As the Community and Regional Planning master's program moves toward accreditation, the Department looks back on the history of the planning program at Temple University.
By James F. Duffy
A Planner's Journey
Had you told Mari Radford just a few short years ago that in July 2010 she’d be aiding small towns in West Virginia ravaged by flooding, she may have thought it sounded interesting but was highly unlikely. Perhaps not too unlikely, however.
Radford, a 2009 graduate of Temple University’s Community and Regional Planning (CRP) master’s degree program, has been an integral part of helping communities in parts of the world that many Americans may be familiar with through newspaper headlines and the evening news, but few have ever experienced firsthand.
Helping to ensure the safety of civilians and soldiers in war torn Mogadishu, Somalia. Evacuating refugees escaping tribal violence in Rwanda. Building communities from the ground up in Russian Georgia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Radford spent 15 years overseas with the U.S. State Department while her husband Dean (who tragically passed away in 2005) worked for the CIA.
Radford’s journey from history major to U.S. State Department employee to CRP master’s degree recipient began in Oregon continued to Africa and Asia and ended at Temple University Ambler, home of the Community and Regional Planning program — though that ending was just the beginning of the next chapter of her life.
Right upon entering the CRP master’s program — which will receive its first accreditation visit in November — she applied her skills in her community as a member of the Upper Dublin Planning Commission. She also took an unpaid internship with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) which “paid off in spades,” she said. Shortly after graduation, Radford, 47, began a new career at URS Corporation as their FEMA Outreach Coordinator — “a perfect match for my interest in emergency management planning and my newly minted Community and Regional Planning degree!”
In June, she became a Mitigation Planner for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, FEMA Region III, which is what found her in West Virginia just a month later and just a few years after taking the plunge into Community and Regional Planning.
“I loved my jobs overseas and wanted to build upon my earlier experience with the State Department as a Community Liaison Officer. Temple Ambler was five minutes away, a program I could complete in two years, and it fit my life as a working single mom,” she said. “Everything I heard about the Community and Regional Planning program seemed to legitimize my previous experience — there were very obvious connections between what I had done and what I wanted to do. I entered the program in January 2007 and immediately connected with (Department Chair) Deborah Howe, who was also from Oregon. She really went out on a limb for me and provided me with a graduate assistantship — the faculty became my colleagues, we shared office space; it not only paid for school, it gave me valuable experience that translated into marketability in the field.”
In July, that “field” happened to be Logan, McDowell, Mingo, and Wyoming counties in West Virginia, areas of the state devastated by floods.
“Unfortunately this area had been hard hit just 18 months earlier. It was both sad to see people without a lot of resources being walloped by Mother Nature again and positive in that we saw several mitigation projects that had helped save lives and property,” Radford said. “My role as a mitigation planner was to provide support and guidance to the community leaders — mayors, town managers, and floodplain administrators — on opportunities to rebuild safer and better with floodplain ordinance requirements and outreach to affected citizens. It was truly an amazing experience to be welcomed into these tiny towns that have so little and yet want to do the right thing by their citizens.”
Radford is one of more than 135 students — 90 graduate and 47 undergraduate — who have graduated with master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Temple’s Community and Regional Planning program since its inception in 2002.
“It was important to me to jump into the field with credentials that validated my earlier work and gave me a common language that has helped me connect with other planners and professionals in my field. One huge advantage with Temple’s program was the volume of students that were already in the field — their experience really brought an extra level of reality to our day-to-day conversation and classes,” she said. “With the evening classes, Community and Regional Planning really is a wonderful program for working adults — you’re not leaving the program with horrible amounts of debt and you don’t have to worry about daytime scheduling. The faculty are all people working in the industry sharing their knowledge, their skill, and their connections — it’s a readymade network.”
Planners With a Plan
The “readymade network” that the Community and Regional Planning program has become didn’t happen overnight. As the 20th Century gave way to the 21st, the planning profession recognized a critical problem in the field — there simply weren’t enough professionally trained planners entering the workplace.
“The initial interest in starting a planning program at Temple came from the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association (then the Pennsylvania Planning Association). At one point there were three planning schools in the state, but Pittsburgh and Penn State ended their programs leaving just the University of Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Jeffrey Featherstone, Professor of Community and Regional Planning, and the founding chair of the Department of Community and Planning and former director of Temple’s Center for Sustainable Communities. “The planning community lobbied Temple to create a planning program — and it happened.”
Public agencies like county planning commissions, Featherstone said, wanted to find good, knowledgeable people. Private consulting firms were also running into the same difficulties finding qualified professionals.
“What is needed are analytical thinkers who are fully versed in planning issues,” said Richard Schmoyer, then president of the 2,500-member Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association, when Temple began developing its planning program. “As a Commonwealth, we are going to experience an extreme deficit in qualified planners if this is not addressed at the higher levels of education.”
Temple’s program was able to “address the needs of small community, boroughs, and townships as well as the big cities,” said Featherstone, who came to Temple with more than 20 years experience in planning with the Delaware River Basin Commission.
“There was a niche there and we were able to fill it,” he said. “This program is very much about applied learning and developing highly competent graduates. They can start at any planning agency or organization and begin to work right away.”
Once professional planners expressed the need for a new planning program, an interdisciplinary University committee comprised of faculty from several Temple University colleges and departments — including the College of Science and Technology, the Environmental Studies program, the Geography and Urban Studies department, and the Landscape Architecture and Horticulture department — was established to develop first an undergraduate offering, followed by the graduate program. Part of the process included interviewing and surveying planning professionals to determine the curriculum necessary to produce students ready for an incredibly diverse planning field.
