Perfecting the art and science of urban planning

Industrial partnership strengthens Urban and Regional Planning Program

Jennifer Pascoe - 27 July 2016

A reflection of the rising popularity of urban planning as well as the strength of the University of Alberta's reputation for excellence, Brookfield Residential recently donated $250,000 to the U of A's Urban and Regional Planning Program.

"The Brookfield donation is a testament to our strong partnership with industry," says Sandeep Agrawal, director of the University of Alberta's Urban and Regional Planning Program and professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. "It shows that our program is perhaps the only program that promotes balanced planning practices between the public and private sector. The donation will allow us to further build our reputation and help with establishing a strong professional master's degree in planning as well."

"Urban and regional planning is both an art and a science. Our program caters to both sides. It's a perfect marriage." -Sandeep Agrawal

The donation includes scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students as well as the Brookfield Residential Distinguished Visitors Program to bring in external experts in the planning field to add to the scholarship at the University of Alberta.

The planning program is also working with the Government of Alberta to approve a professional master's program. He is optimistic that the program-which already consists of undergraduate degrees in arts and science plus a PhD program-can meet the demand and accommodate the first intake of professional master's students as early as September 2016. More than 150 students have already applied for only 15 spots. Agrawal explains that planning is a professional discipline focused on helping students develop the appropriate skill set to solve problems facing society.

From environmental impact to socio-economics

"Urban and regional planning is both an art and a science," Agrawal explains. "Those who come from the science side of the discipline tend to focus on quantitative skills with a background in biology and the environmental side of things. Those who come from the arts side tend to focus more on the social aspect related to housing, homelessness, and poverty. Our program caters to both sides. It's a perfect marriage."

The U of A's planning program examines socio-economics, land use, environmental and economic impacts, the cost of environmental degradation, effects of climate change, and strategies for building more resilient communities. Edmonton and surrounding areas are often used as case studies that can be applied to a wider lens.

Though he says he doesn't believe a utopian or ideal community exists, Agrawal notes that in the four years he has lived in Edmonton, he sees positive strides in the city pushing for more strategic urban planning. "There is always work to be done no matter the city. Certainly we are on the right track with the LRT intensification, infill policies, and move toward densification. I think in the last few years, we have seen that Edmonton is trying to reverse the process of urban sprawl that was in place before."