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Urban Planning and Policy Celebrates 50 Years

map of area around lower Lake Michigan including Illinois and the City of Chicago

Department Embarks on Chicago Futures Initiative

When Andy Bavas was appointed the director of graduate studies for the newly-founded Masters of Urban Planning and Policy (MUPP) program at what was then called the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, he used a metaphor perfect for a brand-new (read fledgling) urban planning program located in the heart of the city: “It was like trying to paint a moving train.” The year was 1973, a time in which graffiti-clad subway cars were a fixture in cities like Chicago and New York. Already leaving the station, even as the program was enrolling its first students, the MUPP program took birth in a campus that had only been completed eight years prior, a controversial urban renewal project.

Now, fifty years later, the UPP train continues apace. The MUPP program continues to serve as the principal locomotive alongside a robust undergraduate program in urban studies as well as a more recent Master of City Design program and the Urban Planning and Policy doctoral program; all under the auspices of the Urban Planning and Policy Department in UIC’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. In this sense the half-century anniversary of UPP is a chance to glance backwards, even as the department and program development propels onwards.

In honor of this major milestone, the department will host a series of celebratory events throughout the 2023-24 school year. Events related to the 50th anniversary begin on September 11 at the American Planning Association-Illinois Conference reception, with a brief presentation at the 7 pm event. The program will then play host again, with the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, the nation’s largest gathering of urban planning educators, coming to Chicago from October 19 to 21. Other upcoming events will include panel discussions  on housing justice in the memory of UPP Professor Janet Smith in November, a campus-facing conversation in March focused on women in planning, and an event with the CUPPA Alumni Association in May. UPP’s 50th anniversary will also factor into the next episode of UIC Urban Forum, UIC’s marquee, city-facing event to discuss today’s pressing urban issues, which is scheduled for April 10, 2024.

Put together, these events are a chance to reflect on the contribution and impact of UIC Urban Planning and Policy. Over its half-century lifespan, the department has graduated almost 3000 students, many of whom have assumed leading roles in professional firms, elected offices, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, as urban planners, and countless other changemaking roles.

To sustain this rich legacy into the future, the anniversary celebrations accompany the launch of the Chicago Futures Initiative, a campaign to boost the program’s public-facing presence while raising resources for more successful work in the years to come. Primary objectives of the Chicago Futures Initiative include supporting faculty leadership through the creation of endowed chair positions for the department’s accomplished faculty members, and increasing funds to support faculty and staff research; and generating more support for student scholarships and to collaborate with scholars and practitioners in a nurturing environment; and upgrades to the Urban Data Visualization Lab, including endowed director and coordinator positions to ensure maximum impact for its users. These goals, and many others, will help the department sustain and expand its mission in the years to come, building upon a foundation many years in the making.

For Professor Sanjeev Vidyarthi, who recently became the head of the department, the sense of painting a moving train is a sensation that continues today. Even as he’s excited to take the year to look back on the many accomplishments achieved in the past half-century, he knows the work will carry the department onwards, into new challenges that have yet to emerge.

“UPP is a sturdy long-distance train ready to head into an increasingly urbanized world in this sense. But we need make sure its well-oiled and well-provisioned to face the unknown and the unanticipated” says Vidyarthi.

Keep up to date on the events and activities of the Urban Planning and Policy Departments 50th anniversary at its celebration website: