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Planning honored for excellence

KEVIN B. KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
School of Planning director Barbara Becker sits between two awards for "Best College Planning Project" won by students in the School of Planning in 2000 and 2002. Last fall students won another award for their "Summit Neighborhood Plan," a comprehensive profile of low-income communities located within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
By Kylee Dawson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
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After facing complete elimination, the School of Planning received two awards from the Arizona Planning Association, including the Best Student Planning Project for the year.

"It's very gratifying," said Barbara Becker, director of the School of Planning who received the Distinguished Leadership award. "For one thing, it shows that throughout all the turmoil that was going on, we still remained focused on delivering to our students the best possible opportunities and best classes that we could."

Even though the department has been cut, School of Planning classes and a graduate degree are still available.

"This demonstrates that everyone, including students, will keep their eye on the objective of getting the planning education they would like," she said.

The Summit Neighborhood Plan is a project that was conceptualized and assembled by Becker's course Planning 611: Projects and Planning during fall 2003.

"We've addressed certain things such as transportation, housing, the natural environment, the infrastructure issues and services and things like that," Becker said.

The areas profiled were the Colonias - neighborhoods inhabited by low-income families - which predominantly consist of first generation Mexican communities, Becker said.

"Colonias are communities, neighborhoods within 150 miles of the border, that are designated by HUD (Housing and Urban Development) and the U.S. Department of Housing and [are] having a number of issues," she said.

Major issues, caused by a lack of infrastructure and services, include the flooding of homes and the absence of proper roads.

These roads are made when people drive their cars through their neighbor's properties creating Wildcat subdivisions, Becker said. This occurs when people subdivide land without proper side planning and without working with the county.

Driving on unpaved roads kicks up dust, causing health problems for asthmatics. Neither children nor school buses can cross washes when they are flowing, which means some parents must drive 45 minutes out of the way to avoid the washes.

To help residents of the Colonias, Becker's students assembled a 190-page study that includes demographical, historical and environmental information among several other topics.

UA planning master's student Nancy Mahaney began collecting data about the Colonias in July 2003 when Becker asked her to prepare and design a survey for the fall course.

Attending a series of preliminary meetings with representatives from Pima County, HUD, and the Bureau of Applied Research and Anthropology, helped Mahaney decide what data should be collected in these surveys.

Other meetings also provided Mahaney with input from community leaders about the major issues they thought should be addressed.

"We can go in and do something like this that helps them to gather all the information and all the data they need in order to be eligible for several monies," Becker said. "It really makes a big difference when there are students around."

Becker explained that, years ago, Pima County set aside land for a park, but never came through with it. But now with the information provided in the Summit Neighborhood Plan, Becker hopes residents of the Colonias will now be better equipped to improve their communities.

"What we did to try to empower this neighborhood to continue on with what we were doing after we left, we got individuals from throughout the neighborhood to work with us, very specific people who are leaders with the intention to try and help them with their leadership skills to take over and keep moving the neighborhood forward under easier conditions," Becker said.

The UA School of Planning has also received APA awards for Best Student Planning Project twice in 2000 and once in 2002. It has also received national recognition from the National Collegiate Schools of Planning.

"We have good quality projects at all levels now," Becker said.

"Until our last gasp, we were going to continue to reach out into the communities and do projects. So it was our commitment to the communities, to our students and to the profession. We were going to go down fighting."

Becker will officially receive her APA award at a state conference luncheon held at the Marriott Sept. 24. Mahaney will accept the student's APA award on behalf of her fellow classmates.

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