Top Rated Program

Jan 28, 2015

CRP is again a top planning program in North America. For the past 12 years Cal Poly has consistently ranked near the top of programs for planning in the country according to the Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs.  According to the 2019 guide, the program is the #9 small program in the country and the #25 overall program in the country according to planning educators. More information about the Planetizen guide can be found here:

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CRP faculty research to design an innovative wildfire mitigation solution

Jan 30, 2023

City and Regional Planning faculty are involved in creating new planning tool for address the wildfire hazard. This is what they are doing.

The problem at hand. Between 2003 and 2021, the top 10 costliest wildland fires in the United States all occurred in California, where  one  in four people live in an area considered high risk for wildfires.  Given the impact of catastrophic fires in western states the need exists for increasing Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) fire resilience through assessing and managing local land use, mitigation and adaptation plans.  Most California jurisdictions produce, and utilize many different types of plans (e.g.  Safety Element of the General Plan, Hazard Mitigation Plan, and Community Wildfire and Protection Plan)  each with its own set of policies, and implementation scheme; generally lacking integration. This is especially true when speaking about hazards, particularly the wildland urban interface fire hazard (WUI) that is usually addressed by several agencies but lacks collaboration and spatial understanding of the heterogenous effects of different policies across a community. 

A proposed solution . This research project focuses on applying the Plan Integration Resilience Scorecard (PIRS) method to jurisdictions that are subject to the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) hazard.  PIRS is a methodology that spatially evaluates networks of plans to help reduce vulnerability to hazards. It provides a pathway to adjust multiple policies to improve and strengthen resiliency at the spatial level. Plan integration is the process of harmonizing a jurisdictions network of plans to support community priorities. With support from the Department of Homeland Security(DHS), and a focus on floods, it was first piloted in several East Coast Cities and the Netherlands. Then NOAA provided support for urban heat island hazard using the PIRS method for a pilot in several cities. FEMA has evaluated vulnerability in the Southern usual this method.

WUI however, presents a special challenge in that the hazard itself stems from the dynamics of fuel variables  (natural and built) interacting with climate, and human variables. The WUI+PIRS method seeks to strengthen mitigation policy at the local jurisdictional level, improving integration of policies by scoring their influence as mitigation actions and by identifying them spatially. 

PIRS+WUI is  a three part process.   First, hazard zones are defined and mapped creating neighborhood scale units for improved analysis.  For PIRS+WUI a combination of CA Fire Hazard Severity maps is combined with census block groups and parcel data. Second,  content analysis is used on documents from the jurisdictions “network of plans” to organize a “policy set” related to the hazard that is scored relative to impact on vulnerability, and influences on land use.  Finally, physical and social vulnerability are determined for each of the districts and compared to the policy scores. The phases to a PIRS include: creating the scorecard, analyzing the scorecard, analyzing scorecard results, and advancing resilience.  The scorecard shows which policies contribute most to building WUI resilience for the jurisdiction.

This  project will work with four CA jurisdictions (Atascadero, Temecula, Santa Barbara and Sonoma counties) over a two year periods using a multidisciplinary team of faculty associated with  the Cal Poly WUI Fire Institute and the Texas A&M Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center.  The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation provides funding support for this effort. 

The Cal Poly team, working the WUI Fire Institute includes: William Siembieda, (Principal Investigator). and Cornelius Norworsoo from City and Regional Planning,, Margot McDonald from Architecture, Andrew Fricker from Geography, Chris Dicus from Natural Resources Management and Environmental Sciences, and Dan Turner from the Firesafe Council. Cal Poly students are involved in developing the GIS maps to use in the analysis phase.

Alumni Profile: Jaime Jaramillo

Aug 31, 2022

By Rylee Rodriguez, MCRP ’22


Through making a difference by means of real estate ownership and helping people in need gain individual and familial wealth in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, MCRP Alum Jaime Jaramillo credits her Cal Poly education as the reason for where she is today.

Jaime was first inspired to study urban planning after learning about the sustainability tactics utilized in Curitiba, Brazil by its Mayor, Jaime Lerner. After getting her undergraduate degree in Urban Planning from the University of New Mexico and working in an internship where she had to analyze different academic planning programs, Jaime fell in love with Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing education and campus.

