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Connecting Future Planners

As planning students, it is critical that we connect. Connect to our community, environment, colleagues, and region. Many desire to do so for the same reasons they decided to study planning: to be a part of creating better cities and more inclusive spaces and places.

While this has proved challenging during years of COVID-19 shutdown due to minimized community gatherings, students at the Department of Urban Planning and Student Planning Association at Ball State University have been immersing themselves nonetheless and looking forward to future connections.

Photo: Muncie Downtown Development Partnership

Ball State University is located in Muncie, Indiana, which is in East Central Indiana and just an hour northeast of Indianapolis. Our curriculum for the planning bachelor’s degree is based on a series of studio classes which are typically based on real sites and circumstances in Muncie, or the surrounding region. During this time, we spend hours out in Muncie neighborhoods visiting abandoned brownfield sites and talking to residents about their community. Additionally, we participate in the community by volunteering together at efforts like tree plantings, trash cleanups, and athletic races. We also support, highlight, and attend local events which showcase the city and its spaces.

A local Muncie neighborhood bordering campus recently put on an evening event that closed down their commercial center to all but pedestrians. The event featured musical performances and businesses provided items or food for $2 so visitors could try new places.

Photo: Robbie Mehling

At another event a couple of weeks later, a bridge that connects to the downtown area was closed to vehicular traffic for the annual ‘Bridge Dinner’ event which includes food trucks, live music, and local businesses. Many of our club members and new College of Architecture and Planning majors attended and experienced a new perspective of the city. There were dinner tables set up with families and neighbors catching up, children dancing, and overall a slowness to the space. This was a space that was transformed in the absence of endangerment. Where there was usually rush-hour traffic, idling vehicles, and minimal pedestrian usage (due to the discomfort of high-speed traffic and narrow space devoted to pedestrians) there was now connection and community. While these were one-day occurrences, we appreciate how it exemplifies the community the possibilities. The space between buildings is not and should not automatically be devoted wholly and absolutely to one use and user.

Possibilities of the future are what many students desire to explore in university. Especially in the planning profession, it is through connecting with communities and spaces that we better understand them. Only then can we begin to guide the conversation on their futures.

AUTHOR: Elise Jones

Elise is a current planning student at Ball State University pursuing her undergraduate degree in Urban Planning and Development through the College of Architecture and Planning. She is from Fort Wayne, Indiana but has enjoyed embedding herself in the Muncie community through consistent community service and volunteering. She entered the planning program in part due to her interests in sustainability, and therefore has pursued and will complete a Graduate Certificate in Sustainability through Ball State by December 2022. Previously, she has been awarded the University's Top 100 Student award, has served as the President of SPA, the student planning association on campus, and participated in other student organizations. Finally, Elise is a passionate cyclist who is motivated to make cities more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly across the Midwest.

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