“At the time, and to this day, there was a great deal of press coverage on issues of sprawl, open space, and planning; governments are talking about it, institutions and organizations are talking about it. One of the key elements missing was the planning perspective,” said Baldev Lamba, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and chair of the faculty committee that developed the undergraduate program. “With the undergraduate degree, we were seeking to meet the need for a generalist who combined a variety of specializations.”
In 2002, the Temple University Board of Trustees approved bachelor and master degrees in Community and Regional Planning, part of what was then Ambler College (now the School of Environmental Design) comprised of the Department of Community and Regional Planning, the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture, and the Center for Sustainable Communities, all located at the Ambler Campus.
“Dr. Phil Yannella (Professor of English at Temple who was Associate Dean of Ambler College) was instrumental in developing the first cohort of graduate students; he interviewed them all individually. We started Fall 2002 with an initial cohort of 25 students, more when including non-matriculated students (students testing the waters with one or two classes prior to formally applying to a course of study),” Dr. Featherstone said. “Within two to three years, we had about 80 students — there was a lot of pent up demand for the program. Once we started, we could tell it would be successful.”
The first master’s degree students graduated from the program in 2004; the MS in Community and Regional Planning was also offered at Temple University Harrisburg for the first time that year. The first Community and Regional Planning undergraduates completed the program in 2006, the same year that Dr. Deborah Howe, FAICP, became Chair of the department.
As an educator and professional planner, Howe said, “I love working with highly talented and committed people in both CRP and Temple’s Center of Sustainable Communities.”
“These people live and breathe planning — their on-going professional work and research is directed at addressing significant community challenges such as the flooding of the Fort Washington Industrial Park, managing the Pennypack Creek Watershed, and assisting Philabundance in determining the best locations for their food pantries,” said Dr. Howe, formerly a Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University where she taught undergraduate and graduate courses in planning and community development for two decades. “We have a cadre of outstanding adjuncts supporting us in offering both undergraduate and graduate planning courses. The campus administration is providing essential leadership and support in developing sustainability as the focus for the Ambler Campus. We envision this place as Temple University’s “Green Campus,” a place where environmentalism is a fundamental aspect of research and education, the built environment, and daily activities.”
The Department of Community and Regional Planning, she said, “has much to contribute to the concept of sustainability and we anticipate being a big player in this vision.”
Community and Regional Planning Faculty — Teachers and Professional Planners
Fully establishing the new Community and Regional Planning program took the hard work and dedication of an eclectic group of faculty members who have brought literally hundreds of years of combined planning experience to the program.
“In the first years of the program, our primary goal was to build a faculty of people who were skilled in not just planning theory but in planning application,” Dr. Featherstone said. “Our full-time and part-time faculty, then and today, have all been practicing planners and I think that has distinguished our department as a group. Many of the people who encouraged Temple to create the program helped to shape it by teaching our planning courses.”
Many of the professionals associated with Temple’s Center for Sustainable Communities also teach Community and Regional Planning courses, said Dr. Featherstone, a partnership that has remained an integral and essential part of the program to this day. The Center was established in 2000 to serve as a local and regional resource that facilitates the development of collaborative solutions in land-use planning and management, environmental protection, ecological restoration, and community revitalization through education and consulting initiatives.
“The people who are doing the research, the practitioners of planning, are also teaching it and imparting their experience to the students. The ultimate goal of planners is to create sustainable communities; the synergy between the Community and Regional Planning Department and the Center is a very good match,” he said. “We place a critical emphasis on practical planning in teaching our courses; it’s a very different model than other planning programs in the U.S. Today our faculty remain a group of individuals with tons of experience in planning. There are very few programs that come close to Temple in terms of experience.”
Dr. Lynn Mandarano joined Temple’s Community and Regional Planning faculty in 2005 as an assistant professor, attracted to the programs “commitment to sustainability and environmental planning.”
“It still is a relatively new program that we as faculty are able to help shape with our own ideas. All of the my classes provide practical, hands-on experience that requires students to think outside of the box, something they might not have the opportunity to do in a work environment,” said Mandarano who came to Temple with 20 years of planning experience. “Our students work with real clients. During a greenhouse gas audit in Upper Dublin in spring 2008, our students presented their findings at board meetings. The township’s environmental advisory board continues to use the data.”
Planning students, Mandarano said, often bring years of experience in the field to the classroom as well.
“Often our students are full-time or part-time employees working in the planning field,” she said. “That leads to some very lively discussions about what’s happening on the ground.”
When Dr. Featherstone offered Dr. William Cohen, FAICP, who has decades of planning experience in Delaware, a full-time teaching position at Temple, “it took me about three to five seconds to accept.”
“I wanted the challenge and I felt very comfortable with the department from the very beginning,” said Cohen, who was inducted into the American Institute of Certified Planners College of Fellows (FAICP) in April 2010. “We have a small faculty that all have strong backgrounds in practice and I think that really makes all the difference. The students want to hear those ‘war stories;’ they want to know what actually happens in the field.”
The time has come for the planning field to move to the forefront, Cohen said, and he is excited to be a part of readying the next generation of planners for the many challenges to come.
“I was schooled in the (Ian) McHargian field of ecological planning. I think after the tragedy of the BP oil spill, more and more people are waking up to the fact that our environment is precious and finite,” he said. “We have to embrace and take the reins of ecological planning and leave the apathy, indifference, and inaction behind. We need to get the job done.”
Richard Nalbandian, Community and Regional Planning Associate Professor and the first faculty member in Temple’s program after Dr. Featherstone, also followed his desire to “achieve the maximum possible good” into the ecological planning field, having McHarg as both a mentor and an employer.
