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Vacant land revitalization efforts in Cleveland, Ohio

By Tim Dehm, M.R.P./M.L.A. ’21

land conservancy stewardship visit

Tim Dehm (M.R.P./M.L.A. ’21) shadowing land conservancy steward

Last summer, I was an intern for Thriving Communities, a project of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, whose efforts have focused on blight removal in Cleveland and other urban centers throughout Ohio.

My primary task was to develop a strategy for vacant land repurposing throughout Cleveland and consider how vacant lots should be managed after blighted structures have been removed. The approach needed to take into account the scale of vacant lots in Cleveland—more than 30,000 residential parcels—and address the economic, environmental, and social needs of the neighborhood. Through dozens of interviews with people whose work in government, non-profits, or in the private sector touched vacant land, I learned what to focus on.

people picking up garbage from a grassy area

Landfill clean up event

I also had the opportunity to work with a community development corporation, the County Land Bank, the council member’s office, and neighbors to repurpose several vacant lots in Slavic Village into a community space. This experience grounded a lot of the information I was gathering from interviews and gave me a real sense of what it takes to design and maintain just two lots.

On the days I wasn’t biking from interview to interview, I was able to volunteer at a few events hosted by the conservancy. I helped clean up an old landfill that the conservancy acquired and plans to turn into a park, and a few weeks later I facilitated a conversation between residents on the same landfill during a city-wide event called Common Ground. One day I shadowed one of the Conservancy’s land stewards, and another I walked the streets of Lorain surveying properties. Sometimes I would get tours of neighborhoods from long-time community organizers.

Through this experience, I’ve glimpsed the intricacies of planning and designing in a legacy city, intricacies that I hope to understand better as my career advances. I’ve also gained an appreciation for the relationship between land and memory, and how conservation of places is often also the conservation of stories, traditions, and the nebulous qualities that make a place feel like home.

Francesca Russello Ammon: Urban Renewal and Restoration in Postwar Philadelphia

image from Philadelphia history archives

photo / courtesy of, a project of the Philadelphia Department of Records

Time and location: 9:30 a.m. Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium, Milstein Hall

Francesca Russello Ammon is a cultural historian of urban planning and the built environment. Her research focuses on the social, material, and cultural life of North American cities, from World War II to the present. She is particularly interested in the history of urban revitalization; public history as a tool for community-based research and engagement; and the ways that visual culture has shaped understanding of what cities have been, are, and should be. Ammon is the author of Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape (Yale University Press, 2016), winner of the 2017 Lewis Mumford Prize for the best book on American city and regional planning history. Her work has also appeared in the Journal of Planning History, Journal of Urban History, Journal of planning Education and Research, Preservation Education and Research, Change over Time, and Technology and Culture.

Prior to joining the University of Pennsylvania’s departments of City and Regional Planning and Historic Preservation, Ammon was a visiting scholar at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She earned her Ph.D. in American studies from Yale University, her Master of Environmental Design from Yale School of Architecture, and her B.S.E. in civil engineering from Princeton University. Ammon’s work has received support from institutions including the American Council of Learned Societies, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Society of Architectural Historians, Whiting Foundation, and Ambrose Monell Foundation.


While urban renewal took the form of large-scale demolition in most American cities, the policy could incorporate rehabilitation and restoration as well. Philadelphia was at the forefront of such an approach. In its Society Hill neighborhood, planners married relatively selective clearance with the restoration of existing colonial-era houses and the in-fill construction of new, contemporary designs. Despite this distinctive emphasis on preservation, however, renewal still displaced numerous businesses, residents, and uses within this community. Through the landmark case of Society Hill, this talk considers the place of rehabilitation in the urban renewal process, the meaning of historic preservation at this formative moment in the professionalization of the field, and the role of history in urban revitalization.

