The Planning Practicum is a 6-credit, project-based course where students apply the skills they have learned to real world planning problems, typically in partnership with a client. Thematically practicums range across all areas of planning, including transportation, urban growth, redevelopment, environmental impact, affordable housing, and international planning. Practicums are place-based and focus on different scales of planning, from a single redevelopment site to the urban and regional scale.
Practicums involve working with a client or partner including community and neighborhood-based organizations, issue-based organizations, government at different levels and departments, and private actors. They always involve field trips of varying lengths, depending on the location of the study. In previous years, students have conducted fieldwork in Austin, the Hill Country, China, Germany, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Practicum pedagogy is based on collaboration, teamwork, and reflexivity. The type of engagement varies from structured meeting with government officials to unstructured dialogue with community members. Students work closely with the instructor, their team members, and their project partners to develop research methods, conduct data analysis, and create the content of the final deliverable.
Practicum deliverables take many forms depending on partner needs, the project, and the audience. Students produce posters, reports, and online materials, and give presentations to project partners and community members. At the end of the semester, practicums are part of the UTSOA review process where students are assigned a time slot to present to a panel of faculty members and invited reviewers.
Information about upcoming practicums is distributed before registration occurs in the spring. Students typically choose among 3-4 practicum options. While most practicums are one-semester, 6-credit courses, in some cases a practicum may be spread over two semesters (summer and fall, for example) in two, 3-credit hour courses.
In some cases, a 6-credit hour Studio course in urban design, historic preservation or another design field may satisfy the practicum requirement. Such courses must meet the CRP Goals and Measurable Performance Objectives listed in the CRP Strategic Plan and prepare students adequately for final semester reviews. Students seeking practicum credit for an SOA Studio course should first contact the respective design faculty member for permission to enroll. Then the student should submit a one-page petition to Graduate Adviser, explaining how the studio will meet the CRP Goals and Measurable Performance Objectives. The instructor must sign the petition to confirm that the studio will meet CRP practicum requirements. The petition will be reviewed by the CRP Practicum Committee and the final decision will be made by CRP Graduate Adviser.
Jacob’s Well in Wimberley, Texas
Instructor: Junfeng Jiao
Jacob’s Well is an iconic artesian spring in the Texas Hill Country, the headwaters of Cypress Creek, which is threatened by the local development of a subdivision called Woodcreek North. The flow of Jacob’s Well is also put at risk by regional development, since groundwater flowing through Jacob’s Well comes from as far away as the Pedernales River via the underground caves that extend from Jacob’s Well thousands of feet to the west.
Practicum students created a new master plan for the undeveloped portion of Woodcreek North. This included additional open space and water neutral development including single-family development, as well as a new plat map. They also developed a set of design/planning guidelines for a proposed Jacob’s Well Groundwater Management Zone (GMZ), including development of greenfield sites consistent with the existing Cypress Creek Watershed Protection Plan and the community’s desire to keep Cypress Creek clean, clear and flowing.
Although this project was focused on development very near Jacob’s Well, it is important to note that the successful completion of this project will have benefits throughout the Cypress Creek watershed and the entire Texas Hill Country, including the Austin-San Antonio Corridor.
Tokyo Studio: Urban Redevelopment in a Mega City
Instructor: Junfeng Jiao
The Greater Tokyo Region (or capital region in Japan) is one of the most populous megaregions in the world. It is the largest metropolitan economy in the world, with a total GDP of approximately $2 trillion in 2008. The Greater Tokyo Region is also famous for its urban redevelopment and well-connected multi-modal transportation system. In order to host the 32nd Olympic Games in 2020, this region also has gone through many urban redevelopment projects in the recent years. For example, the relocation of the Tsukiji Market (Tokyo Fish Market) and the Olympic Village Development are very good examples of urban renewal in high-density urban regions. Thus, the Greater Tokyo Region is a perfect site for students to study large-scale urban redesign/redevelopment.
In 2019 Fall Semester, Dr. Jiao will lead 8-12 UT graduate students to visit TMU. They will stay in Tokyo for one week and work with their peers at Tokyo Metropolitan University. Students will do case-study based research, site visit, analysis and design, and planning presentations and reviews.
The design and planning site is the Asakusa neighborhood along the Tokyo Water Bus route. Asakusa is one of the transportation centers in Tokyo with easy access to the subway, train and water bus system. Students will first explore how different transportation modes are organized and connected on site. Then they will explore how to redesign this historical area in central Tokyo to accommodate density, accessibility, and history. Students also will learn and explore how technologies (e.g. GIS, GPS, Sensors) have been used to inform the design and redevelopment process. After students return from the field trip, they will be grouped into teams with three students in every team. Students will learn how to use the laser cutter machine to generate physical 3D design models. The final deliverables will include final reports, including images and graphics files, posters describing elements, and 3D physical models. In the end, students will make final studio presentations to both domestic and international reviewers.
