Colloquium Series Panel: Planning in the Highly Engaged Community: Perspectives from the Field

bricked pedestrian area flanked by retail buildings

Ithaca Commons. photo / Kenneth C. Zirkel, Wikimedia Commons

Date and location: January 24, 12:20 p.m. in Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium, Milstein Hall


Kimberly Michaels leads the design and management on a diverse set of project types. She is most known locally for her work shepherding large projects through complex and/or contentious municipal review processes. She has nearly 20 years’ experience navigating projects through SEQR, zoning, permitting and site plan review. Her passion is to develop spaces that are sustainable, integrated into the natural world and mindful of the human-environment relationship. Michaels’s experience includes higher education, healthcare, learning landscapes, playgrounds, private and public gardens, master planning and detailed site design with an emphasis on sustainability and green design practices. Her work has been selected as a featured site by the Sustainable Sites Initiative, published in the Journal of Green Building and will be included in an upcoming book by Robin Moore, Early Childhood Outdoors. Michaels is a registered landscape architect and brings several years of professional experience in education to her work.

Lisa Nicholas, AICP, is the deputy director of planning for the City of Ithaca. As staff to the city’s planning board since 2005, she has been involved with the numerous and complex development projects that have — and continue to — shape, transform, and enliven Ithaca, including those in the city portion of Cornell’s campus. She has 20 years of government planning experience at the state, federal, and local levels and holds a master’s in regional planning from the University of New Mexico.

Scott Whitham, principal of Whitham Planning and Design, has over 20 years of experience in leading complex projects and project teams. His work has ranged across diverse built-environment disciplines, and has included planning new regional park systems and revitalized urban waterfronts and leading in the preservation and rehabilitation of significant historic structures and landscapes. Whitham is also responsible for managing the planning, design, and construction of educational facilities and campuses. Actively engaged in his community, Whitham ‘s volunteer work has been equally diverse, from serving as chair of the City of Ithaca Planning Board to chair of the Architecture, Planning and Design Panel of the New York State Council on the Arts, among many other roles.


Seasoned practitioners from Ithaca who have several decades of combined experience in both the public and private realms will discuss the dynamics of professional urban planning and design in a highly motivated and engaged community. Their collective perspectives cover the full spectrum of professional planning and design practice: guiding the community planning process, administering growth management regulations, representing private sector developers, and serving as municipal board members.

As Boston politician and House Speaker Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” The same can be said for the practice of urban planning. And often for community residents, planning is not merely local, but also very personal. The panelists will discuss how in their work they navigate the sometimes complex and controversial issues entwined in urban planning and development decision making, working with neighborhoods and community groups, negotiation and dispute resolution, and promoting equity and social justice in the arena of community planning and growth management in Ithaca.

Students Present Design Strategies to Lansing Planning Board

computer rendering of a movie theater and retail store with green space

Rendering of redesigned retail and entertainment spaces. image / Yixuan Li

Students in Visiting Critic Mitch Glass’s Advanced Urban Design Workshop create real urban design strategies to address real issues for real clients. This week, this semester’s cohort presented their plans to transform The Shops at Ithaca Mall and Cayuga Mall into a mixed-use regional and village center to the Village of Lansing Planning Board and Board of Trustees. Their presentations were covered by a local news outlet.

aerial view of The Shops at Ithaca Mall and Cayuga Mall

image / Yixuan Li

Students were tasked with turning these suburban shopping malls into a dense, walkable, bikeable and transit-connected neighborhood while also mitigating traffic impact over a 30-40 year period. They worked in three teams and proposed strategies such as expanding workforce housing, development of a wellness path, creation of an outdoor recreation center, and daylighting streams which have been running underneath the malls’ parking lots for decades.

For the past twenty years, suburban shopping malls have been on the decline. Plans to update these retail spaces while creating cohesive neighborhoods can breathe into them new life.


collage of images of student drawings and students working on drawings

photos / Mitch Glass

Computer rendering of a park with a tower

image / Xinyu He

Map illustrating two streams running underground beneath a shopping mall

image / Quinn Kelly

MRP Alum Awarded Planner of the Year by Northern New England APA Chapter

headshot with natural backdrop

Kate McCarthy. photo / Vermont Natural Resources Council

Kate McCarthy M.R.P. ’10 was named Planner of the Year by the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association (NNECAPA) at its annual conference in November.

McCarthy is the Sustainable Communities Program Director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a non-profit environmental advocacy group in Montpelier, Vermont. In the program, her work focuses on strategies to achieve sustainable and compact community building and to provide provisional services to these communities, including transportation, housing, and employment accessibility.

In addition to this recognition by the local APA chapter, in 2018 McCarthy was featured in Vermont Business Magazine’s 40 Under 40 Rising Stars, which aims to recognize young leaders in Vermont for their professional experience and contribution to business growth in their respective communities. As an M.R.P. student, McCarthy also served as president for the Organization of Cornell Planners (OCP) student organization.