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Andrew Zitcer: Locating Artists in the Creative Economy

Map with pin locations

 Results of artist participatory mapping exercise, Philadelphia, June 2018. photo / Benjamin Teresa

Time and Location: 4:30 p.m. Room 115, West Sibley Hall

Andrew Zitcer is an assistant professor at Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts and Design, where he directs the Urban Strategy Master’s Degree Program and holds a secondary appointment in arts administration and museum leadership. His research focuses on the arts as a tool for community and economic development, including the emerging field of creative placemaking, as well as research on cooperative social and economic projects. His work has been published in Journal of Planning Education and Research, Planning Theory and Practice, Journal of Urban Affairs, and Urban Geography. He is a faculty fellow at Drexel’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation.


Artists and creativity are on the urban agenda. Scholars and policy makers have embraced the role of artists as key drivers of economic growth and urban vitality. Yet, accounts of artists’ agency often reduce artists to members of a creative class, rendering the arts an instrument for economic growth and erasing important class and racial differences in the field. This project centers artists’ perspectives through focus group discussions with artists in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Richmond.

Participatory mapping exercises produced narratives about artists’ experiences with two kinds of displacement: physical displacement from neighborhoods and places where artists live and work; and displacement from the creative city’s narrative. Displacement raises the specter of what we call the “art-less” city, where a broad swath of art-making is evacuated from the city. We contrast this with the “artful” city, where artists are supported as workers with the means to produce their work and flourish in life.

Cosponsored by the Carl L. Becker House

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Save the Date: CRP Alumni Reception in Philadelphia, October 10

Philadelphia skyline

Save the Date

Join us for the annual CRP Fall Field Trip Alumni Reception in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and enjoy an evening with first-year MRP and HPP students, Professor Nicholas Klein, and Department of City and Regional Planning Chair Jeffrey Chusid.

Thursday, October 10
5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Event details to follow. We hope to see you there!

Building better flood-resilient housing in Tbong Khmom District in Cambodia, UN Habitat

By Anushi Garg, M.R.P. ’20

For the months of May and June, I was an intern with UN Habitat in a rural district in Cambodia called Tbong Khmom, which is located along the Mekong River. Our field team consisted of two senior colleagues from UN Habitat who are Khmer (Cambodians) along with a team of five architecture students from a local university in Phnom Penh.

The largest issue for the communities in Tbong Khmom is the effects of flooding. Every year during the monsoon, the river levels rise to a height of 1–1 1/2 meters, and although most of houses are built on stilts, the ground floor gets inundated. Residents therefore have to rebuild year after year, forcing them to use all of their savings and keeping them in poverty.

Eight of the poorest and most vulnerable villages in Tbong Khmom were selected for the project, the goal of which was to identify and reconstruct the most vulnerable houses as well as those of families with elder residents, infants, or the disabled.

We first conducted community mobilizing workshops in each of the villages. We held elections and chose a team of representatives to enable better coordination and oversight, and gathered more information about sanitation and living conditions.

The second phase was community mapping. There are no existing maps of the villages in the area and vulnerable houses could not be accurately located. Thus, the aim was to map every house and, building on the knowledge of the elected representatives, we created lists of the families in each household. We used locally available resources to make the maps—ropes, chalk, bottles, plastic, and other materials. The team then walked around each village checking and detailing the new maps. The mapping stage was a great learning experience and engendered a strong sense of democracy and empowerment within the community, especially among the women who emerged significantly more knowledgeable and engaged.

For the next step, the team will design a prototype structure with community input and village-based carpenters will be trained to construct the new houses over the next several months.  

Overall, the internship was an insight into local Khmer culture, resilience, creativity, and strong community. The experience was challenging but also enriching, and introduced me to the relevance of regional planning in rural communities. All major decisions were made in conjunction with the community, which taught me the value of community engagement, and the role of a planner as a facilitator and coordinator.

