Planning the future: new Rowan graduate degree to help shape the region

Planning the future: new Rowan graduate degree to help shape the region

Night falls on Rowan Boulevard

New Jersey’s future could be one of suburban sprawl, depleted green space and wide swaths of concrete jungle.

Or it can include expanded green space and more walkable communities with vibrant downtowns.

Starting this fall, Rowan University will offer a graduate degree to prepare professionals with the vision and skills to help implement the latter.

The new Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning, offered through the Department of Geography, Planning, and Sustainability in the School of Earth & Environment, is a terminal degree that will enable students to launch in-demand careers in the public or private sector.

Dr. Kevin Keenan, chair of Geography, Planning and Sustainability, said poorly planned municipalities, which often teem with strip malls and impervious parking lots crosscut by highways, are less desirable than well-planned communities with walkable downtowns, on-street parking and a mixture of mom-and-pop storefronts and other economic activities.

He said an example of good planning would be Rowan Boulevard, a public-private development in Glassboro with blocks of walkable, street-level retail space and upper level housing. The development has some street-level parking, which provide pedestrians a sense of security from vehicular traffic, but also greenery, street furniture and a public plaza.

“None of it occurred by accident,” Keenan said. “Someone planned it that way.”  

He noted that New Jersey is a complex patchwork of places, including clusters of active development alongside depressed areas. The state and its surrounding communities will need well-educated municipal planners for decades to come and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that demand for urban and regional planners is growing at a rate “much faster” than many other professions.

“There are enormous opportunities,” Keenan said. “Our graduates will find careers in local and county government and at the state level. There are also private sector jobs, positions in economic development and in emergency management.”

Emergency management professionals are expert at managing people and non-human resources, particularly in the period before an emergency, and Keenan said many emergency management offices have planning departments.

He noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to address the issue of locally raised food and said the work of planners will be ever more important as local boards and municipalities decide how much of an area should be parceled out for housing and how much should be preserved as farmland and open space.

“Good planning helps society,” he said. “We want to be careful as a society to make sure we have local access to grow food. Properly planning for it is one aspect of what planners do.”