Curriculum Design

Lincoln Institute and Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning Recognize Innovative Urban Planning Courses
By Emma Zehner, August 18, 2020


In 2014, as the Buffalo-Niagara Region was undergoing the One Region Forward sustainability planning initiative, University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning professor Robert Shibley started the Citizens Planning School, a course to provide residents with tools to advocate for local change and complete specific projects in their neighborhoods. Six years later, the course is a permanent fixture in the university’s planning curriculum, offered annually to graduate and undergraduate students as well as community leaders.

For community leaders, the course offers access to tools and technical support to bring to life a specific project in their communities; for students, the course provides an overview of sustainability efforts in the Buffalo region, “bottom up” planning, and a chance to contribute to the local leaders’ projects. Out of this course, residents have created action plans for initiatives ranging from a tiny house community on Buffalo’s East Side to a year-round greenhouse in Niagara Falls. 

This course, which gives students the opportunity to work with community leaders on real-world projects, bridges a gap in planning schools and provides valuable experiences for both students and community partners,” Jessie Grogan, associate director of reduced poverty and spatial inequality at the Lincoln Institute, said. “I like that the class is set up with an eye to benefiting both groups.” 

One Region Forward’s Champions for Change: Regional Sustainability from the Bottom Up is one of four courses recently selected by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning as part of their annual Curriculum Innovation Awards. The award recognizes undergraduate and graduate courses that prepare future planners to solve economic, social, and environmental challenges. Courses must demonstrate innovative design, incorporate expertise from multiple disciplines, integrate theory and practice, and actively use student feedback to improve course design and teaching practice. The four winners, chosen from over 30 applicants, will receive $7,000 to support the further development of their courses. The Lincoln Institute will also publish the course modules, including syllabi, online as examples that other instructors can look to in the design of their own courses.

Innovation is about creating more effective models of instruction that fully leverages the distinct features of new tools, pedagogy, and knowledge of how people learn to address current and new learning challenges,” Ge Vue, director of learning design at the Lincoln Institute, said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has upended in-person models of instruction, which means every educator has to invent new models. Next year’s award will be an opportunity to discover what rises to the top and transforms education for the better.”

The other three selected courses include: 

Urban Rivers: Environmental Policy, Planning, and Activism 

Diana Denham, Melanie Malone, Mary Ann Rozance, and Erin Goodling 

This course, designed and taught by graduate students in Washington State and Oregon, aims to both engage undergraduate students on topics related to environmental policy and urban river contamination and provide opportunities for graduate students to engage in hands-on course development and teaching. In their application, the instructors wrote, “Despite the increased demand for interdisciplinary undergraduate courses, PhD students have few opportunities for pedagogical training.” The course is organized around an examination of case studies of SuperFund sites in the Portland Harbor and Seattle’s Lower Duwamish River. 

The curriculum fulfills a critical gap in training doctoral students in the design and teaching of interdisciplinary courses and provides a solid course for undergraduates.”

— Marla Nelson, Associate Professor in the Department of Planning and Urban Studies, University of New Orleans 

Environmental Justice 

Lily Baum Pollans 

Geared towards Master’s students in urban policy and planning, this course seeks to deepen and broaden students’ understanding of environmental justice, including the history of the movement, the structural systems and policies that have created and reinforced environmental injustices, and specifically the complicity of planners. The course is taught with a range of audio, visual, and written materials, as well as experiential learning opportunities including an Earth Day activism exercise, and visiting speakers. Throughout the course, each student also completes an independent research project. Pollans writes, “Future professionals working in land use, land development, and planning need new competencies and new approaches to works towards solutions towards perennial problems that will only become more pronounced as climate change advances.” 

The semester-long final research project is different from typical analytical projects. The political critique and advocacy lens, with a broad range of delivery formats, is exciting and engaging for the students.”

—Tisha Holmes, Assistant Professor, Florida State University Department of Urban & Regional Planning

Eight Generational Planning: Envisioning Cities for Year 2228 

Scott Spak, Lucie Laurian, and Steve Spears

Eight Generational Planning aims to expand undergraduate students’ understanding of strategies to solve the planetary challenges of climate change in the context of the current Anthropocene. The course is taught in a flipped-classroom model, in which students engage in at least two individual or group activities, such as scenario simulations or games, during each class period. Through a series of assignments, students develop a long-term strategic plan for a sustainable, regenerative city in Iowa in 2228. 

I was very impressed with how this curriculum is structured around the topic of ‘regenerative cities.’ It appears to really cover more than just the normal sustainability planning and makes use of a number of learning modalities, including flipped classroom models and engaging/unique assignments to sustain learner engagement.”

— Lourdes Germán, Assistant Professor of the Practice, Boston College Carroll School of Management



Emma Zehner is communications and publications editor at the Lincoln Institute.

Photograph: Students and community members gather as part of the 2018 Champions for Change program. Credit: Sherif Khairy.