Mellon Collaborative Studies Spring 2020 Fellowship Deadline Extended

light gray skies

Still from Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar (The Big City), 1963. photo / provided

Mellon Collaborative Studies has extended its application deadline for the spring 2020 Urban Representations Lab seminar to December 16th. The seminar, Edge Cities: Developing New Urban Images in Global Cinema & Media, explores the intersection between cities and moving images. Focusing on the development trends of density and sprawl, the examination of moving images will spur broader discussions of power, social relations, and other topics.

Selected fellows for the Urban Representation Lab seminar will receive a $1,500 stipend in support of materials, including books, films, and images to develop a final project. Past fellows in the seminars explored various methodologies in their research, including ethnography, digital mapping, cinematography, and more.

The seminar is taught by Sabine Haenni, associate professor in the Department of Performing & Media Arts at Cornell. Her teaching areas range from a variety of different media and film genres, in addition to her interest in the intersection between urbanism and cinema.

Past participants of the seminar have included graduate and undergraduate students in the fields of city and regional planning, architecture, and comparative literature.

Design Connect Teams Hold Final Review of their Projects

group of people pose around a poster

Amsterdam-Food Security and Food Justice team photo. photo / William Staffeld

Students who took part in Design Connect showcased their semester-long projects at their final review last night. Through the organization, students engage in practical experience through cooperation with local municipalities and non-profit organizations while supplying design and planning services for these groups, which may not have the resources to hire professionals. Three teams presented their New York-based projects.

Brighton Complete Streets Redesign

This team collaborated with Reconnect Rochester, a bike/pedestrian/transit advocacy organization, as well as the Town of Brighton, to address safety and accessibility improvements along a one-mile section of Monroe Avenue. The team  worked with the community to redesign five intersections along the corridor to better meet the needs of Brighton residents and provided research and analysis for the Town to use to make its case for the improved street designs to NYSDOT.

Amsterdam-Food Security and Food Justice

Working with Centro Civico and the City of Amsterdam’s Department of Community and Economic Development, this team built on a previous semester of work in alleviating food insecurity in the east end of Amsterdam, NY. The team built upon earlier work determining feasibility for a community kitchen and food-related business incubation, participated in the public process around determining food-related programming for a new community center, and worked with community partners on a design-build project for a demonstration garden.

Montezuma Heritage Park

This team worked with the Montezuma Heritage Park to further develop a trailhead entrance. The final design layout included an ADA parking area and walkway and offered alternatives that reinforced the connection between this park entry and adjacent historic sites.


Peter Ekman: From Prophecy to Projection: The New York Metropolitan Region Study and the Rescaling of the Urban Future, 1956-1968

Historic photo of road

Paramus, New Jersey. photo / Regional Plan Association, 1967

Date and location: December 5, 4:30 p.m. in Room 115, West Sibley Hall

Peter Ekman is the Clarence S. Stein Visiting Scholar in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University. He holds a Ph.D. in geography from the University of California–Berkeley, where he has lately been a lecturer in human geography. He has also held fellowships from Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, the Huntington Library, the American Geographical Society Library, and the Bancroft Library. This talk builds on a portion of his first book manuscript, a hemispheric intellectual history of postwar planning and urbanism routed through the Harvard–MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies.


Between 1956 and 1959, amid far-flung suburbanization and with the joint backing of several major foundations, an interdisciplinary group of scholars from Harvard collaborated with New York City’s Regional Plan Association (RPA) to produce a widely read and debated 10-volume “projection” of what the physical plant, political economy, and everyday life of that metropolis would look like in 1965, 1975, and 1985. The resulting New York Metropolitan Region Study (NYMRS) was “not a blueprint,” its principals insisted, with “no recommendations to make.” It was, however, to be read as “a necessary prelude to future planning studies of the region” — and greater New York City was, in turn, to be understood as the generalizable archetype for other urban regions in the U.S. and abroad.

This talk will explore the “Vernon Study” — after its director, the economist Raymond Vernon — as a consequential but ultimately peculiar episode in the intellectual histories of planning and social science. Rejecting both the certainties of prophecy and the hazards of mere prediction, the NYMRS sought to establish a new tense for urban research and a new set of methods for making inferences about the emerging metropolitan (mega)region on the basis of empirically registered pasts and presents. The constituent volumes of the study garnered various degrees of influence in isolation; four of them appeared in paperback and helped make the case for putting “quality” works of urban social science in view of the public. Its data, which RPA researchers mined for the next decade, equipped those preparing the Second Regional Plan of New York, issued in 1968. Its interdisciplinary organization also served as a touchstone for an array of one-off forecasting studies and many longer-lived university centers or institutes formed to confront the 1960s’ “urban crisis.” At the same time, the study exposed, even among its most devout modelers and quantifiers, an intense skepticism about the possibility that planners would ever know enough about the future to steer its course. In this way, the study also took part in the prehistory of urban neoconservatism that would command the public sphere by the 1970s. The talk will reconstruct one very specific “future past,” and more broadly it will inquire into the temporality of planning itself — which is before all else a mode of envisioning the future.

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