From the building of the first Roman roads, a symbiotic relationship between transportation and planning has existed. “It’s the nature of the relationship that’s changed over time,” says Dr. Forster Ndubisi, department head of Texas A&M University’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning (LAUP). “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 that its construction enabled unparalleled economic growth for the United States. There was a downside, however.
“It encouraged suburban sprawl,” notes Dr. 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,” says Van Zandt.
But planning is complex and takes multiple perspectives to piece together the big picture. One thing that 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.
A Natural Partnership
TOD, or 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 (TTI) comes in.
“Marrying the concerns of modern transportation planning with TTI’s expertise helps leverage the strengths of both organizations to everyone’s advantage,” says Dr. Kenneth Joh, assistant research scientist with TTI, assistant professor and LAUP’s program coordinator for the Graduate Certificate in Transportation Planning (see below).
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,” says TTI Executive Associate Director Katie Turnbull, “and that’s what we team with LAUP to teach students. Transportation is part of the solution but not an end unto itself.”
Sharing Resources, Building Alliances for Education
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,” acknowledges 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,” says 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 annual $1,000 Katherine F. Turnbull Transportation Planning Scholarship for Masters of Urban Planning. 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.