While at Cal Poly, Jaime balanced her academic life and her internship with Lisa Wise Consulting, a local firm that actively supports many CRP and MCRP students. After graduating Cal Poly with a Master’s in City and Regional Planning in 2015, Jaime went on to get a full-time position with Lisa Wise Consulting, where she remained for a little while before getting the opportunity to move back home to New Mexico with a firm focused on long-range planning for communities throughout the state and within the city of Albuquerque. Here, she was introduced to a network of engineers, home builders, and developers that opened her eyes to what else planning had an influence on.

These relationships and experiences gave Jaime an itch to learn more about the process surrounding development and real estate, and how planning plays a vital role in it all. This newfound hankering pushed Jaime to peruse a career in real estate planning that eventually led her to a planning manager role with Homewise.

Homewise is a nonprofit organization and Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) focused on empowering individuals through real estate ownership and education. Its mission is to help create successful homeowners and strengthen neighborhoods so families can improve their long-term financial wellbeing and quality of life. The organization is involved in several projects that range from affordable housing to mixed-use and small-scale commercial developments. It also works to educate clients on building individual, family, and small businesses wealth, as well as provides financial lending support. However, the most meaningful aspect of this organization to Jaime is how Homewise places a particular emphasis on improving neighborhoods of need in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Being proactive in the communities where she grew up, Jaime feels excited about how she can be a part of the process that makes a positive impact for future generations there.

Acting as a Real Estate Planning Manager, Jaime leads several Homewise teams on the entitlements, acquisitions, and designs for future community projects, sometimes 25 at a time. Her favorite part of her role is getting to be involved in all the different phases, such as working with the different agencies and independent units, as well as touching various realms of the development process.

One of Jaime’s proudest moments as a planner was when there was a groundbreaking for an infill project of 16 townhomes in Downtown Albuquerque, the neighborhood where she grew up in. “It was a really amazing coming together of all these different influences throughout the state to recognize Homewise as making an investment in Downtown Albuquerque, especially as it relates to affordable housing… and bringing in more housing units to Downtown Albuquerque.”

Jaime feels indebted to Cal Poly, as well as extremely lucky to be able to bring the skills she learned from her experiences there to her hometown where she not only can connect to her own roots, but also be able to really understand the people and help in the neighborhoods where it matters most.

When asked about her time at Cal Poly, Jaime promptly noted that “I would not be where I am today without having the experiences I had at Cal Poly. I loved my studios and the hands-on experience working with communities there… The learn by doing mantra of Cal Poly is not just a mantra, it is really a way of life and I owe so much of my abilities to that way of life… The internship I got and then went on to work full time with in SLO, Lisa Wise Consulting, really gave me my foot in the door and introduced me to what professional level planning is really about. It’s so much more than the experience you can get in the classroom. The reason why Cal Poly pushes so hard on learn by doing is because real life experience is taught outside of the classroom.” Jaime went on to joke that, “dedicating long hours in the computer lab definitely prepared me for the real world too!”

Just as readily answered when asked about her time at Cal Poly, Jaime excitedly remarked about her fondest memory in the program. “The trip Mike [Boswell] took us on to Los Angeles to visit the planning department and some of the development projects taking place in Santa Monica comes to mind first!” That trip was a highlight of her time at Cal Poly because of the knowledge she gained about planning, but also the relationships she strengthened with her cohort and the opportunity to extend her network across state lines. “It played a critical role in solidifying those personal friendships and professional relationships for a lifetime.”

If Jaime had to give one word of advice for current and future CRP/MCRP students, she suggests making sure to get involved and be active in the program, and to especially create a strong bond with your cohort. She recommends taking time outside of the classroom to do activities together and to try to stay in contact with each other long after graduation.

When inquired about why be a planner? Jaime effortlessly explains, “because planning is related to everything that we do. There’s so much in everyday life that happens because of planning, good and bad. Being involved in the planning of or public process for a project that surrounds you or is near you or in your neighborhood is so important to making those projects better. Even for those who go through the MCRP/CRP program but decide to not stay in the field of planning, it is [still] so important to your neighborhoods and communities that you stay involved. I feel fortunate for the opportunities that have been presented to me and what I have been exposed to.”