“I think the role of planners today is the same as it has always been; determining how to effectively allocate increasingly scarce resources of every kind — physical, financial, and social,” said Nalbandian, who began at Temple as a Research Fellow with the Center for Sustainable Communities prior to teaching in the planning program. “It’s all about doing things right, locating human activity into places of the greatest social utility and the least environmental cost. We were able to put those ecological principles to direct use, designing new towns and communities.”
Despite decades of experience as a practitioner, manager, consultant, and teacher in earth and environmental sciences and planning, Nalbandian doesn’t consider himself a “scholar.”
“I’m a planner, a doer; I planned things that actually got built. There are many educators in planning that have little practical experience,” he said. “Without at least a modicum of real world experience, without having dealt with government officials at every level, all the theory in the world is not going to be effective. That’s what I love about my colleagues in Temple’s program — to a person they all have practical, real world experience. They are all out applying their knowledge.”
Temple’s planning program, Nalbandian said, teaches the history and practice of planning “and how to apply it.”
“We want to develop planners that can, hopefully, really affect their communities from the municipal level to the national level, planners that can be a positive influence for change,” he said. “I think the proof is in the practice. Our graduates are employed throughout the region at every level; municipal, county, state, and federal. Our graduates also remain engaged in the program — as faculty members we have frequent contact with our graduates — which has helped to create a very broad network of planners working in a wide variety of fields.”
Dr. Bradley Flamm, Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Planning who joined the faculty in 2007, said Temple’s program is not just “tools focused, it’s vision focused.”
“Planning emphasizes the future; thinking through community visions of what we want the future to look like. Envisioning the future requires closely examining the resources of a community — physical, financial, human, created, and natural — whether it’s a small town or a city as large as Philadelphia,” he said. “The practical elements, the studio projects and internships, are equally important in the graduate and undergraduate programs. It allows students to spend time thinking about the ‘big ideas.’”
It was the emphasis on sustainability that also drew him to the program, Flamm said.
“The concept of sustainability is really part of every class. Doing research here at Temple is extremely rewarding — it’s a program that takes a regional approach,” he said. “We may be based in a suburban location, but we are exploring urban and suburban planning in equal measure; it’s one of the few programs in the country to emphasize suburban planning though 50 percent of the population lives in suburban communities. The students are able to focus on what’s of interest to them — most of our students are from the Delaware Valley region and most are able to find jobs right within the region.”
An Evolving Institutional Identity
In 1911, the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women (PSHW), founded by Jane Bowne Haines, opened its doors. Its students for the next several decades would go on to become pioneers in the green industry. The PSHW’s mission of environmental education would inform the establishment of Temple University Ambler’s signature programs in Community and Regional Planning, Horticulture, and Landscape Architecture.
Ambler’s students and programs have remained the standard bearers for that mission of sustainability, a mission that Temple University Ambler faculty and administrators have taken University-wide while constantly striving to improve course offerings to meet the needs of the students in an ever-changing and complex professional field.
The mission of the Department of Community and Regional Planning has remained firmly connected to the history of the Ambler Campus since its inception: Strengthen the effectiveness of planning practice in creating sustainable communities; prepare students with the understanding, values, and skills that enable positive contributions in a rapidly changing world; advance knowledge and guide public decision-making through research and service; and articulate public interests that are important to Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the mid-Atlantic region.
Since its inception in 2002, the Department of Community and Regional Planning has gone through numerous transitions, always with the goal of effectively training planners to meet the needs of communities today and tomorrow.
“The master’s program is specifically geared toward training professional planners who will be highly effective in professional entry positions or in career advancement — they hit the ground running with a strong set of skills. The undergraduate program is more general, promoting a larger understanding of planning and developing entry level planners who can effectively engage in their own communities to tackle issues of concern,” said Dr. Howe. “In addition to being able to complete the master’s program at both Ambler and Harrisburg — I don’t know of any other accredited planning program that uses technology such as video conferencing to offer their program at two campuses — we also offer planning courses at Temple’s Main Campus in addition to newly developed certificates in Environmental Sustainability (undergraduate), Transportation Planning (graduate), and Sustainable Community Planning (graduate).”
In June 2009, the Department of Community and Regional Planning found a new home in Temple’s College of Liberal Arts, while continuing to be based at the Ambler Campus.
Temple University’s Board of Trustees authorized the renaming of Ambler College as the School of Environmental Design — Dr. Teresa Scott Soufas is Dean of both the College of Liberal Arts and the School of Environmental Design.
The creation of the School of Environmental Design provided an opportunity to “more clearly articulate our disciplinary and historic focus on the environment,” said Dr. Howe.
“The School’s placement within the College of Liberal Arts has given us hundreds of new colleagues from a wide variety of disciplines, which is especially important for a field such as Community and Regional Planning,” she said. “We see enormous opportunities for collaboration in research, teaching, and service that will strengthen and deepen our work in environmental stewardship and sustainability to the benefit of students, faculty, and the University as a whole.”
The March Toward Accreditation
In 2009, the Department of Community and Regional Planning announced a new curriculum for the master’s program. In revising and expanding the CRP graduate program, “we have sought to reflect our strengths in sustainability, environmental planning, regional planning, and advanced computer applications,” said Dr. Howe.
“We are specifically building on the late Ian McHarg’s notion of ecologically-based planning, taking advantage of the fact that two CRP faculty members studied with Professor McHarg at the University of Pennsylvania. The concept of an ecologically-based planning program involves placing a greater emphasis on the physical sciences than is found in most U.S. planning programs,” she said. “Our program is in a unique position to pursue this approach given our close relationship with the Center, which provides students opportunities to financially support their studies and gain valuable experience by working on ecologically-based research and service projects. Faculty involvement in the Center’s research also yields rich case studies for classroom and studio projects.”
