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Teaching Smart Growth at Colleges and Universities

A set of model course prospectuses

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  1. Introduction
  2. Selection Criteria
  3. About smart growth
  4. Fields Involved
  5. Teaching with smart growth: the course prospectuses
  6. Lecture courses
  7. Applied courses
  8. Other resources for teaching smart growth
  9. Contact information

1. Introduction

Many communities across the country are working to ensure that growth and development protects and enhances the natural environment, promotes economic prosperity, and enhances quality of life for all citizens. Unfortunately, not all communities have the capacity to implement the smart growth strategies and policies necessary to achieve this. Colleges and universities can help local governments with technical ability, and intellectual and institutional resources. In particular, faculty members, including adjunct faculty, in applied programs often can organize courses that give students hands-on experience in helping communities meet their environmental, economic, and other goals. In order to facilitate such work, EPA has compiled the university course prospectuses presented below.

This course prospectus compilation began as a way to the share courses that faculty members have taught over the past couple of years. Noting that learning occurs in the college classroom in two broad categories - more passively through lectures and more actively through applied activities, the intent of this compilation was to include only applied courses; courses where faculty and students had engaged with community organizations.

Applied courses are one way that faculty and students and can use concepts and ideas taught in the classroom to help solve real community problems. Educational experiences are broadened when students have the opportunity - with guidance from faculty - to use their acquired knowledge to tackle issues that are impacting communities. During the call for contributions, it became clear that this initial publication should include examples of how faculty members were teaching smart growth principles in lecture classes in addition to the applied classes. Lecture classes afford an opportunity for students to build their knowledge of smart growth principles and techniques. Therefore, the compilation includes a number of course prospectuses that show how faculty - again from a variety of disciplines - have incorporated the teaching of smart growth principles into lecture courses.

The set of eight course prospectuses assembled here is a start. The Development, Community, and Environment Division (now the Office of Sustainable Communities) at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency values the contributions of faculty members who are making an effort to collaborate with communities through courses. Over time, we will collect and publish additional course prospectuses that demonstrate good collaboration between universities and communities. If you have an idea for a course that you think should be included, contact the project coordinator below.

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2. Selection criteria

In the Spring of 2005, the Development, Community and Environment Division (DCED) at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put out a call for contributions for model course prospectuses (PDF) (4 pp, 27 K) describing how smart growth principles were being used in applied courses. The first threshold of review required that the courses described in the prospectuses had to have been taught within the past two years. This criterion demonstrated that the course had met the educational standards of the contributor's department and academic institution and that the content was likely to still be timely and relevant. Contributors were asked to submit their prospectuses in a format that included an introduction explaining how the course evolved, data needs, expectations, results, and lessons learned, in addition to the course outline. The collected submissions included a set of lecture courses as well as applied courses. This indicated the need to publish the broader overview prospectuses in addition to the studio or applied course prospectuses and the project was expanded to include lecture courses. The submitted course prospectuses were reviewed by a panel made up of three academics in the policy and planning fields and three practitioners in similar fields. The contributions were ranked according to the reviews from the panel and the top eight chosen for final submission. Each author was given comments and suggestions for improving the submission. Contributors returned the revised submissions to DCED in the early fall of 2005.

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3. Smart growth

Smart growth approaches to development can help communities protect and enhance their natural environment while their economy prospers. Across the United States, communities are reusing previously undeveloped land; providing more housing and transportation choices; preserving critical natural areas; and developing vibrant places to live, work, shop, and play.

What is smart growth? Click here to find out more.

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4. Fields involved

Innovative methods for ensuring that growth and development is beneficial to entire communities come from a variety of fields. Smart growth strategies knit together good ideas from a number of fields, including: planning, public policy, environmental science, architecture, engineering, law, landscape architecture, geography, sociology, urban design, public administration, business, political science, and landscape architecture. Across these fields there are varying degrees to which smart growth principles have been incorporated into curriculum. As Wim Wiewel and Gerrit Jan Knaap indicated in Partnerships for Smart Growth many of the design oriented fields have a tradition of applied or studio courses. In those fields it's an obvious fit for students and faculty to use smart growth approaches when interacting with communities. In other, more policy oriented fields (as opposed to the design fields), fitting smart growth principles into the curriculum is similarly obvious, but the outlet for applying those principles may be less so. Regardless, communities can benefit from the broad range of knowledge rooted in these fields. Similarly, students and faculty benefit applying their classroom knowledge in the community. This initial compilation of course prospectuses attempts to represent the range of disciplines that can be involved in providing assistance to communities.