Jaime’s passion for her work and advocacy in improving the cities she grew up in can be heard full heartedly in every word she speaks. Jaime is grateful for her experiences at Cal Poly and the Learn by Doing education she feels made a visible difference in her life and career post-graduation, as well as the friendships, memories, and connections she made. As a word of career advice, Jaime encourages anyone to leave their comfort zone as often as they can, and “learn a new skill, teach yourself a new program or a new discipline, just to strengthen your planning knowledge. You may find something that piques your interest even more!” Planning is a dynamic field full of different avenues, and Jaime is a prime example of how planning can lead to a completely different path that still actively utilizes planning tactics to make an impact in our communities.

Jaime identifies herself as a planner, urbanist, and photographer on the side with a love for traveling. She is happily married and recently grew her family with the addition of a healthy, beautiful baby girl in August 2022. We wish her and her family nothing but happiness in this next phase of her life!

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Alumni Profile: Audrey Harris

Aug 31, 2022

By Rylee Rodriguez, MCRP ’22


“Stick to your core values and live as the person you want to be in this world” is the guide MCRP alum Audrey Harris, class of 2013, lives by every day in her career as a transportation planner for the Oakland Department of Transportation (OakDOT).  

In her current position, Audrey plays many roles in advocating for the disadvantaged communities that reside in the East Bay city, specifically by being on the planning and project development team focused on corridor and neighborhood level planning and land use development review. In her position, she manages the review of proposed major development projects, their environmental analyses and site designs; as well as coordinates with current policies and plans to ensure future projects contribute to the overall mission of the City of Oakland in making sure they don’t generate adverse impacts on the current residents and neighborhoods.

Audrey studied engineering as an undergraduate at UC Irvine and graduated with a degree in urban studies. This influenced her to pursue a Master’s in City and Regional Planning from Cal Poly. However, when Professor Dr. Cornelius Nuworsoo reached out to her and encouraged her to try out the dual degree transportation program based on her past experiences, she opted for the switch. Originally thinking she was no longer interested in engineering, Professor Nuworsoo became the catalyst in her career change and supported her in applying for the dual degree program. She feels fortunate, too, that she was joined by an all-female cohort as it became an extremely empowering experience.

Being able to do both programs—planning and transportation—afforded her the background and foundation needed to help her tap into all the different realms of planning, Audrey remarks. “Transportation is related to so many other aspects in planning, including but not limited to land use planning, urban design, providing mobility options for communities, visioning, environmental reviews and CEQA, and so on.”

Taking all the different courses offered in the dual program supported Audrey in being able to tackle the roles she took on throughout her career thus far. Also a member of the National Society of Black Engineers, which has continued to shape her activism throughout her profession, Audrey feels “Cal Poly was a rich experience that has had a major contribution in shaping my career and who I get to serve today.”

During her time in the program, she got an internship in the City of Los Angeles’ planning department; and though it was an unpaid position, Audrey notes “that it was worth it in the long run” due to the experiences and knowledge she gained— though hopes it was the last of the unpaid internship positions!

After graduating with the dual degree, Audrey applied to jobs in cities she favored, one of which was San Francisco. Though she didn’t get her first-choice position, she was put on a list for other eligible roles where she was hired as a planner in a data and analysis team in the San Francisco planning department. Here, Audrey started off doing data analysis, graphic design, and later working on a team that was responsible for updating the housing element. In this team, Audrey says she owes a lot to her manager at the time, a leading and passionate Filipina woman who wanted to “shake up the industry” to be more representative of San Francisco and to better understand and reflect the communities they served. “Having her as a mentor has greatly influenced and shaped the work I choose to do, along with who it’s for.”

After building a strong cohort group and wanting to rediscover her initial interest, she gave transportation planning another try. Audrey first worked on the “Connect SF” project, a long-range planning project that was a collaboration between the San Francisco Planning Department, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA). Eventually, she managed the San Francisco Transportation Demand Management Program (TDM). This program’s primary purpose is to reduce vehicle miles travelled (VMT) generated by new development projects. After seven years with the City and County of San Francisco, Audrey moved into the new opportunity with OakDOT in the City of Oakland.

Audrey feels proud of the work she is doing with the City of Oakland, such as changing and shifting how they operate as an institution, through her involvement on their Racial Equity Team, where they invest their funds, and who they plan for (click here and here to learn more). “Since Oakland is resourced differently than a lot of other Bay Area cities, a lot of their projects are grant funded,” Audrey explains. This circumstance has prompted her to get into the grant writing herself, as well as help coordinate project developments to go after [grant] funding that specifically focuses on providing solutions and services to communities that have and are experiencing the most disparate life outcomes.

