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  NEW TOWNS
WINTER 2004
 

Lucy Rowland Uses Classroom to Make Change

Lucy Rowland was brought up in Alexandria, Va., a town steeped in traditional neighborhoods, and learned early about the beauty, the independence and the special sense of connectedness that comes from being able to go places and do things under your own steam when you are a child.

People who grow up in traditional neighborhoods -- whether in small towns or large cities -- never forget them.

Unfortunately, when they move on in life, those people don't do much about it. More often than not, they slip into the mainstream of American suburbs, building their lives and raising their families in sprawl-type development. From that point on, it's drive-drive, no-time-to-think, drive-drive. After all, sprawl is what's "out there." Maybe, after that, they just numb out.

Lucy Rowland did not forget the magic of living in a traditional neighborhood, and she didn't give it up. She lives in one today. She is a new urbanist.

Rowland is also a scientist, librarian, bibliographer and distinguished, high-ranking educator at the University of Georgia.

Rowland is a woman whose understanding and support of traditional neighborhood planning -- new urbanism -- has made a difference in the landscape of Athens, the college town that is her home. Her intellectual grasp of the importance of new urbanism makes a difference every day at the University of Georgia, the school where she has worked for more than three decades.

The university is approximately 60 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta and has a student enrollment of more than 33,000. Around 1,000 other students attend the university at different locations such as research facilities.

Atlanta is actually famous for the thick web of sprawl stretching in every direction from its urban core. With no mountains, ocean or other geographic impediment, Atlanta's sprawl can swallow everything in its polluted, traffic-choked path.

But if Rowland has anything to say about it, sprawl won't get Athens.

For nearly 20 years, Rowland has served her growing metropolitan community -- the joint municipality of Athens and Clarke County, Georgia (Athens and Clarke County governments consolidated in 1990) -- as a planning commissioner who understands what true mixed-use development is, one who understands the bankrupt economics of sprawl and the healthy economics of new urbanism. She brings that knowledge with her to planning commission meetings that are held at least 15 times a year.

"Our comprehensive plan, mandated by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, specifically addresses sprawl and minimizes it in order to direct development to where infrastructure exists, thereby densifying through infill and grayfield development," she says.

Rowland has the understanding of an insider -- or a scholar -- of the roles played by each of the actors in the development drama: banks, neighborhoods, developers, builders, planning commissioners, city council members, environmentalists and others.

"Banks can make it difficult to impossible for developers to do the right thing. The banker must be able to see it as . a return on investment," says Rowland. Developers also run into NIMBYism. Designers may say something is mixed-use when it really is two uses on one location.

"It's unfortunate that some developers and financial institutions are skeptical of anything except new conventional subdivisions, strip commercial development, and big boxes because they know it and are comfortable with the model. As a planning commissioner. I attempt to change that mindset."

"Developers [need to understand] that in the end, TNDs are more profitable."

Rowland has made a difference in colleges and universities across the country where her support of a new organization called the Students for New Urbanism (SNU) has helped the number of chapters grow.

Rowland is co-founder, owner and moderator of the growing "Pro-Urb" listserv, which she began in 1999 for new urbanist professionals, practitioners, public officials and others with a specific involvement in new urbanism. The private listserv has grown from a group of 65 to more than 650 in just five years and is a fountain of information and communication for the professionals who use it every day.

At the University of Georgia, Rowland is a Librarian 4, which is the equivalent of a full professor. Her title -- actually her job -- covers a lot of ground. She is Head: Science Collection and Research Facilities, University of Georgia Libraries Biomedical and Life Sciences Bibliographer. She is also head of the Veterinary Medical Branch Library. She also supervises four smaller libraries throughout Georgia where much research is conducted: Sapelo Island Marine Institute, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, Tifton Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and experiment stations at Tifton and Griffin, Ga.

Rowland has a master's degree in library science, a master's degree in microbiology, and a double undergraduate degree in biology and zoology and a chemistry minor.

She has been a university lecturer, published many papers, won many awards, served and been invited to serve on dozens of committees, participated in many conferences. The kind of difference Rowland has been making requires a lot of time.

Rowland is not just bothered by sprawl. She abhors sprawl because of the cost in tax dollars, the destruction of greenfields and the environmental damage it causes.

"Sprawl is a terribly serious problem because it is unsustainable and costs more to service than it contributes in taxes. It destroys productive farmland and forests while adding to water and air pollution. ."

Her interest in the new urbanism movement began in the '90s around the time she first read a book by James Kunstler and became friends with John Massengale.

"Because I grew up in Alexandria, Va., [new urbanism] was an easy concept to understand.

"I joined the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) in 1998 and have been involved with CNU and with promoting new urbanism locally, especially during the development of the Athens-Clarke County Comprehensive Plan in the 1990s."

Today Rowland is the newly-appointed co-chair, along with Phyllis Bleiweiss (director of the Seaside Institute in Seaside, Fla.), of the CNU Educators Task Force, which is concerned with education at all levels -- including professional and continuing education.

"CNU is structured with a board of directors, plus permanent task forces. Each task force has a mission and develops initiatives. Task forces meet at CNU conferences and anyone attending the Congress with an interest is welcome to attend. Past Educators' Task Force accomplishments include helping SNU chapter formation, an academic research initiative, and the annual research bibliographies.

"Phyllis and I are exploring what needs to be changed in the mission and goals of the Educators' Task Force right now."

Rowland says that university students who learn about traditional neighborhood development in college and who wish to incorporate those principals into their work do so by looking "to the firms that are incorporating the principles of new urbanism in their design practice. There are, of course, the very famous or large firms, but there are also some that are small and still successful," she says.

The bottom line, says Rowland, is the need to educate the public about traditional neighborhood development. Right now, she estimates that there are no more than 30,000 people in the United States who have heard of it. Of those, "only 1,000 could accurately describe it."

For some of that public educating, she says, she looks to publications like New Towns, New Urban News, and to general reporters, if they can do it accurately.

In the meantime, in city government, in academia, online and from her position in the Congress for the New Urbanism, Rowland will continue to educate people too. That is how she is making a difference.


To learn more about the Science Library at the University of Georgia visit the website: www.libs.uga.edu/science

To learn about the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) the website is: www.cnu.org