“Rural-to-Urban Transformation” Field Workshop in Shandong Province, China

“Rural-to-Urban Transformation” Field Workshop in Shandong Province, China

Over the summer, Associate Professor George Frantz and other Cornell University faculty led students on a summer field workshop in Zibo, Shandong Province, China. The workshop is part of the Rural-to-Urban Collaborative Research Group (CRG), a project of Cornell’s Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. In a period of unprecedented rural-to-urban migration, the CRG engages in cross-disciplinary research to examine the effects of China’s rapid urbanization on residents of small villages at the periphery of this transformation.


San Francisco CRP alumni reception a smashing success

(Author unknown)

(Author unknown)

Thank you!

Over 60 alumni, friends, CRP students, and faculty enjoyed the Cornell reception at the San Francisco APA Conference on April 15. This was one of our largest get togethers in years, saw folks from across the US and abroad representing more than 40 years of CRP classes interacting and having a great time together.

CRP PhD James Macmillen wins 2019 Guilford Essay Prize

James Macmillen (Image via Taubman College – University of Michigan)

James Macmillen (Image via Taubman College – University of Michigan)

Cornell CRP PhD James Macmillen has just won the 2019 Guilford Prize, a competition sponsored by the Cornell Department of English. “The Phoenix Keepers: An Anthropology of Futurity in Detroit City Hall” was based on Macmillen’s PhD work at Cornell.

Although administered though the English department, the Guilford Prize may be awarded to a doctoral student in any discipline “whose thesis is judged to display the highest excellence in English prose.” Not only is it nice to be fêted with praise for good work, the prize comes with $1500 award, as well.

After Cornell, Macmillen headed (mid)west to work as an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Check out CRP highlights from Cornell in Rome

This spring semester, Associate Professor of the Practice George Frantz (M.R.P. ’91) took students in CRP 4160 – Rome Neighborhood Studies all over Italy to learn about its history as well as current initiatives that are shaping its built environment. In class field trips, students visited community gardens in Rome’s Fossa Bravetta and Naples’ Afragola neighborhoods, toured an under-development former industrial site in Turin, and met with the activists who run Eco dalle Città, a food-recycling program in the same city.

CRP students (L-R) Shayna Sarin, Nathan Revor and Emily Grace share a light moment on the way to a meeting in Pellestrina. (Image: George Frantz)

CRP students (L-R) Shayna Sarin, Nathan Revor and Emily Grace share a light moment on the way to a meeting in Pellestrina. (Image: George Frantz)

Students undertook this firsthand learning as part of Cornell in Rome, a semester-long program that gives planning, art, and architecture students at the undergraduate and graduate levels the opportunity to live and learn in Italy’s capital.

Check out the gallery above to see more highlights from the semester.

After a 6- kilometer hike to the construction site of the TAV high speed rail tunnel near Chiomonte, students in CRP 4160 partake of the local fountain in the center of the village (L-R) Shayna Sarin, Alec Faber, Lilah Rosenfield, Olivia Chaudhury, Cayla Kaplan, Emily Grace, Nathan Revor, Oliver Goldberg-Lewis. (Image: George Frantz)

After a 6- kilometer hike to the construction site of the TAV high speed rail tunnel near Chiomonte, students in CRP 4160 partake of the local fountain in the center of the village (L-R) Shayna Sarin, Alec Faber, Lilah Rosenfield, Olivia Chaudhury, Cayla Kaplan, Emily Grace, Nathan Revor, Oliver Goldberg-Lewis. (Image: George Frantz)

CRP prof. George Frantz wins award for leadership in service-learning

 Students on a field trip to Pennsylvania in Prof. Frantz’s fall 2018 Environmental Impact Review course. Image: Grant Thompson (M.R.P. ’20)

CRP Associate Professor of Practice George Frantz has received the Kaplan Family Distinguished Faculty Fellowship in Service-Learning. The $5,000 award will be used to support Frantz’ community-engaged teaching and research. This year, he was one of two Cornell faculty to receive the grant.

