduates in Community and Regional Planning. Working in teams and independently, students are given the opportunity to synthesize the skills, knowledge, and methods of community and regional planning practice by applying them in a real-world setting.
Students learn by doing with faculty providing guidance rather than instruction. Additional learning experiences – which include guest speakers, field visits, attendance at and presentations before planning board meetings, visits to repositories, archives and libraries — are required to further the goals of the studio project. The format of the class, however, is intentionally designed to simulate on-the-job training rather than a lecture or seminar class.
The work plan of the spring 2005 studio is to assess Springfield Township’s current inventory of historic and cultural resources, to prioritize its most ‘historic’ resources, and to review its draft demolition ordinance.
“Historic preservation is about much more than the preservation of old buildings and structures,” said Sharon McHugh, who is teaching the studio. “It has proven to be an important community planning strategy and an effective economic development tool to stimulate neighborhood revitalization, job creation, small business incubation, housing, tourism, and sustainability.”
Springfield Township, Montgomery County, like many townships, is experiencing growth and development pressure. The impact of development on the township’s historic and cultural resources is of current concern. As a first step toward protecting its historic resources, the township must identify and prioritize its historic resources and, once inventoried, develop a plan to protect them.
“Springfield Township has numerous historical resources that it would like to preserve and protect,” said Richard M. Lesniak, Springfield Township Code Enforcement Officer/Fire Marshal. “The project being undertaken by the Temple University Community and Regional Planning undergraduate studio is very timely. The work the students are performing will lead to very useful products that will guide the township in this endeavor.”
Springfield has already begun the effort of completing a historic and cultural inventory as well as the creation of a demolition ordinance, having preliminarily surveyed many of its historic buildings and written a draft ordinance that would delay demolition of any building thought to be ‘historic.’
“In terms of historic preservation, a good ordinance is an essential component to implementing planning to preserve historic buildings and areas,” said Dr. Kurt Paulsen, Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Planning at Temple University Ambler. “Municipalities without solid ordinances may find that buildings they wanted to preserve were either demolished or impacted by incompatible development on adjoining properties.”
The Springfield historic study is the first of many undergraduate studio projects that will be undertaken by students in the Department of Community and Regional Planning, which provides real-world experience in addition to classroom study.
“Attending a planning commission meeting was a very unique experience which gave me an opportunity to get to know the community on a more personal level,” said senior CRP student Darren Greco after attending a Springfield Township Planning Commission meeting. “This is a very crucial step, because if you are asked to assist a community as a planner, you must know the people you are essentially working for.”
Established in 2002, the Community and Regional Planning program at Temple University Ambler prepares students for diverse careers in the dynamic, growing planning field.
Planners must understand how cities, towns, and regions are structured and how to create and evaluate plans that maintain and improve the quality of life in those communities. Temple’s program provides students with a broad-based understanding and awareness of multi-dimensional land-use and planning issues. Students develop an understanding of the physical and economic issues of planning, a sensitivity to the social and environmental impact of planning decisions, and a knowledge of governmental structures as they apply to planning.
To address planning issues, students acquire problem-solving skills — Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and computer skills, site planning, planning and zoning laws, research and design methods, negotiation and mediation abilities, and communication skills.