UMD "PALS" Program Launches Partnership with Annapolis and Anne Arundel County

UMD "PALS" Program Launches Partnership with Annapolis and Anne Arundel County

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 tracksLand use within Annapolis for 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.

Find the spring course roster here.

“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 
PALS initiated its first partnership with The City of Frederick, Md., in September of 2014, adding a second, smaller collaboration with College Park in January 2015 and launching its third partnership with Howard County, Md., and the Columbia Association (CA) in September 2015. In addition, a smaller collaboration with the Southwest Partnership in Baltimore helped create development plans for several SW Baltimore cites and built an “opportunity mapping” database that shows key statistics such as job opportunities, vacant housing and vehicle ownership.

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
The new partnership with Anne Arundel County and Annapolis is the first time PALS is collaborating with both a city and county concurrently, a nod to newly elected County Executive Steve Schuh and Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides’ continued efforts to collaborate for stronger, more sustainable communities. The combined jurisdiction of over half a million people is nearly double the size of PALS’ latest efforts in Howard County.

Sustainable Communities remain at partnership core
The mission of PALS is to help communities improve their quality of life through the vast resources available at the university. PALS was initiated by Gerrit-Jan Knaap, director of the university’s National Center for Smart Growth, in response to two very distinct—yet interconnected—issues: a lack of “real world” experiential opportunities for students to practice classroom skills, and the contemporary struggle local governments face with dwindling budgets, overburdened staff and mounting sustainability issues. Through interdisciplinary and cross-community collaboration, the PALS program represents an integral part of the university’s land grant mission to create a more sustainable Maryland.

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

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