Last fall, Prof. Frantz led students in his environmental impact review class on a field trip to western Pennsylvania to examine fracking’s impact on the landscape. This spring, he is teaching at AAP’s Rome program.

More information about the award can be found here.

Min Bu (M.R.P. ’14) and collaborators win awards for plan that reveals Shanghai history

Rendering of the Caoyang Community's Huaxi Road shows how the walkway will be made more inviting to pedestrians. (Image: Ti Gong/Shine)

Rendering of the Caoyang Community’s Huaxi Road shows how the walkway will be made more inviting to pedestrians. (Image: Ti Gong/Shine)

CRP alumna Min Bu (M.R.P. ’14) and a team of Shanghai planners has won two awards for a proposed redesign of Caoyang Community, the city’s first development devoted to housing for workers

Inspired by Boston’s Freedom Trail, The Shanghai Urban Construction Design and Research Institute designed a stroll that will let visitors get to know the area’s history. Established in 1951, the lead designer for the Caoyang Community was architect Wang Dingzeng, who drew on the ideas of planner Clarence Perry who pioneered the idea of the neighborhood unit.

The proposal picked up the Jane Jacobs Award for Community and Regional Planning and the Special Award for Excellence in Advancing Social Equity. Both were awarded by the APA’s International Division.

Read more about the project here.

 (Image: Ti Gong/Shine)

News via Shine.

Cornell team wins APA Student Design Competition with “Fruit Pad”

Fruit Pad affordable housing proposal by Kevin Kim (M.L.A./M.R.P.), Lera Covington (M.P.S./M.R.P.), Jeanette Petti (M.L.A./M.R.P.), and Dylan Stevenson

A Cornell team took home the gold in the student design competition at the American Planning Association’s (APA) 2019 National Conference in San Francisco. Students Kevin Kim (M.L.A./M.R.P.), Lera Covington (M.P.S./M.R.P.), Jeanette Petti (M.L.A./M.R.P.), and Dylan Stevenson (Ph.D. C.R.P.) wowed the jury with Fruit Pad, an affordable housing marketing and educational campaign that takes a “fresh look” at Fruitvale, a neighborhood in Oakland, CA. The East Bay city has sky-high housing prices amidst rapid gentrification thanks to a Bay Area–wide housing crunch fueled by an influx of residents and tech money.

Take a look at the introduction to Fruit Pad below, and check out the rest of the project here.

Oakland has an affordable housing crisis. It’s the third most expensive metro area in the country for renters, and it’s gotten increasingly difficult for Oakland residents to obtain affordable housing.

Though this problem persists, the City of Oakland has been diligent in its efforts to address the housing crisis. It’s implemented a variety of affordable housing programs and policies throughout the years and, with the release of the Mayor’s Housing Action Plan: A Roadmap to Equity and the City’s Housing Element
Plan, it’s working on implementing even more.

With strong housing policies already in place and more in the works, we didn’t want to rehash these strategies or propose what the City has already proposed, so we decided to take a different approach. We think that Oakland has all the necessary policies in place to successfully address its affordable housing crisis, so we’re going to use what the City already has – but package them a little bit differently.

That’s why we’re recommending Fruit Pad – a fresh and revamped educational and marketing program for Oakland’s affordable housing policies, specifically tailored to the Fruitvale neighborhood. Fruit Pad uses a variety of strategies – from turning the neighborhood into a living lab with affordable housing “experiments” to empowering local leaders to open their homes to residents looking for advice – all in an effort to make the City’s existing affordable housing policies and resources more transparent and more approachable.

Professor Iwan J. Azis speaks on the impact of Trump’s “America first” policies

An electronics factory in Shenzhen, China. (glue works/Wikimedia Commons)

An electronics factory in Shenzhen, China. (glue works/Wikimedia Commons)

Professor Iwan J. Azis is very interested in how President Donald Trump’s trade policy impacts the American Midwest. Since the lead-up to the 2016 election, Trump has bombarded Americans (and people all over the world, really) with his “America first” initiative, an isolationist approach to global trade that uses massive incentives to entice overseas manufacturers to set up shop in the United States. One of the most visible outcomes of America first is a planned plant for Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin. Subsidized by billions in tax incentives, the facility was supposed to make LCD screens from start to finish, but right now, the screens have to be shipped to a factory in Mexico to be finished off. A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek called Wisconsin’s agreement with Foxconn “disastrous.”