One of her proudest moments as a planner includes being on an implementation committee for the West Oakland community through the West Oakland Community Action Plan, where the strategies developed are focused on reducing air quality burdens for the residents. Originally a large West Coast jazz scene, the predominant African American community was redlined and pulverized by highways in 1985, obliterating the neighborhoods and homes in the area (Oakland Connect, n.d.). As a new planner at the time, Audrey mentions she went to a lot of working group meetings with the community; and one of her proudest moments was being able to break bread with those community members and have honest conversations with them about what they wanted and needed. She soon discovered a great new funding opportunity with the Sustainable Transportation Equity Projects Grant hosted by the California Air Resource Board that was a perfect chance to implement prioritized strategies that improve this community.

Audrey admits, without ego, that she didn’t really know what she was doing with the grant writing process, but she simply relied on her core values— listening first and working with community members to find solutions. She worked a lot of hours outside of her normal workday because she was so passionate about this opportunity and project. Despite not originally getting the funding, she was extremely proud that she was able to do this for the community without any prior grant writing experience. As fate may have it though, a couple of months after getting a rejection notice, the California Air Resource Board reached out to say they loved the project and wanted to fund it as well. You can read more about this project here.

When asked how she was able to do this grant with no experience, she mentioned that “the justification was there. I felt like nobody could refuse that this community needed these resources, and that all the funding that would go into this grant should be a catalyst for breaking down undue burdens of policy decisions made in the past that harmed our Black communities and neighborhoods in West Oakland especially. However, it really goes back to my core values of serving people and especially those who need it the most that have been harmed by our governmental institutions and decisions, such as redlining or tearing down homes to build freeways. So, it’s a small act in hopefully a sea of future acts. I am very hopeful to see government opening opportunities to specifically focus on addressing institutional harm.”

In being inquired about “why be a planner?” Audrey inspirationally tackles the question with the simple answer “the biggest benefit of being a planner is being a part of planning for a better future, and to help others, especially those who need it most.” She goes on to say a great advantaged in the field of planning is its level of diversity of focus. “For instance, you could be a transportation planner, but more specifically, you can be an environmental justice specialist within the field of mobility. Working for and with a community to ensure that their quality of life is, first and foremost, sustained and improved by having access to the services in life that they need and want… that is the beauty of being a planner; and being able to help people live their lives through the built environment.” She goes on to further encourage the mindset of future planners to be “working for and with the people, often going in with a listen-first approach to learn and understand a community’s needs and demands.”

As for career advice, Audrey prefaces her response with the fact that she finds many young people are often anxious about finding the exact right opportunity to the exact passion that they have, but it’s more important to “first and foremost think about your core values; and with whatever career you enter, always center yourself in your core values.” For herself, she finds purpose and passion in living through her values of serving people. Also, she says, “to just try! Don’t be afraid to step into a new role. If it ends up not being for you, that’s okay! You can always find another role. Just make sure to hold true to your core values as a person and who you want to be in this world, and the careers will come.”

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Alumni Spotlight: Lisa Wise

Nov 8, 2021

Drafted and Edited by Amy Uthenpong (she/they)

Cal Poly alumni, Lisa Wise AICP, finds great fulfillment in working with the new generation of planners. After graduating from the MCRP program in 2001, she established Lisa Wise Consulting, Inc. (LWC) in 2006. Since then, the firm has grown to nineteen employees with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and headquarters in San Luis Obispo. LWC’s core services focus on development codes and zoning ordinances, long-range planning, and land use economics. The range of projects vary from code audits, housing element updates, market analysis, and testing the financial feasibility in housing and mixed-use prototypes. LWC’s client base is primarily public sector (cities, counties, ports and harbor districts) with some private developer work.

Lisa attributes much of her firm’s success to the close relationship with Cal Poly. The first LWC employees were hired from the BSCRP and MCRP programs. Currently, there are seven Mustangs employed, including the Business Manager. Several of LWC’s top performers began as interns and later advanced to senior management and project management positions. Lisa reveals that Cal Poly students are eager to learn how to address real-world planning tasks while working closely with the team. She elaborates that Cal Poly students “effectively communicate and illustrate ideas”, which are skills fostered in the studios and valued in her team. Lisa has also maintained a close relationship with the Cal Poly community as a part-time lecturer in Construction Management and City and Regional Planning courses for the past twenty years.

