Community Planning Students Help Secure $4.9M Grant
Stephen Ramos, an associate professor at the University of Georgia College of Environment and Design, is always searching for ways to make an impact beyond the classroom.
When Ramos’ class, “Ideas of Community,” partnered with assistant professor Jermaine Durham and his class from the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences to address community needs in Baldwin County, Georgia, Ramos was excited to see what the students could achieve.
But he never expected the results—Ramos’ students helped secure a $4.9 million federal grant for a series of community improvement projects in Baldwin County.
The grant was recently announced by Georgia senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, who will use the funds to address safety and connectivity issues in the Oconee Heights Neighborhood of Baldwin County.
Oconee Heights has undergone major challenges in recent years. When Baldwin County’s Central State Hospital closed, the Oconee Heights community lost its primary source of income and faced unemployment and economic losses.
Now, the community is finding the relief that it has been seeking.
“Numerous meetings were held in the community and the vision was established to create a safer neighborhood and connect Oconee Heights residents safely to the new jobs at the old Central State Hospital campus, and to grocery stores, colleges, and downtown via walking and bicycling,” said Baldwin County Manager Carlos Tobar.
Ramos’ students proposed creating pedestrian pathways, completing sidewalk connections and implementing solar-powered lighting fixtures in Oconee Heights, all of which will be funded by the grant.
“In Dr. Ramos’ ‘Ideas of Community,’ we had to figure out how to work together across disciplines, how to discover needs in the Oconee Heights community and how to communicate internally and externally in a way that kept our recommendations relevant and feasible,” said former Master of Urban Planning student Ellie Swensson.
“Ideas of Community”focuses on participatory planning, which emphasizes the importance of community involvement in city planning projects. The class acknowledges the need for planners to understand local knowledge so communities can design a future that they feel proud of.
“The class tries to unpack the meaning of the word community,” said Ramos. “We discuss the tools, techniques and strategies that planners use to help communities plan for the future.”
And learning about those strategies can help students from all kinds of backgrounds be successful. That’s why students from a variety of majors across UGA take Ramos’ class.
“I think students across disciplines are beginning to understand that participation and consultation with the public are key to the longevity and success of projects,” said Ramos.
Without community involvement, it’s likely that Ramos’ class project would not have garnered as much success.
“I’m proud of our class’s ability to work through so many variables and produce an impactful program and project design that is coming to fruition,” said Swensson. “It really validates that we were on the right track.”