Urban Planning, Design and Town-Making in Dripping Springs, Texas
Instructor: Keenan Smith
Dripping Springs is located in northwest Hays County just 24 miles from Downtown Austin. Originally founded as an autonomous ranching community, Dripping Springs is now emerging as a regionally-identified, semi-dependent exurban center in its own right. In December 2016, the City formed two Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (TIRZ #1, #2) in order to fund new civic infrastructure and economic development projects within the City. In 2017, the TIRZ Board identified four (4) “Priority Projects” in Dripping Springs’ core, and launched preliminary planning, engineering, visioning, public engagement, and feasibility studies. The overarching goal of these projects is to help create a civic framework and public vision for the town’s future which preserves its historic character, strengthens the sense of place, and improves its prospects for economic vitality. The objective of this studio was to engage with these projects and initiatives and provide supplemental urban planning, urban design, “place-making” concepts and solutions which will assist City officials, the TIRZ Board, Stakeholders and citizens of Dripping Springs in advancing their goals, thus helping shape the civic future for the town.
Three student teams produced robust final projects including creative visions and detailed strategies for civic infrastructure, economic development and public realm improvements to enable Downtown Dripping Springs’s accommodation and resilience in the patch of growth. These included a Conceptual Pedestrian Master Plan, Adaptive Re-Use Development Plans for key City-Owned historic properties, and an Alternative Master Plan Design for the Dripping Spring’s Town Center. The student work was presented to, and well received by, top City Officials, and has spurred new policy initiatives. The results of this practicum will continue to inform public improvements in the Downtown area.
Dominican Republic Practicum
Fall 2017-Spring 2018
Instructor: Bjørn Sletto
From 2008 to 2018, Dr. Bjørn Sletto offered 7 practicums in the informal settlement of Los Platanitos, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (DR). These courses are collaborative, experiential, and premised on student initiative and active engagement with community partners, scholars, activists and public officials. Our goal is to develop technically well-founded and socially appropriate solutions to social and environmental challenges, while fostering democratic and deliberative forms of collaboration in research and plan-making. We work with elders, youth, and members of the women’s collective Mujeres Unidas in their efforts to represent residents’ knowledge, lived experiences, rights claims, and proposals to external actors.
The student projects include a risk and vulnerability assessment (2008), a solid waste study and management plan (2010), a pilot composting project (2012; conducted with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency), an ethnobotany study (2014; with funding from the National Science Foundation, NSF), a community-based environmental education project (2016; also with NSF funding), a critical pedagogy and youth development project (2017; with NSF funding). In academic year 2017-2018, students collaborated with civil society partners, youth, members of Mujeres Unidas, and elders to conduct a gender-based impact assessment of a state-funded infrastructure project, develop a participatory design of a new access road corridor; and plan an international conference that was held at the Universidad Nacional Pedro Henríquez Ureña in March 2018. See the project website for more information.
Airport Boulevard Practicum: Creating Inclusive Corridors
Instructor: Dr. Elizabeth Mueller
Austin faces many competing goals as it moves toward adoption of its new plan, Imagine Austin. Strategies include designation of “core transit corridors,” of “vertical mixed-use zones” along commercial corridors, and creation of plans for station areas along the city’s new commuter rail line. Yet the city must grapple with the concerns of residents of existing communities about the effects of growth on their neighborhoods. The city’s strong coalition of neighborhood associations is pushing back against the plan, based on fears that growth will threaten the character of their neighborhoods and may result in rising property values, yielding property taxes unaffordable to current residents. Austin must ensure that existing residents are not priced out through explicit attention to preservation of existing affordable housing—both subsidized and unsubsidized.
A premise for this project was the idea that existing central neighborhoods, particularly areas where new transit lines are likely to be introduced, are already home to many low-income households. Most of these low-income residents live in unsubsidized rental housing, whose rents are low due to the age and condition of the building, rather than to public subsidies. This makes them particularly susceptible to change as public investment increases the value of land along transit lines. We wondered, how might current planning efforts integrate existing apartments into plans, while ensuring that they remain affordable to current residents? The resulting report won the 2012 Kent Butler Award for Best Student Project from the Central Texas chapter of the American Planning Association.