ASU urban planning students win award for top project in the state

Students worked with the community to reveal new insights into the state of affordable housing for the city of Peoria

Arizona State University urban planning students received first place this month in the 2021 American Planning Association Arizona Chapter (AZ-APA) Awards’ best student-led planning project category for their work that helped assess current and future housing opportunities for the city of Peoria. 

“The award is a reflection of our students' passion and commitment to excellence in responding to current planning challenges,” said Deirdre Pfeiffer, associate professor and associate director of planning in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “The award also conveys the value of Project Cities in helping to facilitate high-quality experiential learning opportunities for our students.” 

Nearly two dozen Master of Urban and Environmental Planning students across two planning courses joined together to complete the project titled, “Preliminary Housing Analysis & ADU Policy Recommendations for Peoria, AZ.”

The students, in collaboration with ASU’s Project Cities, a university-community partnership program, worked with the city of Peoria’s Departments of Planning and Community Development and Neighborhood and Human Services to research two affordable housing challenges in Peoria: a needs assessment and a policy strategy for accessory dwelling unit ordinances. 

Peoria is one of the fastest-growing cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area but competing demographic pressures coupled with limitations in affordable housing availability have spurred consideration of alternative options to help their citizens secure sustainable housing. 

Students in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning’s Urban Housing Issues course worked to assess existing housing needs and future trends for Peoria’s growing population, while students in the school’s Planning Workshop class evaluated the opportunities for policies around accessory dwelling unit ordinances in Peoria as a potential response to housing needs.

Accessory dwelling units are small, secondary living facilities that are on the same lot as a primary dwelling, like a converted basement or freestanding backyard structure that has its own kitchen, bathroom and utilities.

Over the course of the spring 2021 semester, students analyzed demographic and housing market data, conducted interviews and focus groups with Peoria stakeholders and developed community case studies with detailed zoning code analyses. The students then aligned their research and tailored their recommendations with local perspectives and broad community interests in mind. 

“I most enjoyed the difficulty of finding data that you need to tell as complete of a story as you can about a city,” said Noah Schumerth, a Master of Urban and Environmental Planning student and project manager for the housing needs assessment component of the project. “This process helps you to connect with a community and learn what sets it apart from similar places; something that all planners need to do in the places in which they are working.”  

The two student groups each created individual reports that, when integrated together, provided Peoria’s planners and decision-makers a comprehensive look at housing needs and forward-looking policy recommendations for the city. Both classes presented their work to the city of Peoria as part of a Project Cities Showcase, which included participants from the city’s deputy manager’s office and the city of Peoria’s Departments of Planning and Community Development and Neighborhood and Human Services.

“The Project Cities effort was a fruitful interactive process that gave the city of Peoria a thorough, well-sourced deliverable while providing the students an opportunity to gain valuable experience as a consultant by responding to client needs in order to inform policy decisions for years to come,” said Cody Gleason, principal planner for the city of Peoria, and city of Peoria planning liaison to the project. “I am sure that I speak for all of the Peoria staff involved in the project when I say that it was a pleasure working with ASU students, faculty and staff.” 

For students, the project enabled them to have applied planning experiences, preparing them for the types of projects that they might participate in as a planner while helping to build a more sustainable housing market for a local community. 

“We all are thankful for the opportunity provided by ASU Project Cities to participate in a project beyond the walls of a virtual classroom, particularly in a time when COVID-19 has restricted opportunities to get hands-on experience in local communities,” Schumerth said. “Our team is honored to receive this award from the AZ-APA, and we're thankful for the ways that the AZ-APA takes the time to elevate the amazing work being done by planning students across Arizona.”