To learn more about America first on-the-ground, Azis, who is a CRP Visiting Lecturer and an AEM Adjunct Professor, visited Mount Pleasant over February break (Full disclosure: I’m in Intro to Methods of Planning Analysis, the class Prof. Azis teaches in CRP, and he seemed very enthusiastic about this trip). After returning to Ithaca, Prof. Azis gave an interview on U.S. trade policy to Development + Cooperation (D+C), a German publication that focuses on global development.

In that conversation, Azis gives readers his take on the U.S.’ tariff war with China, Trump’s issues with the World Trade Organization, and more. A link to the interview in English and in German can be found here and here.

Iwan J. Azis is a visiting professor in CRP and an adjunct professor at Dyson Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. He is also professor at the University of Indonesia and a senior adviser to the country’s FDIC. He has taught at Cornell since 1994 and was the Director of Graduate Studies of the Regional Science program in the Department of City & Regional Planning until 2009, when he was appointed as the Director General in charge of regional cooperation at the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Design Connect proposal for Binghamton park gets warm reception from city officials

The Loop Trail Plan (Image via Carolyn Gimbal and WBNG)

The Loop Trail Plan. (Image via Carolyn Gimbal and WBNG)

This week students in Cornell CRP’s Design Connect workshop presented their scheme for a Binghamton park to the city’s Parks Committee to favorable reviews. The group, led by Carolyn Gimbal (H.P.P ’19), proposed a looping trail to connect different programs in Ross Park, which is home to Binghamton’s zoo and children’s science museum.

The proposal is a key part of Design Connect, a class open to graduate and undergraduate students from AAP, as well as the university at large. The course pairs student design teams with local  clients to improve public spaces the clients steward or manage.

“It can be a really affordable way for cities and nonprofits to develop plans for things like parks,” Gimbal told WBNG, which first reported the story.

For Ross Park, students conducted a site analysis and outreached park users to determine what would make the park more user-friendly. Park-goers told the group that the park’s roadways were confusing to navigate, and that park paths posed dangers to pedestrians.

Proposal for downtown Binghamton viewshed. (Image via Carolyn Gimbal and WBNG)

Viewshed today. (Image via Carolyn Gimbal and WBNG)

To address these concerns, the team thought it would be a good idea to revamp trails through the park’s woodlands, and connect the main entrance with the zoo’s carousel. They also presented plans to add public art and new plantings, enhance traffic control via bollards near the main entrance, and slice a view of downtown through the trees.

Proposal for downtown Binghamton viewshed. (Image via Carolyn Gimbal and WBNG)

Proposal for downtown Binghamton viewshed. (Image via Carolyn Gimbal and WBNG)

The Parks Committee will forward the project to the whole city council once funds are secured, perhaps this spring.

Funding for the project could come from state grants and historic preservation funds. Gimbal stated that the total estimated cost of the improvements comes out to about $677,000.

MRP grad Ben Coleman wins APA Alaska emerging planner of the year award

MRP grad Ben Coleman wins APA Alaska emerging planner of the year award

The APA Alaska chapter has honored Ben Coleman (M.R.P. ’17) with its emerging planner award.

Coleman wears many hats in role as a transit planner in the Mat-Su Borough, which is the fastest-growing region in the state. Among his many projects, he’s worked on MSB’s $43 million road bond, prepared an economic development proposal for West Meadow Lakes and Houston, Alaska, and crafted a GIS map of the borough’s Long-Range Transportation Plan. He is also the representative for his region in APA Alaska.


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