Monday, March 21, 2011

Forty-five students in the School of Urban and Regional Planning recently completed a study trip to Chicago. The two-day trip included meeting with alums who are living and working in Chicago and who were able to provide first-hand knowledge about planning related issues in the city.

The first day was led by Andrew Greenlee (class of 2006) who is currently completing his Ph.D. in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He and his colleague, Sarah Duda, Senior Research and Project Associate at the Woodstock Institute, gave presentations focused on housing policy, foreclosures and residential mobility of low-income households. Janet Smith, who is an associate professor and co-director of the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement, and Andrew provided a wealth of information on housing during a bus tour that took us to a number of public housing projects across the city. The locations presented examples of successful and less successful redevelopment, mixed income housing, and issues faced by the residents such as transportation, job access, access to grocery stores, and environmental issues in areas surrounding the neighborhoods.

Chicago area alums were able to join us in the evening for a reception at a downtown eatery.

The second day of the trip first took the group to City Hall to meet with alum Michael Berkshire (class of 1992) who is the Green Projects Administrator in the Department of Planning and Development for the City of Chicago. Michael and two of his colleagues presented a variety of environmental topics. We learned about the Chicago climate action plan and the unique aspects of climate change that not only affect a city (increase in bug population and how warming affects the annual Chicago marathon, for example) but also how cities contribute to warming (reflections off of dark colored rooftops). Another presentation addressed the Sustainable Industrial Planning initiative. And finally, Michael shared information about green roofs in the city and neighborhood initiatives. The day was rounded out by a tour of an award winning rooftop garden at 900 N. Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.

The trip was an excellent learning experience, as echoed by many of the students upon return. The attached group photo was taken on the last day of the trip from the rooftop garden. Funding for the trip was provided by generous contributions from our alums and made it possible for the students to have their transportation and partial hotel expenses covered.