UPP 506 Class Project Garners APA-IL Student Award

Class members of UPP 506, the Plan Making Studio, pose in Dalton, IL

Plan Making Studio Course Features Dolton Comprehensive Plan

When the MUPP students involved in creating a comprehensive plan for the Chicago suburb of Dolton began their work in January, the unforeseen changes of the coming months were still a distant reality. But as the students quickly learned in the tumultuous early days of the coronavirus lockdown, unplanned developments can still be overcome through collective effort. For their efforts, the 20-person class, one of three sections completing a plan in UPP 506, or the Plan-Making Studio course, have been awarded the best student plan of 2020 by the Illinois chapter of the American Planning Association, an award reflective of the many long hours poured into the project over the semester.

“Shift[ing] mid-semester from planning in person to planning virtually was a great introduction to the planning field, where I'm sure things don't always go exactly to plan,” Erin Ludwig, one of the students in the class, said in accepting the award. “I'm excited to take this forward as we start on this semester, and I'm excited to see the flexibility that my classmates are all really bringing to the table.”

For this year’s 506 planning class, a capstone experience for MUPP students typically conducted in a student’s second semester in the program, three Chicago suburbs were chosen as the sites for comprehensive plans: Dolton, Skokie, and Melrose Park. For the students studying Dolton, the suburb wasn’t even chosen at the beginning of the semester: according to professor Stacey Sutton, who led the section, the group had originally intended to create a plan for Cicero, until realizing that the city had recently received a professional comprehensive plan. Despite the brief delay, the students quickly settled into the project, taking a site visit to Dolton in February. According to Sutton, the class wanted to emphasize Dolton’s existing strengths, opting for a more cooperative as opposed to top-down approach.

“The class really put community first, and didn’t want to just approach Dolton’s problems with conventional planning solutions,” Sutton said. “They really owned the idea that communities have all they need in terms of a vision, but that every community still needs some support, whether it's financial support, knowledge support, or something else.”

The Village of Dolton, a town of 23,000 located just south of the city of Chicago’s border, presented unique opportunities and challenges to the group. While the town was once a busy manufacturing town, recent decades have seen declining population, as well as environmental challenges stemming from the village’s industrial status. From these adversities, students planned several transformative projects, including efforts to introduce cooperative economic structures and green infrastructure intended to support resident wellbeing.

“We tried to leverage these unique assets that the community presented, like repurposing a capped landfill into something that was more environmentally sound,” Ludwig said. “It let us bring together this broad variety of perspectives and allowed us to step outside the box and think of new and more imaginative solutions as we created this plan.”

The quality effort made by the class was obvious to the APA members who reviewed the plan, according to Tim Gustafson, AICP, a MUPP alumni and senior planner at Epstein, who served on the APA Illinois award review board.

“In reviewing the student award submission, the jury was impressed by the visual organization, brand, and content of the plan,” Gustafson said. “When I interviewed the team, it became clear that strong group communication helped them deliver a quality product as they adapted to a remote and virtual working environment.”

For the students in the class, the opportunity to create such a meaningful plan under the intense conditions of coronavirus proved incredibly valuable, an experience that will mark their time within CUPPA.

“The experience of working with such a large group has really instilled trust in those classmates,” Taylor Gendel, another one of the students in the class, said. “As I continue to have classes in my final year with some of my teammates from this comprehensive plan, it's really helped to kind of know that they can step up and I just trust them so much and it's inspired a spirit of collaboration that we'll have to carry beyond school and into the profession.”

View the APA-IL Student Awarded final product, the Village of Dolton Comprehensive Plan, here.