According to Dr. Howe, the department has established several key “strategic goals,” which they plan to meet within the next five years, including: “ensuring that the department has the infrastructure and resources to provide a supportive environment for faculty and students; providing leadership on the role of planning in effecting societal challenges; providing an array of programs and initiatives that are mutually reinforcing and support the department’s mission; and strengthening the quality of the program and achieving full accreditation from the Planning Accreditation Board for the MS in Community and Regional Planning.”
The master’s program, according to Howe, is well on track for accreditation. The MS in Community and Regional Planning program’s application for accreditation candidacy was approved by the Planning Accreditation Board effective January 1 and the initial Planning Accreditation Board site visit is scheduled for November 2010.
“The accreditation process began in full force when we conducted an internal program review in 2008. It was a solid review and we did a number of things to strengthen the curriculum, such as modifying the core courses to include separate courses in planning law and planning politics and administration; adding environmental planning as a required course, and expanding the capstone studio,” she said. “We fully implemented the 45-credit master’s program in Fall 2009. That allowed us to provide 15 to 18 credits of electives and two optional concentrations — Transportation Planning and Sustainable Community Planning. We’d like to develop more concentrations as we develop the capacity to offer more courses.”
The Planning Accreditation Board is a joint effort of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, the American Planning Association, and the American Institute of Certified Planners. According to Dr. Howe, the Board will review Temple’s accreditation report in the spring of 2011 and make a final decision.
“Accreditation is a very thorough process of review. For our students, they know that they are getting a program that meets very rigorous standards,” said Howe who has taken part in 11 planning accreditation site visit teams since 1994 and chaired 8 of those teams. “It’s a very useful accountability process that provides focus and guidance.”
With accreditation, Dr. Featherstone added, Temple’s Community and Regional Planning program has the potential to go global.
“With accreditation, we will start welcoming students from around the world,” he said. “I think this will make a very positive difference in the program, providing the opportunity to examine planning from a global perspective with students who bring different cultural and societal experiences to the classroom.”
The accreditation process, according to Dr. Howe, “has dramatically strengthened planning education.”
“It identifies challenges and weaknesses within planning programs while emphasizing opportunities,” she said.
Planning Students — Learning in the Real World
A review of Rea Monaghan’s responsibilities as an Environmental Planner with the Bucks County Planning Commission is a clear example of the diversity of skills and opportunities that are needed and provided in the planning field.
Assist county agencies, municipalities, nonprofit organizations, and the general public regarding environmental issues. Conduct research, informational programs, and plan production on topics such as natural resources, watershed planning, water resources protection, and wastewater planning and facilities efforts. Work with municipalities, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and the public on watershed planning and outreach efforts. Provide planning services to municipalities that include development of comprehensive plans, zoning and subdivision and land development ordinances and reviews, special studies, and general planning assistance to local planning commissions, boards and committees. Work on county-wide environmental and community planning projects. And that’s the short version of the list.
“Planning is a methodical and collaborative approach used to influence and respond to a wide variety of changes occurring in communities, towns, cities and regions. A planner’s role is to identify problems and opportunities, evaluate alternative solutions and/or plans and communicate their findings in ways that allow citizens and public officials to make well-informed choices about the future,” said Monaghan, a 2006 graduate of the Community and Regional Planning master’s program who had a long history as a Temple employee prior to entering the program. “Planning professionals integrate land use planning, natural resources planning and economic and transportation planning approaches, each aimed at improving the natural, built, and social environment of communities.”
Temple’s planning program provided Monaghan and numerous other CRP graduates with “the credentials and skills to move from one professional field to another field that better suited their personal goals and interests,” said Dr. Featherstone.
“Rea is absolutely outstanding at planning commission meetings,” he said. “She is so exuberant when talking about the issues. As a teacher, it makes you feel good to see how successful our students can be and what they have achieved.”
Since the program’s inception, the students in the Community and Regional Planning program have been just as diverse as the faculty, bringing a variety of skills and backgrounds to the classroom to create vibrant learning communities. With 60 graduate students, 35 undergraduate students, and 30 non-matriculated students in the Community and Regional Planning program for Fall 2010 that certainly shows no signs of stopping.
“Our students in Community and Regional Planning are an extremely diverse group, from township managers and individuals from non-profit organizations to retirees and students fresh out of high school,” Dr. Featherstone said. “We have adults who want to start a new career, further their current career goals, or express their vision to improve the lives of people and their surrounding environments. We also have young people who are part of a generation that is deeply interested in social change. We have been able to produce graduates with extremely well-rounded skills for the planning field, from theoretical aspects to the technological side, such as the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) — they are well-prepared to handle the issues that face planners in the field today.”
Ethan Norris decided to enter the program to pursue a second career when it was first offered.
“I flew helicopters in the Army and did a tour in Vietnam, where I was wounded. Following my military service, I went to work for EDS, the firm started by Ross Perot,” Norris said. “I spent my ‘first’ career with EDS in the Information Technology industry and retired in December 1999.”
That retirement, however, didn’t last very long. Norris explored a variety of possible graduate programs until coming upon information about the inception of the Temple’s Community and Regional Planning program in early 2002.
“Although at the time I didn’t know anything about the planning profession, the areas it touched sounded quite interesting. I went through the necessary entry requirements, rounding up a transcript and taking the GMAT test — a challenge after being out of college for nearly 40 years — and was accepted,” he said. “The most important aspect of the Temple CRP program was the emphasis on practical application. That, combined with outstanding, experienced faculty and courses, made it an extraordinary learning experience.”
