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UB Regional Institute and Urban Design Project teaming up under Architecture and Planning umbrella

By Rachel M. Teaman

Release Date: June 30, 2011

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo Regional Institute, known for its cutting-edge policy research, and the Urban Design Project, a key contributor across two decades to planning and place-making efforts throughout the region, are joining forces.

Already two of UB's most active and relevant research centers, the alliance of UBRI and UDP will buttress the capacity of the School of Architecture and Planning to produce public scholarship in service to the community and build a new infrastructure to support faculty research.

"The Regional Institute has been the go-to source for practical policy research for more than a decade," Robert G. Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning said. "And our Urban Design Project has been closely involved in many of the most important planning initiatives in Buffalo Niagara since 1990. We'll be even better together."

"We will continue to do the work we've been doing," Shibley said. "And we will do it with a more robust team that brings a broader set of skills to the table. Our expertise will be more diverse. The potential to come up with new solutions to old problems will be so much greater."

The allied organizations bring together planners, urban designers, architects, landscape architects, data analysts, policy specialists, legal experts, researchers, information systems experts, technical writers, graphic designers, grant writers, and others to provide research, policy advice, planning, and design assistance to governments, businesses and not-for-profits in the region.

Members of the new team are also poised to support faculty members with burgeoning research programs spanning topics as diverse as food systems security, responses to climate change, green transportation, inclusive design, situated technologies (the use of technology embedded in buildings), sustainable community development, planning for extreme events (such as earthquakes or hurricanes) and many others.

Staff in both centers are supported largely by the proceeds of the work they produce. They will also help leverage the sponsored research dollars that will support doctoral students set to enter a new Ph.D. program in planning directed by UB Professor Samina Raja starting next year.

Shibley will oversee the operations of both the institute and UDP for the immediate future, while UB Regional Institute director Kathryn A. Foster takes a one-year sabbatical to conduct research at the prestigious Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.

The School plans to hire an associate dean for research, who will direct both the operations of the allied research centers and provide support to faculty researchers across both departments in the School.

UB Interim Provost Harvey G. Stenger Jr. said the new alliance puts the School of Architecture and Planning in a strong position to contribute to the continued growth of sponsored research and the fulfillment of UB's role as a great public research university.

"We are in the business of producing knowledge in the public interest," Stenger said. "Aligning two of our most productive and capable centers with the research agendas of our faculty equips the School of Architecture and Planning to contribute to the core institutional mission in greater measure than ever before."

Shibley emphasized that the alliance of the Regional Institute and UDP was only the first step in mounting a school-wide strategy to increase external funding for research and to expand public service.

"The faculty in our school have always conducted socially relevant research," Shibley said, "and we have always done work in the community. What will be different now is that we will be working together to make it better – through this new alliance, and through the appointment of an associate dean whose main job is to encourage faculty research."

Shibley praised the work of Foster, a widely-recognized authority on regional governance who has been UBRI director for the past six years. "Kate Foster has done a great job," Shibley said. "During her tenure, the institute has become even more important in the life of Buffalo Niagara."

"Directing the UB Regional Institute has been the most gratifying and meaningful job I've ever had," Foster said. "The institute's work is smart, valuable and trusted, and I have been proud to be a part of it. Dean Shibley's vision for the future of the institute will ensure it continues to serve the community."

Foster said she is looking forward to her sabbatical and the opportunity focus on her research away from the day to day press of business at the institute.

"After six years," she said, "it is a good time to step back and reflect on the work we have been doing and try to understand what we have learned in the process about how regions govern themselves and how they can do it better."

Under Foster's leadership, the institute greatly diversified its funding and research portfolio, growing in value in the community as a source of objective and innovative research – "decision support" – on some of the region's most pressing issues.

The institute most recently completed a series of studies on the role of higher education in the new economy, a comprehensive assessment of Buffalo Niagara's labor market and a report on the status of women and girls. It also developed an online repository of data on the bi-national region, built a cross-border governance research program, and launched a policy brief series providing analysis on timely topics for the region.

The institute will continue to operate out of its facilities in the UB Downtown Gateway, where it moved in November 2009 as part of the early wave of UB 2020 activities.

This is a time of change for the School of Architecture and Planning. Faculty and staff are now vacating Hayes Hall in preparation for a comprehensive renewal of UB's most historic and recognizable building. Work on Hayes, set to begin in September, will be followed by a top-to-bottom renovation of Crosby Hall. The $50 million project is scheduled to be completed by 2015.

The doctoral program in planning to be inaugurated next year will put UB among fewer than 40 American universities to offer such a degree. UB also has the only department of architecture and one of only two programs in planning in the SUNY system.

Professor Ernest Sternberg, chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning said, "this new chapter in the history of the institute and the Urban Design Project in our School is a critical component of our commitment to continued public scholarship and new sponsored research."

The school, with a full-time faculty of 38, is already home to five University-recognized research centers, including the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (the IDEA Center), the Center for Architecture and Situated Technologies, and the Center for Urban Studies, as well as UDP and UBRI.

The Urban Design Project has established a similarly distinguished record in urban design and planning. Under Shibley's leadership, the UDP produced the recent comprehensive plan for the City of Buffalo, including plans for Downtown, the waterfront, and the Olmsted parks and parkway system.

The Buffalo ensemble of plans won a 2009 Charter Award from the Congress for the New Urbanism and The Queen City Hub: A Regional Action Plan for Downtown Buffalo won the American Planning Association's 2005 national award for "outstanding planning."

UDP staff also worked closely with Shibley on creation of Building UB: the Comprehensive Physical Plan the capital development component of the University's UB 2020 strategic plan. The UB campus master plan, an important part of UB 2020 helped set the agenda for negotiations in Albany leading to support for the move of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences to a new Downtown Campus.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 29,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.