Public Participation in Action
By Lisa M. Dunaway, AICP, LEED®AP
This academic year is the start of my seventh year as an instructor of Urban Planning at Ball State University, in Muncie, Ind. Before that, I was a practitioner of landscape architecture and urban planning at several interdisciplinary firms around the Indianapolis metro area starting in 2004 and in the New York City metro before that. My undergraduate degree is from the landscape architecture department at Ball State, and I received a master’s of science in natural resources, with a specialization in ecological planning from the University of Vermont. Reflecting on my career so far, the main lesson I’ve learned is to never underestimate people. Within that overall lesson, two key realizations have emerged: race and income are not always inhibitors of progress, and if plans “sit on a shelf” it’s very likely the planner’s fault.
I am very lucky that my position at Ball State allows me to remain a practitioner. As a contract faculty member, my appointment as an instructor must be renewed every year by the department chair, but I am not required to do scholarship (tenure-track and tenured faculty are required to do teaching, service, and scholarship, while I am only required to do the first two because I teach full time. Those who are required to do scholarship generally teach three-fourths of the time and dedicate the remaining fourth to the pursuit of research). And because of the culture of our department, from its inception, teaching a class or studio can be based solely around a real project for a real client: formerly referred to as “service-learning” or “experiential-learning.”
These days at Ball State, courses with a outside clients are commonly referred to as “immersive learning” or more recently, “entrepreneurial learning.” For the past few years we’ve even had a whole department on campus dedicated to facilitating and supporting faculty and students who want to run immersive learning projects or community clients who want to find a faculty/student team to help them with a project. It’s very cool to see students all over campus getting to learn their profession by actually doing a project just like they will in the real world someday but with the support and guidance of a faculty member. It’s even cooler to be the faculty member working with a student/client team to create something meaningful and tangible.
In July 2010, a group of Muncie citizen-planners released the Muncie Action Plan (MAP), a “strategic guide” to help residents organize and enact positive changes in their communities and neighborhoods. Over 2,200 Muncie residents participated in the public meetings that shaped the MAP, which, as planners, we know is a really great number of participants (Source, pg. iii). The MAP directed neighborhoods to form associations, if they didn’t exist already, and start planning for what they wanted. As you might imagine, no neighborhood jumped on that. They had no resources except a bit of people-power, and certainly not any financial resources worth noting. The local metropolitan planning office was understaffed, underfunded and did not have the resources to assist with the efforts. How would “regular people” know where to start? That is where the Department of Urban Planning came in.
Over the summer of 2011, then-department Chair Michael Burayidi got connected with the Whitely Community Council (WCC), the oldest and largest neighborhood association in Muncie. The WCC has operated almost continuously since the 1960s and regularly sees 50 or more people attend their monthly neighborhood meetings. Michael asked Meagan Tuttle (who has since gone on to practice in State College, PA, and Burlington, VT,) and me to co-teach the PLAN 302 Neighborhood Studio with the WCC as our client. Whitely would get the first action plan in Muncie under the umbrella of MAP.
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