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5. Teaching with smart growth: the course prospectuses

Smart growth approaches to development do not constitute a field or discipline in and of themselves; they are a subset of tools, principles, and policies that can be applied (and taught/learned about) in a range of fields that deal with the built environment. Smart growth policies and tools adopted by communities vary from place to place. Figuring out a way to teach these concepts within existing disciplines such as planning, engineering, architecture, and policy (among others) is a challenge to many faculty members. The contributions demonstrate how instructors have integrated smart growth principles and practices into their classes. In the lecture courses each contributor shows the foundational knowledge needed by and expected of future professionals in the field. In addition to exposing students to merits of smart growth approaches to development, two of the lecture prospectuses, those of Professor Robert Wassmer of California State University, Sacramento and James A. Kushner of Southwestern University School of Law, provide critiques to smart growth policies in theory and practice. In the collection of applied courses, contributors show how smart growth principles have helped clarify the community problem that is being addressed and, in most of the cases, helped to shape the solutions proposed.

In addition to a course outline, each contribution includes an introduction that explains the genesis of the course, the method by which the faculty and students engaged the community, the smart growth principles used in the work, and a discussion of the data needed to conduct the class. The contributors also discussed the end products produced during the course of the class and a conclusion that discussed the lessons learned and any recommendations for updating and replicating the class.

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6. Lecture courses

1. Concepts of Urban Land Development, Urban Sprawl, and Smart Growth from an Economic Perspective (PDF) (16 pp, 51 K). Robert Wassmer, Professor, Department of Public Policy and Administration, California State University, Sacramento.

Professor Wassmer's contribution is a core course in California State University, Sacramento's Master's Program in Urban Land Development. The course focuses on the Sacramento Metropolitan area and exposes students to the drivers of urban growth, the consequences and results of development, and how smart growth principles "attempt to mitigate the negative urban outcomes that growth can generate." The course outline is broad and Professor Wassmer includes critiques of smart growth approaches to growth and development. Wassmer is trained as an economist and uses urban economics as the methodological foundation for organizing the course.

2. Land use analysis (PDF) (20 pp, 818 K). Stephen L. Sperry, Associate Professor, and Anne Dunning, Assistant Professor, Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture, Clemson University.

This course in land use analysis introduces students to a set of tools and concepts used by planning professionals. Professors Sperry and Dunning have integrated the teaching of smart growth principles into a core course in many urban and regional planning programs. In addition, they have shown how a course that is part lecture, part lab can allow students to produce final products that incorporate data driven state of the community reports with some community involvement documents. Sperry and Dunning have structured the course using modules that can be used interchangeably depending on the interests of the students and instructors and the needs of the community.

3. Comparative Urban Planning Law Seminar (PDF) (18 pp, 199 K). James A. Kushner, Professor of Law, Southwestern University School of Law.

Professor Kushner teaches Comparative Urban Planning Law as both a law school class and as a geography class. He notes in the introduction to the course prospectus that the term "law" is meant to reinforce the idea that planning theory and policy also requires implementation and that the law is a method of implementation (through regulations, codes, tax incentives, and other regulatory devices). The course focuses on five policy areas, growth management, infrastructure financing, housing and affordable housing, transportation, and urban revitalization. Within each of these areas, Professor Kushner overlays principles associated with smart growth. Kushner includes critiques of smart growth approaches from a variety of perspectives including market orientation, ideological, and legal.

4. Sustainability, Smart Growth, and Landscape Architecture (PDF) (21 pp, 471 K). Aditya Pal, Visiting Professor of Landscape Architecture, Cornell University.

Sustainability, Smart Growth, and Landscape Architecture is an ambitious course that provides students with an extensive overview of the literature related to sustainability and smart growth. At the start of the contribution, Professor Pal frames smart growth as a subset of sustainability and sustainability within landscape architecture as a subset of smart growth. While the course is aimed at landscape architecture students, it's clear that all students in disciplines dealing with the built environment can gain from the readings, class presentations, and exercises presented in this course.

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7. Applied Courses

1. Seeking Common Ground in Smart Growth and Food System Planning: Lessons from the 'Food for Growth' Studio (PDF) (17 pp, 1.1 MB). Samina Raja, Assistant Professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Buffalo.

This course demonstrates how smart growth approaches to development can help create "food secure" neighborhoods in urban communities. Professor Raja shows that food security is a fundamental component to increase quality of life for many urban residents. The prospectus discusses the expectations of the client (the Massachuesetts Avenue Project), the goal of the studio, the expectations of the students (they were expected to think of themselves as entry level planners), and the end products. In addition, because "food security" and smart growth are not typically associated, Professor Raja discusses the integration of smart growth and food system planning. This discussion is valuable for both future work on the food security issue, but in other areas where the connection to smart growth is not so obvious.