Monaghan said what drew her to planning was her “interest in protecting and encouraging the preservation of natural resources and conserving scenic and historic areas, town centers, and older communities and open spaces.”
“I wanted to work with public, government, private, and nonprofit entities to encourage sustainable development. What is unique about Temple’s program is that students are exposed to real-world experiences in planning and are provided opportunities to effectively communicate with the public, collaborate with numerous agencies and entities, and develop strategies and think analytically in a team environment,” she said. “The program provided me with an understanding of local, state, and federal government programs and processes and an understanding of the social and environmental impact of planning decisions on communities.”
Sean Greene, a 2005 master’s degree program graduate, enjoyed the convenience of Temple’s program — evening hours offered at times well suited for working professionals — and the quality and experience of the faculty. He’s been with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commissions for the past five years as a Senior Transportation Planner.
“I think my experience at Temple was greatly enriched by camaraderie and professional relationships that I developed through the program. Both faculty and fellow students were truly interested in helping each other learn and be successful both in school and after graduation in the professional world,” he said. “All good schools can deliver the subject matter. The environment created by the faculty and students at Temple really make the program unique and that much more valuable.”
For Susan Spinella, a fall 2003 graduate, her interest in planning began right at the Ambler Campus, where, after completing the program, she continued to help other students and faculty realize their research and educational goals as the Administrator of Research and Operations for the Center for Sustainable Communities and the Department of Community and Regional Planning before becoming the Assistant Director, and now Acting Director, of the Center.
“For me, the biggest draw was the diversity of career paths that were available. When I first entered the program, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to focus on housing, community development, or economic development,” she said. “I found that with Temple’s program, you could go in multiple directions; you didn’t have to limit yourself. In that way I found that my greatest interest was in the emergency management planning field.”
Spinella, who currently teaches emergency management in the CRP program as an adjunct instructor, said she’d like to continue to increase awareness of the work of the Center throughout the region and its “commitment to working with and for communities on the many facets of planning that are affecting municipalities on a daily basis.”
“In partnering with non-profits, consulting agencies, local municipalities, state agencies, and the federal government, I enjoy working on projects designed to improve the quality of life for people, whether it is through traffic control and corridor plans, smart growth plans, GIS, or any of the services the Center provides,” she said. “The Center and the CRP department have a unique partnership that allows students to work on Center projects conducted in local communities, regionally, and throughout the state. The CRP department is training students in a hands-on way to solve widespread planning issues while the Center is not only assisting the local communities with planning issues; it is also educating people of all ages about the importance of sustainability.”
Working for the public’s interest, is a “planner’s mandate,” said Dr. Howe.
“Planning concentrates on shaping our environments in response to the needs of citizens. Planners engage citizens, political leaders, public agency officials, and representatives of industry, commerce, and non-profit organizations in this process through the use of numerous skills and tools; from preparing comprehensive plans and ordinances to negotiating solutions among diverse stakeholders to solving problems or taking advantage of opportunities,” she said. “Planners must understand how cities, towns, and regions are structured and how to develop plans that maintain and improve the quality of life in those communities.”
In the Community and Regional Planning MS and BS programs, students are provided with a broad-based understanding and awareness of these multi-dimensional land-use and planning issues. Students develop an understanding of the physical and economic aspects of planning, 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 law, research and design methods, negotiation and mediation abilities, and communication skills — and experience working in teams and the real-life world of a required internship.
“The studios, the internships, they provide students with real-world experience. Instead of textbook problems, they are dealing with real problems, real issues, and real opportunities,” said Dr. Featherstone. “The students undertake various projects participating at the township meetings, providing updated reports, and detailed plans.”
Since the program’s inception, students in the Community and Regional Planning program have helped map out the sustainable future of municipalities such as Milford Township and Warrington in Bucks County, and Upper Dublin and Fort Washington in Montgomery County, among numerous others. They’ve also examined flooding concerns through comprehensive studies of the Pennypack Creek Watershed and the Fort Washington Office Park; transportation issues along the much-traveled Route 309 corridor; historic preservation in Springfield Township, Montgomery County; emergency management in Cheltenham; greenhouse gas studies and “sustainability audits” in several municipalities; and “Active Living Research,” that, according to Dr. Howe, is designed to “transform land use regulations to create livable communities that support physical activity in everyday life.”
The Center for Sustainable Communities and faculty and students in the Department of Community and Regional Planning will also soon begin a comprehensive floodplain mapping study and stormwater assessment of the Wissahickon Creek Watershed, which encompasses 64 square miles and includes 15 municipalities in Montgomery County and the City of Philadelphia.
“Planning is not sitting in an office,” said Dr. Featherstone. “It’s a matter of getting out into the community and working to solve problems in ways that people can agree upon. If someone wants to make an important impact on the future of their communities, this is the field to get into.”
An ongoing multi-municipal greenhouse gas emissions study conducted by the Center, the Community and Regional Planning department, and Swarthmore College, for example, seeks to provide municipalities with a clear plan to reach greenhouse gas reduction goals — a key factor in climate change.
“Over the past few years, we have been able to complete greenhouse gas inventories in Upper Dublin Township and Montgomery Township and provide the municipalities with recommendations to help them and their residents save money while being more energy efficient. We’re currently the only university in the Philadelphia Region that is doing individual community inventories of this type,” said Dr. Featherstone. “We’re nearing completion on a multi-municipal greenhouse gas inventory and strategy analysis for four municipalities in Delaware County. We are creating an inventory of greenhouse gas sources and developing reduction goals which will result in Climate Change Action Plans for Swarthmore, Rose Valley and Rutledge boroughs and Nether Providence Township.”
