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New PhD Program Targets Problems of the Rust Belt

Date: Oct. 8, 2002
Story by: Mary Bridget Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Archive: General News
Photo by: Mary B. Reilly

Money in the bank. Regionally speaking, that's what a new University of Cincinnati PhD program is all about - advancing and securing our economic future in this region and in Ohio.

With the start of classes this fall, UC's College of Design Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) unveiled a new advanced-level, practically-oriented, hands-on effort to train researchers, scholars and planning practitioners to examine the needs, problems, priorities and potential for development specific to the region. The new planning program is unique, nationally and internationally, for its clear economic focus. Said David Edelman, director of UC's School of Planning, "Our priority is to focus on the problems of the rust belt."

Planning as a profession is key to economic development. Planning, after all, is all about researching, designing and implementing all the components vital for economic development, though it's one of those few professions most people can't quite pin down. It's because planners do so much. They help communities - from small neighborhoods, to municipalities, to cities, to states, to regions, and even nations -- identify their greatest economic strengths. And they then design the roadmap on how to make that future real with tools like business incentives and retention, transportation needs, health and environmental safeguards, zoning, sensible housing, and much, much more. A shorthand explanation is that they're community fixers and improvers, always keeping an eye on the big-picture and long-term growth.

True to the planning profession's mission, UC's new PhD program is specifically targeting the region's economic challenges and potential to better understand and resolve economic decline and restructuring as well as unemployment. Added Edelman, "We're stressing analysis and solution...of economic development in inner cities, metropolitan areas and declining industrial regions, while also focusing on environmental concerns."

UC's planning program, already one of the largest and most respected in the country, is now one of only three nationally with accredited bachelor's, master's and PhD programs. Already, UC's undergraduate planning program is the largest in Ohio and the only one nationally that requires students to co-op. UC grads form the majority of professional planners in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana while other grads work throughout the U.S. and the world. That's not too surprising since UC planning faculty and students are routinely called upon for their expertise by a wide array of overseas clients.

Brent Isaacs

Edelman said that the program's regional focus is strong because "economic development is, rightly, a high priority for the government in Ohio."

The new economic focus is what drew Brent Isaacs, 35, of Indianapolis, here after earning a master's of public administration in Missouri and after working in community development in Indianapolis for three years. He's now one of three students in the program which began at the end of September. "I'm from the Midwest, and I'm fascinated by older, upper Midwestern cities and their issues. I want to focus my attention on suburban sprawl," he said.

Fellow PhD student Heidi Arnold of Clifton Heights would like to research sustainable neighborhood revitalization. After earning her master's in planning from UC in 1995, she's working professionally for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation. Arnold hadn't really planned to pursue a PhD until she learned about the new UC program this past spring. She said, "I was taking a refresher course on campus. I didn't know the PhD in planning had been approved. I was intrigued because it appeared to deal with issues I've worked on for years, like different perspectives of economic development in Ohio...It's a program that has immediate real-world applications."

Eventually, the four-year program will house 24 students, 18 of whom will be residents of Ohio.

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