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October 11, 2017

UMass Boston urban planning professor receives national civic engagement award


  • Boston
Ken Reardon leads growing master’s program in urban planning and community development

Professor of Urban Planning Ken Reardon is the winner of the 2017 Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award.

Campus Compact, a national coalition of more than 1,000 colleges and universities, gives the award each year to one faculty member who demonstrates exemplary leadership in advancing student civic learning, conducting community-based research, fostering reciprocal partnerships, building institutional commitments to engagement, and enhancing higher education’s contributions to the public good. 

“It’s deeply meaningful to me,” Reardon said. “I’m entering my 35th year as a university faculty member. I took the road less traveled by engaging my students from the very first semester in community-based work, and to see it recognized in this matter with an award named after someone in higher ed who I deeply admire is deeply gratifying.”

The award is named for Thomas Ehrlich, former chair of the Campus Compact board of directors and president emeritus of Indiana University, and financially supported by the KPMG Foundation. Honorees must be nominated by both academics and community partners.

“It is particularly exciting for me to celebrate Ken Reardon because I have been learning from his writing, his public presentations, and—most importantly—from his example for years,” said Campus Compact President Andrew Seligsohn. “Ken has shown us what it means for universities to work in partnership with community residents to advance progress toward more just and equitable cities.”

Reardon came to UMass Boston two years ago to serve as the first director of the master’s program in urban planning and community development, in the School for the Environment. There are 30 students enrolled in the program, which has grown steadily; the first three graduates will receive their degrees in December.

Reardon got the call about the community engagement award while doing community-engaged work. He and his graduate students were knocking on doors in Dorchester, conducting interviews for the Pope’s Hill Comprehensive Improvement Plan.

“It’s been a solid working-class, middle-income, mostly Irish neighborhood, but has begun to change pretty dramatically in the last five years due to all the development pressures in downtown Boston,” Reardon said. “There’ve been a series of Boston Planning and Development Agency-initiated zoning variances to densify the neighborhood, to put up little sliver buildings six to eight stories tall in the middle of what’s been a two- and three-story residential community, and people are concerned.”

The Pope’s Hill Neighborhood Association approached UMass Boston’s Office of Community Relations to see if UMass Boston students and faculty would collaborate with the group on a neighborhood improvement plan. Ten graduate students collected data this summer. Next month they will present their findings—strengths, weaknesses, and a short list of challenges. In December they will present a framework for a plan, and by mid-March they will have recommended steps, a list of lead and supporting agencies, and evaluation criteria.

This is just one of the community-based projects Reardon and his students have worked on in the last two years:

-Undergraduate and graduate students are currently educating those who live around the Exeter River Dam, on the border of Brentwood and Fremont, New Hampshire, about the pros and cons of preserving or decommissioning the dam. The dam’s owner wants to either sell the dam to the abutters or take it out. The students have created a website at Ten undergraduate and graduate students interviewed 45 abutters earlier this month, and facilitated a community meeting this week.

-In February, Reardon’s students completed work on their contribution to the Alewife Resiliency Plan. Graduate students interviewed representatives from human services organizations serving the poor and men and women at trains and bus stops to assess who would be vulnerable around climate change-related disasters: heat, storm surge, and river flooding. They did this work for Kleinfelder, an architectural firm contracted by the City of Cambridge.

Reardon will speak about his work as part of a special session during Campus Compact’s 2018 National Conference in March.