August 22, 2017

5th VCU “Plan-Off” Supports Sustainable, Healthy Communities

Beams of sunlight peered through the second-story glass windows of the two-story brick building as a young woman dressed in black business attire calmly approached the podium. In front of her sat an audience of classmates, professors and community leaders eager to listen to her presentation. Across the hall, PowerPoints were lighting up screens as more students prepared their pitches, hoping to advance to the next round.

May 21, 2017 marked the fifth consecutive year that VHDA sponsored Virginia Commonwealth University’s annual Plan-Off event. Twelve graduate students from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program faced off with one another in a tournament-style competition, each presenting their takes on solutions for real-world issues. After the presentations, a panel of judges chose the winner to advance to the next round.
2017 Plan-Off winners
Photos courtesy of the L. Douglas Wilder School  

“The Plan-Off is one of the signature events of the Wilder School's MURP program,” explained Dr. Meghan Gough, Program Chair of the Urban Planning major. “This exciting format provides an opportunity for students to translate their year-long effort in designing a plan into an ‘elevator speech’ which they present to a panel of leading planning professionals.”

The event doubles as the final project for these students as they prepare to wrap up their graduate education. Participants had the option of either writing a thesis paper or creating a presentation and pitching it at the Plan-Off. Gough believes that this innovative approach to a final gives graduates a hands-on experience in urban planning. “Our students work closely with their clients and stakeholders, and as a result many recommendations in the plans are implemented by organizations and communities,” said Gogh. “As a result of this intensive professional experience, Wilder School MURP students develop strong work portfolios that make them especially competitive in job placement.”

VHDA Managing Director of Community Outreach Mike Hawkins echoed these sentiments, saying “VHDA is happy to sponsor an event that strengthens the knowledge, skills and abilities of new planners to engage the community and promote positive planning outcomes. It’s great that we can expose them to the state housing finance agency, and communicate the importance of affordable housing in the context of good land use policy.”

Events such as VCU’s Plan-Off are important in today’s world. In the past, urban issues such as transportation, housing, beautification and economic development were often approached as separate problems. Planners have come to realize that all of these issues are interconnected, and that it takes a joint effort between specialists and leaders in many different fields to build quality and equitable communities for all of its citizens. VHDA’s investment in programs such as the Plan-Off exemplify our commitment to creating sustainable and healthy communities while promoting affordable housing opportunities.

A MURP student discussing his project

A MURP student pitching to the panel
Contestants display their projects on large posters which are
available for the public to read on their own. 

Mike Hawkins, VHDA Managing Director of Community Outreach
 and John Accordino, Dean of the L Douglas Wilder School

A graduate student explains her ideas on revitalization to Mike Hawkins and
Meghan Gough, Chair of the Urban and Regional Planning program at VCU

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