The firm is intentional with the projects they pursue, focusing on what the clients want and if it would be a good fit. Lisa’s favorite part of her job is to “work with clients who are committed to making their city a better place and have the capacity for real change.” The LWC team is made up of “smart, problem solving people, who thrive on collaboration to develop the best approaches and solutions.” The staff have a variety of backgrounds from thirty-year professionals to interns making the first career moves. LWC also leverages the team’s public sector experience, business management skills, and technical expertise in economics, geography, and architecture.

Lisa Wise Consulting operates best when collaborating with clients to build more resilient, equitable communities. Nationally, LWC is working throughout California to improve housing production and modernize development codes. LWC is also leading code audit and update projects in Las Vegas NV, Fargo ND and Columbus OH, where the key question is “how can we better incorporate equity practices into every step of the planning process?” Internationally, LWC is working on its third code project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia aimed at more walkable, less car-centric neighborhoods.Her firm is unraveling complex equity and resiliency questions like “how do we leverage the code to incentivize a more walkable city, and how do we make the streets safer for pedestrians and more vibrant for businesses?”

Lisa did not always know she wanted to work in the planning field. In fact, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance and marketing, followed by a master’s in accountancy and worked as an auditor in the securities and commodities industry. After ten years, Lisa realized she wanted to make a more positive impact. After some time off to travel, she decided to attend Cal Poly’s Master’s Program in City and Regional Planning. To this day, Lisa reflects that the change was the right choice personally and professionally. Upon reflection, Lisa extends advice to the next generation of planners to “be open to opportunities that favor your strengths, there are many possible paths to success, especially within the planning world.”

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CRP Design Studios apply Learn-by-Doing Principles during the Pandemic

Oct 6, 2021

By Amy Uthenpong (she/they)  

During the Spring of 2020, two studios in Cal Poly’s City and Regional Planning program put the Learn-by-Doing principle to the test during unprecedented circumstances. During the COVID-19 pandemic, studio professors Dr. Dandekar and Dr. del Rio oversaw twelve MCRP and thirty-eight BSCRP students who collaborated with Santa Clara County and the unincorporated area of San Martin. The objective was to compose a Strategic Development Plan and Urban Design Visions. This project has received two awards from American Planning Association California chapters: an Academic Award for Excellence from the Central Coast Section; and an Empowerment Award of Excellence from the Northern Section. However, it first began under humble, resilient circumstances: a shortened nine-week quarter, shelter in place regulations, and remote work during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

When Santa Clara County’s Department of Planning and Development contacted Cal Poly, the objective was to brainstorm future long-range planning concepts and scenarios for the San Martin community. San Martin, a community 30 miles south of San Jose, is known for its rich agricultural industry and rural history. San Martin faces threats of urban encroachment and local displacement due to rippling housing impacts from the Bay Area tech industry. Within the past 30 years, a housing surge led to 21,171 acres of farm and range land being lost. Without intervention, numerous consequences could ensue: diminished regional climate resiliency, depleted local food resources, and displacement of locals and farmland. 

The undergraduate students were tasked to develop Urban Design Visions for San Martin’s village core using planning outcome guidelines. The goals were to protect the historical rural sense of place, support agriculture and the diversification of the economy, and uplift the anticipated growth of tourism. From April to June, the project was divided into phases: (1) background research and site assessment, (2) concept development, and (3) project development. Prior to the pandemic, the studio had class field trips to the site, laboratory studio formats, and extensive community interactions. 

With a mere two week notice of the virtual class requirement, professors and students sought creative ways to conduct site assessment and community engagement. BSCRP student Christabel Soria Mendoza explained, “the project was unlike the others because we were in a virtual setting where we could not visit the site as a class, lean over our studio tables and brainstorm or raise our hand and ask for our professors to walk over. The most difficult part was splitting the work evenly through Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. We solved the issue by assigning people to specific roles and they would fulfill the tasks in that role throughout the project.”

Simultaneously, the graduate studio students focused on a holistic Strategic Development Plan with emphasis on rural culture, agricultural preservation, and small-scale agro-tourism. The project consisted of transitional phases: (1) interview members of the community, execute site-specific studies, and review relevant plans and documents; (2) develop concept plans around rural character, agricultural preservation, agro-tourism; (3) develop seven strategies of change. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the process required rethinking traditional ways of the development process.  Ayla-Louise Mateo, MCRP student, was initially concerned about making a difference to this community because of the online setting, wanting to protect “low-income residents affected by home and rental costs.” MCRP student Josie Buchanan adds that “at many times it was difficult to focus on work with many students having personal health and familial issues come up at this time.” 

