U.Va. Planning Class Named 'Design Professional of the Year' by City of Charlottesville

March 20, 2007 -- Karen Firehock, a senior associate at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation, and the 11 students in her graduate planning class were given the 2007 Eldon Fields Wood Design Professional of the Year award by Charlottesville’s Planning Commission. The award, presented on March 13, lauded her fall 2006 class for drafting the environmental chapter of the city’s new Comprehensive Plan. The result “far surpasses any Environmental section of the Comprehensive Plan this community has had,” noted a press release from the city.

In preparing the report, the students in Firehock’s class divided into two- or three-person teams to study issues of water quality, green buildings, trails and the tree canopy, explained class member Jonah Chiarenza, a second-year graduate student in urban and environmental planning. In order to create a new computer map of the city’s tree canopy, the students did field surveys, recording data on tree health, diameter and relative age, and combined that data with digitized aerial photos on which they plotted tree locations.

The class did “an incredible amount of work to provide an information basis around which to craft the city Comprehensive Plan,” said Kristel Riddervold, Charlottesville’s environmental administrator.

The work of the fall class, “Green Cities, Green Lands,” also prepared students for a second class, underway this spring, for which they will design retrofit projects to improve the environmental impact of three city sites: Charlottesville High School, Jordan Park and Burnley-Moran Elementary School. Firehock, a former planning commissioner, explained that the projects at CHS and Burnley-Moran would enable city students to fulfill their environmental education requirements without having to travel away from school.

The design process will include soliciting feedback from the community and then presenting fully developed project proposals, including budgets, for review by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“We’re serving as pro-bono design consultants to the city and the students are getting a professional experience that they can put on their resume, and an opportunity to try out the ideas they’ve learned in the real world,” said Firehock. “Since they’re graduate students, not yet in the real world, they have an ability to be more creative, and they also learn what ideas don’t work on the ground.”