Planning Master’s Program Celebrates 40 Years

Students present their work to experts for “Plan-Off” Competition

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Students in VCU’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning program will present condensed versions of their work during the second annual “Plan-Off!!” competition on Friday, May 3, at 4 p.m. at the Virginia Housing Development Authority’s Innsbrook Housing Center at 4224 Cox Rd. in Glen Allen.  

Each participating master’s degree student has just five minutes to convince a panel of professional planners serving as judges that he or she has developed a viable and compelling plan.

Faculty, staff and students and others in the planning community also will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Master of Regional Planning program at the event, and program leaders will launch a student scholarship fundraising campaign. The Master of Regional Planning program is in the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, part of the College of Humanities and Sciences.

“Over the past four decades, the urban planning program has made remarkable contributions to ‘elevate the state of planning in Virginia,’ as stated in a recent external evaluation of the program,” said John Accordino, Ph.D., professor of planning. “The program has trained nearly 700 professional planners who have completed over 900 plans for communities throughout Virginia, the Eastern Seaboard and abroad. Most of these plans have been implemented, in whole or in part.”

Accordino launched the “Plan-Off!!” last year, based on a similar idea he learned about at the University of Messina, one of VCU’s International Partnership Universities. Scholars in medicine at Messina participate in a tournament in which they present a medical case study in five minutes and a panel decides on the best presentation.

While 30-minute presentations of their “studio II” plans to professors, clients and peers are part of every graduate planning student’s academic experience, the “Plan-Off!!” challenges them to deliver the key points of their plans in a five-minute presentation.  

“By limiting each presentation to five minutes, the ‘Plan-Off!!’ forces students to really focus on the highlights and succinctly make the case for their plans in a way that any member of the community can readily grasp,” Accordino said. “This is also excellent training for students to learn how to develop the ‘elevator speech’ that is often important for professional effectiveness beyond graduate school.”

The “Plan-Off!!” is open to VCU students, faculty and staff, as well as residents and planners from surrounding communities.

After all of the students deliver a five-minute presentation of their plans, the judges will narrow the field to the “final four” and will ultimately select a tournament champion from that group.

The eight judges represent government planning departments and organizations from areas outside of the jurisdictions of the students’ plans and media.

Students will present plans that cover a variety of topics, including a plan for a freight village at the Port of Richmond, a composting plan for Carytown, a neighborhood plan for Battery Park, a corridor improvement plan for the town of White Stone and an area plan for Norfolk’s Chelsea Industrial District.

The winners will receive trophies that commemorate the event.  

The Plan-Off is sponsored by the Virginia Housing Development Authority and the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Accordino said the VDHA’s Housing Center is a particularly exciting location for the event because Henrico County approved a plan in 2010 to transform the development into an urban mixed use and traditional development community.  A presentation on that plan will be made during the “Plan-Off!!” event. 

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