With resilient teamwork and innovative problem-solving skills, the students utilized Google Maps and Zoom for touring San Martin and phones for stakeholder telephone interviews. Josie reflects that she was able to discover different ways to engage with the community as “people who typically would have a hard time coming to community forums because of work schedules or disabilities were able to have their voices heard.” With the help of student solidarity as well as support from professors and county officials, the graduate students presented their findings and strategies to the San Martin Planning Advisory Committee (SMPAC).

Despite the unforeseen challenges, the students produced two comprehensive reports: “San Martin Strategic Development Plan” and “Urban Design Visions for San Martin.” Soon after, the graduate students presented their findings to the Santa Clara County Planning Commission and the San Martin Advisory Committee. These two public hearings provided profound experience in public speaking, answering questions, and communicating with various publics. With the help of Cal Poly, the community of San Martin now moves forward with developing policies in the Santa Clara Valley Agricultural Plan. 

Cal Poly press release:


BSCRP Students Involved: Willie Amaya, Ryan Anderson, Nate Antepanko, Ida Araghieyan, Amelia Cane, David Choy, Jack Combs, Reid Crandell, Liam Crowley, Carlos Espinoza, Dominic Ferrari, Samuel Fluhman, Isaac Golf, Benjamin Ip, Will Jarrett

Nishita Kandikuppa, Vinson Kwan, Aidan Lebow, Ian Madrigal, Courtney Marchi, Tim McBirney, Henry McKay, Christabel Soria Mendoza, Eliza Meyers, Meredith Milam, Connor Miller, Abby Miramontes, Chris Murphy, Justin Nelms, Michael Pham, Peyton Ratto, Jessica Romero, Bailey Sullivan, Trisha Tran, Jack Wanner, Mitchell Wexler, Cameron Wilson, Wesley Wong

MCRP Students Involved: Saba Asghary, Cameron Bauer, Josephine Buchanan, Gabriela Cortez, Henry Eckold, Owen Goode, Christopher Hamma, Bryce Haney,

William Kwon, Ayla-Louise Mateo, Simon Poon, Ethan Thomas

New Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Dave Amos

Jun 9, 2021


Our newest member of the City and Regional Planning department, Dr. Dave Amos (he/they), is a planning professor by day and a planning YouTuber by night. Since his arrival to Cal Poly in Fall 2021, he has taught CRP 212, Introduction to City Planning, and CRP 410/411, the fourth-year comprehensive planning studios. Meanwhile, he also works on his YouTube channel, City Beautiful. When asked about the origins of his channel, Amos explains that when he was a planner, he “would often talk to advisory committee members or city councils and explain a concept like healthy communities or complete streets” to citizens who did not have a formal education in planning. He wished there were videos he could show them, but few existed.

Dave had that thought in the back of his mind when he taught an introductory planning course for his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley. He realized his lectures could become great videos, so in January 2017, he produced his very first video that took four months to make titled, “Why do so Many U.S. Cities have Gridded Streets?” From his initial commitment to make one video every month, Dave Amos upholds the mission for the City Beautiful Channel: “to teach as many people as possible about the places they live in.” The channel strives to answer commonly-asked planning questions because “it’s taken for granted that the places we live in cities have everything we need to know. But often, we wonder why there’s housing here and businesses there...why cities are the way they are.” It is this same curiosity that garners an audience of 350,000 subscribers and 30 million channel-wide views, 60-65% being international. 

When asked about Cal Poly’s City and Regional Planning curriculum, Dr. Amos reveals he was impressed that the planning students possessed such advanced “technical skills and professional experience” such as knowledge of CAD, Adobe Creative, and the internship graduation requirement. With a hybrid of theory and practical work skills, Professor Amos says Cal Poly students “are the most prepared students [that] I’ve seen in my time in academia.” As a result, he adds that graduates leave with more tools in their tool belts than most planning programs. For example, the curriculum is designed to have second year undergraduate urban design studios and later more comprehensive, policy design studios with a real-world client later during the fourth year. When asked why he chose to teach at Cal Poly, he explains one of the driving forces was the great faculty that are expected to be excellent teachers.