According to Community and Regional Planning graduate student and research assistant Georgia Kirkpatrick, the benefit of projects of this type for the students involved is “while we are in school, this research translates very easily to the real world.
“We are acting as consultants on a topic — climate change — that is very relevant to our field,” she said.
As researchers, “our goal is to provide the communities with baseline emissions inventories and develop reduction plans that everyone can buy into; plans that can be updated periodically,” said fellow Community and Regional Planning graduate student and research assistant Chloe Maher.
“This is an opportunity to work on an ongoing research project in our chosen profession; there is a lot of interest in this project,” she said. “We are meeting with municipal officials, residents, and other stakeholders and learning firsthand the way things work, the way things happen within municipalities. There is no better learning experience than actually getting out and doing the work.”
Dr. Featherstone said focused local studies of this nature are truly “where the rubber meets the road,” when it comes to putting analysis into action.
“This is where we determine how to make it happen — how to move beyond the study and into actual implementation. There are a lot of municipal boards and environmental groups interested in studies of this nature — they are seeking help to understand the magnitude of this problem,” he said. “As a Center and as a planning department, we are well positioned in the area of applied research and well suited for continued sustainability and growth management research.”
Making a Difference
Making a difference in their communities is a key factor in choosing the profession for many planning students.
“As a mitigation planner, my focus is on building safer communities. Flooding is the number one disaster in the country, especially in the region that I cover — Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, DC. FEMA has spent the past 7 years remapping the majority of the U.S. so that communities have more accurate maps that reflect their risk and help them plan better and safer development,” Radford said. “My role is to help them understand the maps, the implications of floodplain management, and to build an emergency management perspective into all community planning. I love my job and see plenty of opportunities for growth and to make a positive difference in the world.”
Emily Young, who was among the first graduates from the Community and Regional Planning master’s program, said she became interested in planning while working for a non-profit hunger relief group.
“It appeared to me that while charity and service groups were doing great at putting band-aids on social problems, these types of problems were really symptoms of larger societal issues and needed to be addressed at the source,” she said. “I felt that planning — urban planning in particular — was a means through which to address social problems.”
For 2010 graduate Melissa Kim, who entered the program with a B.A. in Political Science from Amherst College and a J.D. from Temple’s Beasley School of Law, it was a personal realization that “I could make an even greater contribution through policy and advocacy work,” that brought her to Temple’s Community and Regional Planning master’s program.
“I chose Temple’s program because of its commitment to the (Temple founder Russell) Conwell tradition. A central theme in his speech Acres of Diamonds is that the resources and opportunities to achieve good things exist in one’s own community and that one could make better streets, better homes, better schools and better communities, in spite of having little means, through understanding the community’s opportunities and needs,” said Kim, 34, who served as the 2010 School of Environmental Design Commencement speaker. “My professors and fellow classmates and research/teaching assistants in the School of Environmental Design taught me the meaning of this approach and equipped me with the tools to implement it.”
Being at Ambler, Kim said, also redefined her view on what the planning field could encompass.
“Coming to Ambler out of the city expanded my horizons as to what it means to be a planner. It expanded the scope of planning for me and made me think about and examine issues that I had never thought about before,” she said. “The evening course schedule, the research/teaching assistantship program, and the low tuition also allowed me the time and opportunities to earn a living and volunteer in my community while pursuing my degree. In the classroom, it was a wonderful experience to learn and share opinions and knowledge with a group of students and faculty that had a tremendous depth of experience in the field — you don’t often get opportunities like that.”
Upon graduation, Kim said she wanted to apply her knowledge by focusing particularly on urban planning and urban policy issues. She recently became Director of the North 5th Street Revitalization Project in Philadelphia — which focuses on streetscape improvement, street cleaning, crime prevention, small business services, and programs that promote the area’s cultural diversity — taking the initial step in her professional goals only a few short months after completing her degree.
“Society is changing very fast; it’s becoming more diverse, more linked. The social and cultural composition of cities is changing,” she said. “As planners, we need to acquire new tools to navigate and negotiate these complex issues in a globalized society.”
The Planning Field Today
In today’s economy where state and municipal budgets are being radically slashed and development has substantially declined, planners in the public and private sector are, of course, feeling the pinch just like everyone else. There is, however, a very bright light at the end of the tunnel.
According to US News and World Report’s “50 Best Careers of 2010,” planning, and urban planning in particular, should see “strong growth over the next decade.”
“An expanding population has created the need for additional transportation systems, affordable housing, and schools in many parts of the country. The urban and regional planning field is expected to grow 19 percent by 2018 — most of the new jobs will be with state and local governments,” according to the report published in December 2009. “Most positions require a master’s degree in planning. Those with additional computer skills, particularly GIS software, will have an advantage in the job market. Experienced public-sector planners can transfer to larger cities with more complex problems or move into related occupations, such as director of community or economic development.”
According to Brian O’Leary, Section Chief for the Montgomery County Planning Commission for 23 years and past chair of the southeast section council of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Society, Temple’s planning program has gone a long way in filling the deep deficit in professional planners that the state had been experiencing.
“Temple fills a need and produces very good planners. Students come into the workforce with a real knowledge of zoning and solid land use planning and have the technological knowhow — GIS, databases, graphics — to guide the development or redevelopment of the physical landscape in a variety of ways from preserving areas of open space to improving highway systems to improving suburban development,” he said. “Planners need to be fairly analytical and be able to figure things out on their own. They have to be able to think through projects and ideas and pull it all together and determine realistic solutions — that’s critical. Planners coming into the field today have to be able to demonstrate that they can produce quality work in a reasonable amount of time.”
