Citizen Planning School graduates latest class of citizen activists

2022 Citizen Planning School cohort.

Members of the Citizen Planning School's 2022 cohort, along with their student mentors, presented their action-ready ideas at the 6th Annual Ideas Summit in Hayes Hall last month.

by Rachel Teaman

Published June 15, 2022


UB’s award-winning Citizen Planning School has graduated its sixth cohort of citizen activists, mobilizing community development ideas as diverse as a mobility hub on Buffalo’s East Side, a mentoring center for at-risk populations in Niagara Falls, and a community center to expand public access to Buffalo’s Lake Erie waterfront.

The Citizen Planning School was founded in 2015 as an ongoing community engagement program of One Region Forward, an award-winning regional planning effort to develop a roadmap for sustainable development across Erie and Niagara Counties.

Since its launch in 2015, the Citizen Planning School and its “Champions for Change” program has graduated dozens of citizen activists with inspired ideas to improve their communities. Organized as a credit-bearing course in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, the annual program pairs citizens and students in a series of hands-on workshops that provide research, design, planning and technical assistance to advance concepts into actionable plans.

The 2022 cohort was directed by Libertad Figuereo, an adjunct instructor in urban planning at UB, who organized a network of UB students, community leaders and program graduates to provide the activists-in-training with wide-ranging support, from visualizing ideas and community engagement techniques to demographic research and grant-writing.

Selected citizen projects enhance the region’s social, physical, ecological and cultural infrastructure in support of equitable, vibrant, resilient and sustainable living environments for all.         

The eight graduating Champtions of Change, activating citizen ideas for community improvement.

The eight graduating Champtions of Change, activating citizen ideas for community improvement.

MUP student and citizen activist Jalonda Hill was able to design her new project through the Citizen Planning School. Her plans for a Holistic Mobility Hub on Buffalo's East Side include a bike shop, “mobility bank”, travel hub and just streets infrastructure design. 

2022 Champion for Change Jalonda Hill, who is also a student in UB’s Master of Urban Planning program, is founder of Colored Girls Bike Too (CGBT), a Black women-led “radical cycling” organization that uses the bicycle to advance racial equity and justice. She enrolled in the Citizen Planning School to help design her new project, the Holistic Mobility Hub, part of CGBT’s new Black Holistic Urbanism initiative to reclaim and rebuild the community through mobility justice.

Thanks to the support she received from the program, Hill is now prepared to launch a capital campaign for the mobility hub, which will include a bike shop, a “mobility bank” providing free mobility options, a travel hub for people on the go, and just streets infrastructure design. (Learn more about CGBT, including options to support the Holistic Mobility Hub project).

Irene Mallano, a student in UB's BA in Environmenal Design program, served as Hill's student advisor, employing her design skills to develop renderings of the Holistic Mobility Hub. “Being able to work with real people, with real goals, truly showcased the scope of these projects and how they impact the communities around us. I truly feel learning from the talented people that were brought together by the Citizen Planning School was an amazing experience for all involved.”

Lifelong Niagara Falls resident Arlene Doss joined the Citizen Planning School after noticing a troubling uptick in crime and vacancy and a lack of community pride across the city. The U.S. Army veteran and long-time community activist is now using the tools of urban planning to create a community center and meeting space providing education and career skills development for at-risk community members.

Through the program, she was able to locate a building site, identify funding sources and organize a program schedule. “We need a place for residents to spend time improving themselves as individuals and community members so that they have an outlet for creativity and education, rather than turning to crime,” she said, adding that she also hopes to encourage citizen engagement in neighborhood improvement and civic affairs.

Marsinda Tate, a nurse in Buffalo, joined the program to mobilize a health care staffing agency focused on serving older residents. She was inspired to act after witnessing first-hand the effects of staffing shortages and gaps in quality care on older residents during the pandemic.

Her student collaborators Rey Medina and Ivan Burashnikov conducted market research and demographic analysis that helped Tate shape her mission statement, map out an action plan and create a flyer to build community support for her idea.

“The Citizen Planning School was an opportunity unlike any other,” said Medina, a student in the MUP program. “Members of our community showed courage by signing up to be included in this program. It isn't easy to take an idea that you are proud of and open the door for criticism. The only way for us students to help members of the community is to take the time to understand the change they want to create and share a back-and-forth of ideas and suggestions. What I've noticed is that community members often struggle to determine their next steps. This where students dedicated to researching those next steps can really push ideas forward.”

Thomas and Gayle Nowak, who have spent the past 15 years advancing Buffalo waterfront initiatives, enrolled to advance their plan for a Buffalo Waterfront Community Center at Wilkeson Point on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. The center would provide educational programs on watersports for youth and accessible docks for people with disabilities.

BAED student Ivy Yan helped the Nowak’s develop a rendering of their proposed development, conduct market research and develop a social media engagement plan. She says the process was rewarding and demonstrated the many steps involved in developing an action plan for community development. “Working directly with Tom and Gayle brought me closer to the local community. I got to see the process, behind the scenes, in making changes for the community.”

Program participants presented their plans to the community at the Sixth Annual Citizen Planning School Idea Summit, held last month in Hayes Hall on UB’s South Campus.

“The Citizen Planning School was an opportunity unlike any other. "

- Rey Medina, MUP student and mentor to Marsinda Tate, a nurse in Buffalo who joined the program to mobilize a health care staffing agency