Before Dave was a professor, he was in the same shoes many other students were in: seventeen years old and unknowing of what career he wanted to pursue. When his high school teacher gave him a book with a chapter in urban planning, Dave was captivated by how he  “could work in a community and see positive change.” Dave received his undergraduate degree in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell, worked in the non-profit sector, and later graduated with a Master of Architecture and a Master of Community and Regional Planning from the University of Oregon. After working as a consultant land use planner in Sacramento post-grad, he returned to academia and attended UC Berkeley for his Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning.

Dr. Amos’ advice to undergraduate and graduate students is to “have a plan but be flexible.” He encourages people to explore the field through internships and trace the careers of inspiring planners to discover potential career paths. At the same time, Dave advises to embrace life’s curveballs and unconventional learning experiences that often occur organically outside of academia and working. For example, when asked how he travels within a new city, he tries to experience the unfamiliar environment just as a local would: using transit, avoiding tourist destinations, and getting into the neighborhoods by simply experiencing them. It is this same passion and curiosity that makes Dr. Dave Amos a fantastic YouTuber and addition to the Cal Poly faculty.

CRP Alumni

Jun 2, 2021

Map of CRP alumni. Keep us updated on your whereabouts at this link:

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Virtual Reality in Planning

Apr 26, 2021

Watch a video on CRP's experimentation with Virtual Reality Technology

“Planning Meets Virtual Reality: Student Research Team Uses VR to Improve the Design Process”

By Amy Uthenpong (she/they)

At the start of 2021, City and Regional Planning professor Dr. Amir Hajrasouliha gathered a group of students to conduct research on how virtual reality could be implemented in the design and planning process. Virtual reality utilizes computer simulations to generate experiences that are alike or different to the real world, mostly used in video games and educational training. The students were eager to pioneer this experimental research, as third-year student Kristie Woo explains she had always been interested in VR gaming but did not consider VR in the planning world. Each student tested different VR applications then evaluated how the software could be integrated in the planning process. The team also explored the opportunities and limitations of the programs and its digital literacy range.  The final outcome was a new design process that integrated virtual reality into three stages of urban design: organization, ideation, and presentation. This workflow was applied to Cal Poly’s urban design studio in a project for the City of Gilroy, California. 

First stage: Interact in VR with partners to organize information 

Software programs Spatial and vSpatial were used to explore the communication potential in virtual reality meetings. The applications are immersive workspaces that simulate in-person meetings. Spatial utilizes avatars that sync mouth movements with user audio and features collaboration boards where people can share drawings and 3D objects. Up to thirty people can be within the same Spatial room with only one person needing a VR headset, whereas vSpatial requires everyone to have a headset. Both of the applications allow 3D models like libraries or park benches to be imported, so participants can see the object in different perspectives. Third-year student Trevor Winnard describes how interacting with others using Spatial allowed him to “take a step back from using zoom, which dominated our academic experience, and look at a different option.” These two work applications have potential to be used in desk critiques and stakeholder engagements without being in the same physical space.

Second stage: View and Edit conceptual models in VR 

VR SketchUp and Sketchup Viewer allow multiple people in the same Sketchup file to view, create, and edit 3D models. With VR SketchUp, multiple people can have human scale interactions in proposed buildings and spaces. In fact, undergraduate student James Schireman was able to import a SketchUp file of Downtown San Luis Obispo and walk through its streets using a virtual reality headset. The biggest advantages are getting an immersive experience at the early stages of design and having multiple people work in the same file at once. With VR SketchUp, planners can edit models in real time and share site plans through the cloud. This has potential to make the design process more collaborative and immersive.

Third stage: Presenting multiple design scenarios in VR 

The team used GIS (geographic information system) files with different 3D modeling programs to create a virtual reality experience. Students Eric Wang, Alex Lopez, and Trevor Winnard explored City Engine with ArcGIS Urban and Unreal Engine. City Engine utilizes coding procedures to generate interactive 3D models on a large scale and make them VR compatible. Winnard used coding procedures in City Engine to generate 3D buildings on a city scale in rapid time instead of designing buildings one by one. Another program, ArcGIS Urban, uses 3D modeling to display different zoning and land use codes more effectively. ArcGIS Urban and City Engine, both ESRI products, can be synced together in the modeling process. Finally, Unreal Engine transfers the model into a virtual reality format. 

