Improving Atlanta in Georgia Tech's Fall Planning Studios

Wes McRae | October 5, 2023 – Atlanta, GA

Georgia Tech Fall Planning studios are working on Atlanta's top urban challenges, from urban design of new developments, to improvement of underutilized space, to plans for climate change.

The studio is a practicum for students in their second year of the Master of City and Regional Planning (MCRP) program, according to Mike Dobbins, who is coordinating the studios this year. They bring together students with diverse expertise, as they often include students seeking dual degrees. Along with the Master of Science in Geographic Information Science & Technology, the most common dual degree with MCRP, studios often include dual-degree students from architecture, civil and environmental engineering, public policy, or law.

Technological knowledge and skills developed in studios carry over directly into internships and jobs. "The studios provide hands-on exposure to real time planning and development activities," Dobbins said.  "These include experience with the dynamic factors and transdisciplinary collaborations that interact to produce policies and projects."

The instructors who lead our studios have deep ties to Atlanta's urban planning: Mike Dobbins was the City Planner for Atlanta when they hosted the Olympic Games in 1996. Aaron Fortner, an Urban Designer for the City of Atlanta City Planning Department from 1998–2003, is now a partner with Capital City Real Estate, LLC, focused on mixed-use site acquisitions, site planning, and design. Jairo Garcia developed Atlanta's first Climate Action Plan when he was Director of Climate Policies and Renewables with the City of Atlanta.

While the Fall Semester studios work closely with the City of Atlanta to address local issues, during Spring Semester students will tackle international urban planning concerns.

The Studios

Click on the links below to go to descriptions of specific studios.

Aaron Fortner's 2023 Studios

Jairo Garcia's Fall 2023 Studio

Aaron Fortner's 2023 Studios

Planning students lay out transportation plans on a map of Midtown Atlanta.

Aaron Fortner’s Fall 2023 studios focus on the Midtown and Thomasville Heights neighborhoods of Atlanta.

Midtown Studio

"One of the challenges facing Midtown Atlanta is the need for improved public realm spaces and thriving streets that can successfully attract the growing number of Midtown residents, employees, and visitors," Fortner said. "Much of the newer development in Midtown has provided high-quality interior experiences for residents, employees and visitors – but the external public realm of Midtown often times is somewhat inferior and lacks a compelling draw to getting people to engage in the outside spaces of the district."
"The Georgia Tech Urban Design Studio will work with the Midtown Alliance to develop strategies for improving the Midtown public realm in clearly defined areas and to identify ways in which Midtown can continue to thrive as one of Atlanta’s most successful urban districts."

Thomasville Heights Studio

"Many of Atlanta’s BeltLine neighborhoods have seen a drastic increase in speculative development and resulting gentrification over the past 20 years," Fortner said. "Certain BeltLine neighborhoods, including Thomasville Heights, are working to ensure that there are strategies in place to preserve housing affordability while there is still an opportunity to do so. Thomasville Heights has recently completed a Land Use Plan and is working with development partners including private developers, the Atlanta Housing Authority, and the City of Atlanta to secure land for the types of affordable housing developments that will be needed to preserve affordability long-term in the neighborhood."
"The Georgia Tech Urban Design Studio will work with a Thomasville Heights developer to develop a plan for providing housing affordability on a specific parcel within the neighborhood. This plan will utilize the recently completed Land Use plan to propose a new urban design plan for the site. This plan will include recommendations for connectivity, mobility, open space, mix of uses, and detailed building and unit types for affordable residential uses."

Jairo Garcia's Fall 2023 Studio

Stylized image showing pedestrians on a sidewalk, with a title that reads, "Georgia Tech Climate Action Plan Student Engagement Workshop."

Jairo Garcia’s Fall 2023 studio focuses on the Georgia Tech Climate Action Plan. "At the beginning of the fall, Georgia Tech's Office of Sustainability reached out to us and requested assistance in finalizing the Georgia Tech Climate Action Plan and in crafting a climate vulnerability assessment for the institution," Garcia said.

"Since this is the Alma Mater of our students, we accepted this request. Students in the Fall Studio are reaching out to a variety of stakeholders in the institution, including personnel working on our facilities; researchers; faculty; administrators; and student clubs, collecting data and developing a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of climate change in the institution and the region as a whole. This will include involving the student community with a Climate Action Plan Student Engagement Workshop."

"This climate vulnerability assessment is unique for academic institutions in the Southeast and will serve as a model for other organizations to follow, including the City of Atlanta."

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