Published July 12, 2021
Continuing a trajectory of rising prominence, UB’s professional Master of Urban Planning program has been reaccredited for the longest term possible by the discipline’s national accrediting board.
The designation by the Planning Accreditation Board, which accredits planning programs at universities across North America, was recently announced after a nearly year-long reaccreditation process. Awarding UB a seven-year term, the review committee cited the program for its distinguished performance in research, engagement with the community and profession, faculty and student diversity, and administrative leadership.
Daniel B. Hess, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, said the review is an indicator of the program’s continued growth in size and stature in the academic and professional realms.
“Our faculty’s pioneering research and the program’s community-as-classroom approach in Buffalo and around the world places UB in the top echelon of programs and positions our students for success,” said Hess, himself a graduate of the program. “This affirmation from the PAB is proof we are strategically positioned to impact communities, address global challenges, and innovate planning practice.”
Founded in 1979 in what was then UB’s School of Architecture and Environmental Design, and first accredited in 1988, the program began with just a handful of students. Today, the two-year program draws an annual average enrollment of 70 student. UB’s global network of MUP alumni numbers nearly 850
The intensive reaccreditation process drew upon interviews with School and university administration, program faculty, current students and MUP alumni, and planning professionals in the Buffalo region, many of whom employ UB graduates and partner with the program on practice-based research. Much of the process was administered virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, with interviews conducted over Zoom and site visits replaced with video tours of studios, classrooms and campus facilities.
The program has gained international renown in recent years from faculty research that has broken new ground in the discipline. For instance, the field of food systems planning was barely recognized in the early 2000s when Samina Raja joined UB. Today, Raja’s Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab has multi-million-dollar grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and United Nations. Its community-based work in Buffalo now extends to cities across the U.S. as well as India, Ghana, Jamaica and Kashmir.
The program has gained similar recognition for its community-driven planning research in Buffalo, much of which is directly tied to the curriculum. The School of Architecture and Planning’s UB Regional Institute and Center for Urban Studies, in particular, have generated nationally award-winning plans for Buffalo’s downtown, waterfront, Olmsted Park system, as well as its most distressed communities. The work has been credited with laying the groundwork for Buffalo’s resurgence and extending prosperity to underdeveloped areas of the city. The Department of Urban and Regional Planning has hosted the national conference of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning twice in Buffalo – in 1988 and again in 2018.
More recently the urban planning program has become a significant player in UB’s transdisciplinary research enterprise, including its Community for Global Health Equity and the RENEW (Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water) Institute. The work has generated new research and experiential learning opportunities in climate resilience, smart transportation, health equity, and sustainable development.
Such interdisciplinary linkages have also afforded students in the program diverse curricular options. For instance, the MUP degree can be combined with a juris doctorate, Master of Architecture, and Master in Public Health. Advanced graduate certificates are available in historic preservation and sustainability, with an affordable housing offering in the final stages of approval. Students in the program can also focus their studies on one of six specialization areas, including community health and food systems, environmental and land use planning, urban design and neighborhood planning.
“This range of opportunities for our students to focus their studies and tap into the disciplinary depth of a public research university like UB makes our program unique – and the PAB noted this as a strength,” Hess stated.
The department’s faculty of 31 – which includes 13 tenure-track faculty and 18 adjunct and clinical faculty – rank at the top of their peers in the Association of American Universities for research generation. The review board noted the administrative strengths of the program under the direction of Hess. Dean Robert G. Shibley is a nationally recognized urban planner and a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners.
The review board also highlighted the program’s intensive studio-based curriculum, which puts students on the ground in Buffalo and communities around the world on real projects, with real clients. Many of the students and alumni interviewed by the review board credited the program’s studio format for their professional preparation and success.
The program’s community connections have also helped to foster growth in under-represented minority enrollment, which climbed from about 15 percent of total enrollment in 2011 to 32 percent in Fall 2020. International enrollment has also seen gains in the program, largely due to faculty research networks with universities in India and China.
Hess said the program also benefited from greater global awareness of place-based connections to complex societal challenges such as climate change, racial justice, water and land use, public health and housing access. Urban planners will also play critical roles in the reconfiguration of cities after the deadliest pandemic in more than a century.
“There is a lot in the popular press about what cities should look like, and how we can plan and design healthier, safer and more inclusive places. This has generated renewed interest in urban planning,” Hess said.
This is the second time the program has earned a seven-year term. The program was re-accredited in 2013 under the leadership of professor and former chair Ernest Sternberg.
According to Dean Robert G. Shibley, who has been a member of both the urban planning and architecture faculty since 1990 after stepping down as chair in architecture: “I’ve had the pleasure of working with our urban planning program’s research and practice in the field. Our faculty, students and alumni are tackling some of the world’s most complex challenges and mobilizing action. Such a strong reaccreditation shows we’re ready to respond to our world, and work together with communities to plan and build more equitable, vibrant and sustainable cities and regions.”
UB’s nationally accredited Master of Urban Planning program is built around practice-based learning and research that tackles every urban planning challenge you can imagine.