As the world moves toward becoming greener and more sustainable, “Temple is well positioned to provide planners that understand how to build for a greener world,” said Carol Collier, Executive Director of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). The DRBC is a primary leader in protecting, enhancing, and developing the water resources of the Delaware River Basin. The basin is a source of water supply for approximately 15 million people.
“I think there is more awareness within communities that you can’t just plop down a development. There need to be connections — planning, infrastructure, efficiency, cost effectiveness,” said Collier, a member of the School of Environmental Design Board of Visitors. “Planning isn’t just about developing a plan; a large part of the planning process is adaptation, changing as the science, the environment, and the politics change.”
The best planners, Collier said, are “also project managers.” Combining good science, politics, social needs, and environmental needs, “they are able to look holistically” at a project or community, she said.
“The planning process is an important part of bringing all of the stakeholders together. There is a lot of interest today in integrated water resource management — wetlands, watersheds, floodplains, stormwater management,” she said. “The combination of so many environmental science aspects within the School of Environmental design has allowed Temple’s planning program to fill an important niche. With the planning program and the Center for Sustainable Communities, Temple is developing a real name for itself through its floodplain, transportation, stormwater management, and emergency management work. It’s becoming well known for community service projects in particular, projects that help communities understand the value of sustainable planning.”
More and more professions within the “green industry” are realizing the benefit of having planners in the mix, said Dr. Mandarano.
“There are planners in water and transportation departments, public works, consulting firms, engineering and landscape architecture firms,” she said. “All of the fields are recognizing the need for interdisciplinary teams.”
The specializations and related fields that planners have to choose from can be dizzying: Environmental Planner. Environmental Educator. Community Development. Land Use and Code Enforcement. Transportation Planning. Environmental/Natural Resources Planning. Economic Development. Urban Design. Parks and Recreation. Historic Preservation. Community Activism. Watershed Specialist. Township Manager. Transportation Planner. Floodplain Specialist.
According to Monaghan, professional planners have numerous opportunities available to them in a multitude of disciplines. Opportunities, she said, “also exist within their local communities as planners.”
“In today’s economic climate, I believe there is a greater need for planners to address the complex issues that communities face. Planners have the ability to assess current and future conditions, utilize multiple resources and reach out to a large segment of the population,” she said. “Professional planners can benefit from volunteering to sit on board and committee positions, and also assisting with community projects and outreach efforts, such as stream clean ups.”
Radford, for example, was able to become a planning commissioner in her township the year she started at Temple.
“What community doesn’t want a trained planner to help them make better decisions? I also helped start a citizens’ sustainability group. In my interviews after graduation, my potential employers were very interested in this experience that connected the professional planning world and the community,” she said. “There are so many planning career avenues to pursue — transportation, housing, community building, GIS, stormwater management, historical preservation, emergency management — and all of them are fascinating. Temple’s program provides an extremely welcoming, supportive environment that’s prepared me for a career that I know will allow me to make a difference.”
Planners fulfill certain critical roles in the economy as well as in regulatory fields “that will always insure the need for professional planners,” said Greene.
“Since federal and state funding are becoming more and more difficult to obtain, good planning to generate additional economic growth while protecting community character and the environment is more important than ever. Communities are becoming more sophisticated with the planning tools that they use,” he said. “Communities seem to be more aware of how their land-use decisions are impacting not just the environment but local and regional economies as well as the quality of life of the community’s residents. Professional planners have played an important role in bringing these tools and good planning concepts to the communities that the planners serve.”
According to Dr. Howe, students with degrees in planning have many employment options in the public and private sectors.
“Community and Regional Planning graduates and current students have found careers that directly impact communities throughout the region; securing positions with the likes of the Montgomery County and Bucks County planning commissions; Radnor Township; the Department of Homeland Security; FEMA; Hunterdon County, New Jersey; New Jersey’s Office of Smart Growth; area environmental, land use, and economic development firms; and Temple’s own Center for Sustainable Communities,” she said. “Most of our graduates have secured jobs in the planning field. Four of our master’s degree students have gone on to work on their doctorate or law degrees; many of our undergraduate students have gone on to master’s programs in planning either at Temple or at other planning schools.”
In order to continue to meet the needs of planning and other professionals, the Department of Community and Regional Planning is exploring expanding its program offerings in Harrisburg and developing a second master’s degree in Regional Development, said Dr. Howe.
“We are in a unique position to provide professional programs in Pennsylvania’s capitol. We want as adjuncts those high powered officials who are making planning decisions every day,” she said. “Essentially the idea is to provide more electives for our students here at Ambler and improve the quality of the program in Harrisburg.”
There will “always be a need for planners,” Nalbandian said.
“There are so many government mandates, so many needs within non-profits, for-profits, engineering firms, planning firms, municipal boards and commissions,” he said. “Even in a down economy, our graduates are having a good deal of success finding employment because the need for such skilled individuals is recognized.”
Support from Planning Professionals
While many planners have helped shape Temple’s Community and Regional Planning program as teachers and researchers, other planners are striving to help students just entering the field meet their professional goals and dreams.
Highly lauded professional planner Arthur Loeben, for example, is affectionately called “the patron saint of the Department of Community and Regional Planning,” by Dr. Howe. The demand for skilled planners was a key impetus for Loeben in establishing a scholarship for the program at Temple. Loeben, now 91 years young, spent 38 years as Director of the Montgomery County Planning Commission.
The endowed scholarship provides a substantial amount of financial support for planning students, “and it will be available in perpetuity,” said Dr. Howe.
The endowment, she said, “is highly unusual for a program that did not begin until 2002.”
“No one actually asked Mr. Loeben for the funds. He saw the need,” she said. “He has had a lifelong commitment to students and young planners and has taken a great deal of pride in watching their professional development over the years. His endowment is an extraordinary investment in the future and ensures that his influence will continue to be a force for generations to come.”
