Strategies to protect the Annapolis waterfront from storm surges, to address challenges of heroin use and youth suicide, and to foster easier pathways from farm to table are just a few of the priority projects the University of Maryland’s Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability program (PALS) will tackle in its fourth community partnership – this time with Anne Arundel County and the City of Annapolis, Md.
"The University of Maryland's PALS program is exactly the type of innovative partnership that can help address the critical issues facing our county," said County Executive Steve Schuh. "Our administration is excited to team up with students to provide data-driven solutions that will make our county the best place to live, work and start a business in Maryland."
Through a diverse roster of 25 courses over this academic year, PALS students and faculty are addressing economic, environmental and social challenges prioritized by county and city governments to improve quality of life in the Chesapeake Bay Region.
"This program will help the City of Annapolis leverage resources and gather information necessary to be successful when planning various initiatives including transportation and economic development," Mayor Pantelides said. "Along with the University of Maryland, I am thrilled to again partner with the county to help us address the current need for information that will help us complete critical projects benefiting both the city and the county."
Partnership work began this summer with an ambitious urban planning course in Annapolis. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), students, under the direction of Research Associate Director Chao Liu, developed a database that shows and tracksfor the first time, a top priority for the city. This database will be a foundation for other PALS courses, during which UMD students will tackle one or more projects for the city and/or county.
"We are very excited about these critical projects for both the county and city,” said Liu. “Students can finally apply what they learned in the classroom to a "real-world" situation, not only for their own research interests, but also to help the county and city address issues like transit accessibility, emergency planning strategies and land use development potential. PALS courses provide great opportunities for students and local jurisdictions to work together towards more sustainable and equitable development."
In one course this fall, PALS students are identifying redevelopment opportunities for the county and analyzing emergency medical services (EMS) “hot spots” to help the city predict where emergencies are more likely to occur. A spring course will study ways that the county can design policies and programs for leveraging transportation that can connect low income/welfare recipients to paid work.
This academic year’s efforts in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County will galvanize nearly 400 students from eight of the 12 colleges and schools on campus. Beginning this semester, PALS classes are eligible to fulfill the Scholarship in Practice requirement for all undergraduates. The varied roster of projects addresses environmental, social and economic well-being, as well as capacity building throughout the region. A landscape architecture course will bridge a crucial gap in the Patapsco-BWI greenway, a pedestrian-bike route with the potential to connect Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore Counties and Baltimore City. An economics course will develop a plan for more public access to water using mooring ball anchors.
“Our role in facilitating collaboration between the county and the city on several difficult, shared issues is a particularly exciting extension for PALS,” said Uri Avin, director of the PALS program.
Developed by the university’s National Center for Smart Growth, PALS pairs faculty expertise with student ingenuity to tackle sustainability issues facing Maryland communities. PALS partners with one or two communities each academic year, matching customized coursework with the specific challenges described by the partner community to deliver research and recommendations on a host of sustainability challenges. Offering on-the-ground civic engagement, PALS coursework also provides a living case study for students, offering a rewarding community experience that best mirrors future professional interactions within their disciplines.
Building on Results
Since its inception, PALS has engaged nearly 900 students, 11 campus schools and colleges, and provided over 100,000 hours of work directed towards tackling social, economic and environmental challenges throughout the state; the work done in The City of Frederick alone is worth about one million dollars in consultant costs. Some of these projects are moving into implementation. The partnership with Howard County and CA, which spanned 33 courses, made PALS the largest action-learning program in the country.
“I was so impressed with the level of work,” said The City of Frederick Alderman Michael O’Connor. “If we can do ten percent, five percent, even one percent of what they brought forward, then this partnership has been worth it for The City of Frederick.”
Enhancing Quality of Life on the Bay
Sustainable Communities remain at partnership core
PALS brings together the best that the university has to offer: a world-class faculty, talented and energetic students and a commitment to serve communities throughout the state,” says Knaap. “We are very pleased to be able to bring these assets to the Maryland capital region.
Learn more about PALS here.
October 4, 2016