TTI partners with Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning

From the building of the first Roman roads, a symbiotic relationship between planning and transportation has existed. “It’s the nature of the relationship that’s changed over time,” said Forster Ndubisi, head of Texas A&M’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning. “For most of the 20th century, engineers decided what needed to go where. In the 21st century, that’s changing a bit.”

Take the Interstate Highway System, for example. Most would agree its construction enabled unparalleled economic growth for the United States. There was a downside, however.

“It encouraged suburban sprawl,” said Shannon Van Zandt, coordinator of LAUP’s Master of Urban Planning program. “Our communities spread out, and that created new problems.”

That’s where urban planning comes in. Planners look ahead to see how community planning and design can maximize efficiencies and minimize human costs. To see how growth occurs, look at a large city from the top down and note the concentric highways, or loops, ringing its interior. “Like rings in a tree, traffic loops tell you something about the growth patterns of cities,” said Van Zandt.

But planning is complex and takes multiple perspectives to piece together the big picture. One thing every LAUP graduate learns is that the value of a community — its people, buildings, access, design and economic prosperity — is greater than the sum of its parts.

Transit-oriented development, for instance, is one of the modern approaches to planning communities. TOD is founded on the notion of sustainability — or building a long-lasting, environmentally friendly, energy-efficient and multimodal transportation system. That’s where LAUP’s partnership with the Texas Transportation Institute comes in.

“Marrying the concerns of modern transportation planning with TTI’s expertise helps leverage the strengths of both organizations to everyone’s advantage,” said Kenneth Joh, assistant research scientist with TTI, assistant professor of urban planning and program coordinator for LAUP’s Certificate in Transportation Planning.

Modern planning strives to undo suburban sprawl by creating cozier, closer-knit communities that rely more on foot traffic and cycling and less on the automobile. This live-work-play approach, as it’s called, seeks to create communities where citizens, and particularly those who may not drive, can do all three in virtually the same space.

Enter TTI, whose mission to solve transportation problems and train tomorrow’s transportation professionals is a natural fit with LAUP’s. Partnering enables a multidisciplinary approach to solving multifaceted problems with multimodal solutions.

“It’s not enough anymore to simply build our way out of transportation problems,” said Katie Turnbull, TTI executive associate director, “and that’s what we team with LAUP to teach students. Transportation is part of the solution but not an end unto itself.”

Like Turnbull, numerous other TTI researchers share their real-world knowledge with students by teaching in the department. And LAUP faculty members, like Joh, lend their expertise on TTI research projects.

For TTI, LAUP provides access to innovative ideas from students just beginning to think critically about the transportation world. And TTI lends LAUP the agency’s reputation as a world-class institute.

“People all over the world know TTI,” said Van Zandt. “It’s a big magnet for bringing students in to the department and recruiting faculty to teach here as well.”

“Our partnership is robust, healthy and still growing,” said Ndubisi. “TTI has sought to strengthen our relationship at every turn. But I have to especially acknowledge our alumna, Katie Turnbull, for how much she’s personally given back.”

Turnbull sponsors the Katherine F. Turnbull Transportation Planning Scholarship for Master of Urban Planning students. Turnbull says that she very much enjoyed the experience of getting her Ph.D. and wants to give back in a small way.

“Although I’m not involved with selecting the student,” Turnbull says, “it’s especially gratifying when it goes to someone who ends up employed at TTI.”

In those cases, it’s easy to see the TTI-LAUP connection completing a circle — like the traffic loops around a growing city — promising years to come of healthy growth through partnership.

Developed collaboratively by LAUP, TTI, Texas A&M’s Department of Civil Engineering and the Bush School of Government and Public Service, the Certificate in Transportation Planning seeks to create well-rounded transportation professionals.

The certificate captures the strengths of both engineering and planning, supplementing the needs of each discipline with the knowledge of the other. Multimodal and interdisciplinary, it’s the first university-wide program offered by LAUP. Any graduate student at Texas A&M can seek the certificate.

“Because it’s produced at the university level, it appears on student transcripts,” Ndubisi says. “And that can be very helpful when seeking employment after graduation.”

Bill Eisele, TTI research engineer and LAUP visiting associate professor, teaches the capstone course for the certificate. “The course provides a hands-on opportunity for students to apply what they learned from coursework,” says Eisele. “They work with an actual developer to create a site plan for an 80+ acre property.”

LAUP is looking to expand the reach of the certificate by offering it online to non-degree-seeking students. The department is also working with the American Planning Association and American Institute of Certified Planners as the two organizations develop their own certification course.

posted August 13, 2012