raduates of rare U program work to spice up communities

by Mike Oakes

They’ve helped develop the skyway system in Minneapolis, redevelop the riverfront in St. Paul and are currently working on a number of projects in metro area communities.
But graduates of Master of Urban and Regional Planning, a graduate program through the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute, aren’t stopping there.
The program — which has been educating students on how to successfully develop and redevelop community neighborhoods, businesses and parks for 25 years — is one of 66 such accredited programs in the country. Its classes focus on land use, economic development and transportation, among other subjects.
While being one of 66 doesn’t put the urban planning program at the head of the class, the school has produced some of the top graduates in the country.
“Minnesota is a reputable, well- known school that has turned out prominent planners,” said Carolyn Torma, director of education at the American Planning Association.
Some graduates are currently working on new developments considered “landmark projects,” said program director Ann Markuson.
Janet Jeremiah, who completed nearly all of the program between 1988 and 1991, was whisked away by the community development departments in Bloomington, Brooklyn Park and now St. Louis Park, before graduating. She has since re-registered in the urban planning program and is nearly finished.
Now, with the experience of the program as her rudder, Jeremiah has embarked on one of the largest current projects in the metro area: a new St. Louis Park downtown.
The community lacks a town center, which Jeremiah says is the crucial reason the city needs a new downtown.
“The community really thought it was important to create that kind of identity in St. Louis Park,” she said.
With the welfare of the community as its foundation, the city center will retain characteristics of older, smaller downtowns and will feature mostly four-story buildings and a park.
The new downtown is expected to bring 125,000 square feet of retail and 80,000 square feet of office space to the area, as well as 600 housing units — numbers Jeremiah explains reflect community needs.
“This project is in line with the concept of ‘new urbanism,’ (which is) a mixture of uses to accommodate to the needs of the people who live there,” Jeremiah explained.
Katya Ricketts, a 1997 program graduate, is program manager for the St. Paul Payne Avenue Main Street Program. Since acquiring her position, the program has made significant physical improvements in East St. Paul, including facade restoration of a number of buildings on Payne Avenue.
But Ricketts won’t take full credit for the redevelopment.
“This program is very much led by business people and residents of the community. The success is that of the community,” she said.
Ricketts added that she has the graduate program to thank for her success.
“The Humphrey program did a really good job of teaching me the language, politics and framework for community development.”
Antonio Rosell, a current planning program student, is working with groups on a Phillips neighborhood project. One of the largest communities in Minneapolis, Phillips will be divided into four neighborhoods in the next year.
Rosell is part of a group to help set up a Geographic Information System in the community. The system tracks economic development, measures community densities and keeps track of the development dollar.
Rosell was only slightly familiar with the Geographic Information System before enrolling in the planning program, but she has since mastered it as a program student.
The master’s program is highly accredited, said Rosell, and has helped him immensely.
“(The program) has taught me how cities are shaped, what groups win and lose when dealing with planning issues,” he said. “People that have done great work elsewhere are now heading our program.”
Markuson said the program and its success are growing every year.
“Last year’s program had 16 students; this year there are 21,” she said.
She also said she is thrilled with the success graduates have been having, especially in the Twin Cities.
“Many top planning directors are graduates of our program,” she added. “It’s very strong.”

Mike Oakes can be reached at [email protected]