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Students, Cities Benefit from UGA’s Downtown Renaissance Practicum

August 6, 2014
UGA student Lucie Siggins describes a plan that beautifies a railroad corridor in Griffin.

University of Georgia landscape architecture student Erik Lauritsen brought his knowledge home by helping to revitalize a historic neighborhood in his hometown of Conyers through an innovative practicum course initiated by a GMA partnership. The 14-week Downtown Renaissance Planning and Design practicum, coordinated by the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government, pairs teams of UGA students with Georgia cities to develop solutions to community challenges identified by city leaders. Lauritsen and fellow student Laurah Young took on an ambitious project: design a detailed zoning ordinance that would inform city leaders’ efforts to breathe new life into Conyers’ historic Olde Town district.

Seeing city leaders adopt the Olde Town rezoning is one of the rewards Lauritson gained from the practicum.

“It’s a great feeling knowing that something we produced is going to shape my hometown,” Lauritsen said.

The practicum allows UGA students to apply their knowledge to address economic development needs in cities throughout Georgia. Six cities were selected for this spring’s inaugural practicum, which combines the resources of GMA, the UGA College of Environment and Design (CED), and the Institute of Government, with funding from GMA and the Georgia Cities Foundation. Ten seniors and graduate students worked with municipal leaders under the direction of CED Assistant Professor Douglas Pardue, Institute of Government downtown development specialist Danny Bivins, Chris Higdon, GMA Community Development manager and Becky Taylor, GMA Federal Relations and Research director, on projects ranging from the Conyers rezoning to creating a development plan for the city of Washington’s downtown square.

According to Bivins, the practicum allows students to work with public officials on real-world projects. “These students are incredibly well-trained in their profession, and this is one of their first chances to apply that knowledge with a client,” he said.

While the students gain practical experience—hence “practicum”—the cities receive technical assistance on revitalization projects they can implement. Conyers city planners held town hall meetings throughout the summer before asking the city council to adopt the Olde Town zoning plan developed by Lauritsen and Young.

“It’s been very well-received by the residents,” said Marvin Flanigan, the director of planning and inspection services with the city of Conyers.

In the city of Griffin, a team of three practicum students—master’s candidates Renee Dillon, Manasi Parkhi and Lucie Siggins—designed a linear park that beautifies a railroad corridor and helps knit together the two sides of town separated by the tracks. This summer city leaders began exploring ways to fund the project, according to Kenwin Hayes, executive director of the Griffin Downtown Development Authority.

The four other cities selected for the practicum also received custom projects that address economic development needs. Fourth-year student Bobby Merryman designed an amphitheater and landscape plan for the city of Washington’s downtown square. Graduate Tyler Johnson produced a site plan and landscape design for a proposed city hall for the city of Milton. Grad students Shruti Agrawal and Yongzhi Xiao drafted an innovative parking plan as well as infill concepts and building façade beautification for the city of Forsyth. Fourth-year student Katherine Sue Laco provided College Park leaders with methods for converting an alley and vacant lot into an attractive downtown greenspace.

The practicum is one of three components of the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership, an alliance of seven university and municipal organizations that facilitates cities’ efforts to reinvigorate their downtowns. In addition to the practicum, communities can implement revitalization plans through the partnership’s Renaissance Strategic Visioning and Planning (RSVP) program and obtain additional expertise through the partnership’s Downtown Renais-sance Fellows student internship program.