In establishing the scholarship, Loeben said his hope was that it would help produce professionals “that are able to advance and promote sensible planning.”
“We used to have to hire three to four new planners on average every year; we were always recruiting. Often we had to hire ‘related professionals’ and train them ourselves,” he said. “It is extremely important for universities to produce good planners who know how to write and speak effectively.”
For Kara Snitger and Michael LoStocco, the 2010-2011 recipients of the Arthur F. Loeben Scholarship, one is just embarking on the journey toward a new avocation for the first time while the other intends to continue his education in the planning field. Each student will receive $3,000 in tuition assistance through the generous endowment established by Loeben.
“I think the idea of planning had an impact on me from the very beginning. While I grew up outside of Harrisburg, I’ve had the privilege of living in all type of places — the suburbs, small towns, and an urban environment in Pittsburgh,” said Snitger, 24, who comes to Temple with a BA in both Urban Studies and the History of Art and Architecture from the University of Pittsburgh and began graduate studies this fall. “I’ve grown to love the urban environment and, looking at all of these types of locations, the implications of how the places we live in and how they are structured impact our quality of life.Studying planning programs in the region, I became very excited about the program at Temple University Ambler; the focus on sustainability, the values and principles of the program, spoke to the core of what I’d like to do in my career and how I want to live my life in general.”
LoStocco, who will complete the Community and Regional Planning BS program in December 2010, arrived at Temple after several years in the restaurant business in Philadelphia, “determining what I truly wanted to do.”
“I discovered Temple’s program without really envisioning planning as a profession. I was drawn to the idea of environmental stewardship and social justice,” said LoStocco, 27, who completed an Associate’s degree in Business Administration at the Community College of Philadelphia in 2006 and continues to work full-time while finishing his undergraduate work at Temple. “Before I started in the planning program at Temple, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to make cities and the world around me better places to live. Part of what I hope to do in the future is to get people more interested in the planning process, their communities, and the alternatives they have for the future. As a planner, I want to help them pick the best possible path — people need planners now more than ever.”
The Ambler planning program, Snitger said, “goes far beyond what someone might think of as city or community planning.”
“It’s about social planning, social responsibility, and advocacy,” she said. “My hope is to graduate with a skill set that I can combine with my passions for a career that makes a difference in our communities.”
Loeben said after meetings with Dr. Featherstone while he was Chair of the Department and Dr. Sophia Wisniewska, then dean of the campus, during the early planning stages of the program, he became very excited about the department’s potential.
“I’ve always been supportive of academics. I was there very early in the game and I was happy to see what was coming,” he said. “I had a marvelous job and enjoyed it immensely. I’d like to see this generation have that opportunity.”
The Next Generation of Planners
Sean Greene has some advice for students such as Snitger and LoStocco who are working to complete their graduate and undergraduate degrees in planning at Temple and those just entering the program.
“There are so many different career directions that someone with a planning degree can take. I would strongly encourage people that are considering planning as a career to do their homework about what kind of planning they are interested in — environmental planning can be very different from transportation or land development planning,” he said. “Once they have identified their area of interest then they can make a better decision about the schools and programs that can best fit their needs. You certainly want to select a school that will provide you with the technical tools to work in your field but don’t underestimate the value of being exposed to other students and faculty with diverse professional and life experiences; this is what will help prepare you to work in the real world where planning happens.”
From personal experience, Monaghan recommends completing additional course work in computer technology and advancing analytical skills, such as statistics while “obtaining practical experience that allows you to work with environmental and land-use concerns.”
“Apply for an internship position with the Center for Sustainable Communities. Take advantage of volunteer opportunities and, if permitted, join researchers and faculty on site visits,” she said. “Learn about the economic, political, scientific, and ethical issues concerning the environment.”
Dr. Howe said planning candidates “need to be clear about the work that they will be doing and what that entails.”
“You are working for the public interest and you’re going to need to be comfortable in a highly political environment. You need to have the conviction to know that what you are doing is the right thing…and you can’t have a thin skin. You need to be willing to realize that you’re not going to always ‘win,’” she said with a laugh. “Planners need to have the capacity to develop a multifaceted set of skills. You won’t always have definitive answers but you will be able to provide suggestions and solutions that improve communities.”
Planners are “storytellers,” said Dr. Howe.
“Our job is to take complex societal challenges and comprehend them in a way that we can share with decision-makers to inform the actions that they take to address community challenges. Planners need to be able to work with numbers, quantitative and qualitative analysis; understand the dynamics of communities — culture, politics, history, ethics — and be skilled at communicating these frameworks to the public at large through writing, public speaking, and open dialogue,” she said. “They need to be able to blend it all together and that’s where storytelling comes in. Planners need to be fully engaged in comprehending and explaining complex problems in a way that allows others to make informed choices.”
Planners are also “ultimately dealmakers,” said Dr. Featherstone.
“They need to go out and negotiate between multiple stakeholders — municipal, state, and federal government, developers, citizens groups, non-profit groups. They are the point persons to get things done within their communities and our job is to train students in how to do that; to be consensus builders in creating sustainable communities,” he said. “Most professions are fairly focused but planners truly need to know a bit about everything; it’s not an easy task but someone has to do this critically important work. If you like negotiating on behalf of making communities a better place to live, then this is the job for you.”
To learn more about the Community and Regional Planning MS and BS programs and CRP certificates, visit www.ambler.temple.edu/crp or call 267-468-8300.
CONTACT: James Duffy, 267-468-8108, firstname.lastname@example.org release available by e-mail