2. Small Town Design Initiative/Fifth Year Architecture Studio (PDF) (19 pp, 104 K). Cheryl Morgan, Professor and Director, Center for Architecture & Urban Studies (CAUS), Auburn University.

Since 1999 Auburn University's Small Town Design Initiative has provided design services to small towns across Alabama. The Small Town Initiative provides students with a practical outlet for their classroom experiences and provides needed services to small towns and rural areas across the state. The projects undertaken show how smart growth principles can be used in small towns to strengthen the local economy, enhance community character, and encourage more traditional forms of development. In this prospectus, Professor Morgan discusses work from two studios (Cordova, Alabama and Gordo, Alabama), outlining the methods by which the work is conducted and how the work evolved. The final product for Cordova, as well as the final products for three other towns (Guin, Brighton, and College Hills), are available below.

Auburn mapCAUS Small Town Design Initiative final design postersLink to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

3. Networks and Places: Integrating Transportation, Land Use, and Urban Design (PDF, 15pp., 1.43MB). Kevin J. Krizek, Assistant Professor or Urban and Regional Planning and Public Affairs and Director, Active Communities/Transportation Research Group, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, and David M. Levinson, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Minnesota.

The course Networks and Places: Integrating Transportation, Land Use, and Urban Design is designed to provide students with an overview of land use and transportation within the United States. The "lab" component of the course provides an outlet for the students to apply their learned knowledge and explore the connections between transportation and land use through analysis and planning practice. In the current version of the course, the students worked in small groups to plan and design a "land bridge" over urban highways. This course has a strong emphasis on the interdisciplinary nature of planning, reflecting the need to work across professional boundaries to achieve the best community outcomes. The course combines an applied studio component with substantial classroom instruction. Professors Krizek and Levinson, a planner and an engineer respectively, ground the work in the community and demonstrate the need to build bridges between the community and the various professionals involved in the planning process.

4. Community Planning Workshop (PDF) (17 pp, 277 K). Kenneth M. Chilton, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and David Walters, Professor of Architecture, University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

This course led by a planner and an architect shows the realism, messiness, and unpredictability associated with conducting a studio that is driven almost entirely by the needs of a community. The prospectus shows how Professors Chilton and Walters managed three different projects - a plan for retrofitting a suburban commercial area, providing design alternatives that preserver rural character, and creating a land use vision for a rural community - with outside stakeholders making demands that were difficult to meet within the time, resource, and skill limitations of an academic course. They also show how political controversy can erupt, with anti-planning forces mobilizing to discredit the recommendations produced in the course of the studio. The authors conclude by noting that the status quo is often comfortable and smart growth, as a solution, can be controversial. Given this, the potential for controversy should be openly acknowledged, and students should be aware of strategies for managing such conflicts.

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8. Other resources for teaching smart growth

1. Partnerships for Smart Growth

Smart growth and community collaboration

In 2005, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy published a book titled Partnerships for Smart Growth: University-Community Collaboration for Better Public Places. The book, funded in part from a cooperative agreement between the United State Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP), contains 13 cases studies of partnerships between university faculty and students on the one hand, and communities on the other. These case studies detail the process of university-community partnerships using smart growth approaches to solving problems related to the built environment, the methods that faculty and students used to address the problems, and the results of the work - either over a semester or multiple semesters. The editors, Wim Wiewel and Gerrit-Jan Knaap, explained in the introduction how the intersection of smart growth and the growing concern of universities for their surrounding communities made for an ideal topic of a book. Since the work on the Partnerships for Smart Growth project began, interest in collaboration between communities and universities has only increased. This publication, demonstrating how faculty members are using smart growth in their courses, is meant to build on the groundbreaking effort that was begun in the Partnerships for Smart Growth book. These course prospectuses will give faculty as well as community members ideas on how smart growth techniques can be taught in the classroom and then applied to solve real world problems.

2. American Planning Association's Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook

The American Planning Association's Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, developed in 2002 (Stuart Meck, FAICP, General Editor) included a model course syllabus titled Modernizing State Planning and Zoning Enabling Statutes: A Course Syllabus (PDF) (14 pp, 57 K) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer.

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9. Contact Information

Communities across the country value the ability to collaborate with faculty, students and staff of colleges and universities. Over time, EPA will collect and publish additional course prospectuses that demonstrate good collaboration between universities and communities. Please watch for future calls for contributions. Direct questions about this project to:

Matthew Dalbey (dalbey.matthew@epa.gov)
Office of Sustainable Communities
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Ph: 202.566.2860
Fax: 202.566.2868

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