Communicating ideas to those unfamiliar with planning can be done in a more unified and expressive way. As Eric explains, these programs can “communicate physically while virtually” by creating instantaneous scenario switching across the same project. For example, with a proposed development, it is possible to generate and display various VR options (scenarios) for comparison. A person with a headset could compare one development scenario with landscaping, interact with it, then switch to another scenario with no landscaping. Kristie explains that community outreach in the planning field could be improved with virtual reality because “it’s hard to look at a master plan or map to see what a [proposed building] will look like but with VR you can walk through it and see exactly how the proposed building will look like.”

After experimenting with various virtual reality software, the team produced tutorials for other students to use and implemented the new process in a Cal Poly urban design studio. In CRP 341, Urban Design Studio III, the class partnered with the City of Gilroy to develop four different design scenarios in a commercial space. Students created an immersive experience for all four scenarios that could be used in the public engagement process and the final presentation.  

Virtual Reality has the potential to change the status quo of planning, influencing the design and community engagement process. From the ideation, design, and community outreach phases, a new generation of planners are exploring how technology could offer a new way of collaboration and design in planning.


A special appreciation to Dr. Amir Hajrasouliha (he/him), The City of Gilroy, CRP 341 (Urban Design Studio III) Spring 2021, and CAED Dean’s Leadership for funding the project.

Students Involved: Alex Lopez (he/him), James Schireman (he/him), Eric Wang (he/him), Trevor Winnard (he/him), Kristie Woo (she/her)

More Resources:

Youtube “Incorporating Virtual Reality in Urban Design Process”

Youtube Video Link 2: “City and Regional Planning Presentation”

Continue reading Virtual Reality in Planning...

CRP Professor Spotlight: Dr. Hemalata Dandekar

Mar 24, 2021


Newly elected chair of the City of San Luis Obispo Planning Commission Dr. Hemalata Danadekar had not participated in much community volunteer work before coming to San Luis Obispo, “Right away you get the feeling that San Luis Obispo is a well  governed city, and that there’s been some thoughtful tending to its physical form. It looks like a city that’s cared for and loved, it's palpable,” said Dandekar about what drew her to participate in the process in San Luis Obispo. “My reason for engaging in the Planning Commission and before that the Cultural Heritage Commission,” she continued, “was to see if I could use my expertise in preservation and get to know what the city is about.” Retiring last year from her full-time teaching position at Cal Poly SLO, Professor Dandekar has a robust portfolio of leadership, planning, and architecture experience. After receiving her doctorate at MIT, she taught at the University of Michigan Urban and Regional Planning Program for 22 years, and also served terms as an  Associate Vice President for Research for the University where she had oversight over the Humanities and Social Sciences, and as Director of  the Center for South and Southeast Asia.

Professor Dandekar’s combination of degrees and license in architecture and planning moved her from the University of Michigan to become Director and Professor,  School of Planning, College of Design at Arizona State University for 7 years. Moving to Cal Poly in 2009 she served as Department Head of City and Regional Planning for 7 years.  She  taught  full time there until Spring 2020. Throughout her academic career, Dr. Dandekar published numerous books on the subjects of Women and Housing, Rural-Urban Connections, and the transformation of rural economies due to the impacts of urbanization and industrialization.

Upon her initial relocation to SLO Dr. Dandekar served as a member of  the Cultural Heritage Committee. Reflecting on her time on the committee she notes, “In the four years I served, I found that the community is really engaged, and invested in its past. Something I had not realized in the other two cities I had spent a good deal of time in before.” It was this engagement with the community that resulted in her being recruited to the City’s Planning Commission. Professor Dandekar embraced the opportunity to serve because of the larger scale of projects that were coming forward and would have significant impact on the city’s future. “When you have larger subdivisions and projects, there’s a lot more information to digest.” Dr. Dandekar described, “You have to be up to speed on huge CEQA documents, and have a thorough understanding of the zoning code - you really want to be prepared and you really want to contribute  insights that perhaps others might not have.”

In describing her unique contribution to the commission Professor Dandekar mused, “I think you always have to see what your position is on a team.  Collectively on the planning commission the seven of us try to address the various elements of the project which will have various implications for the city’s wellbeing in the long term.” Hemalata, or as she is more commonly known Hema, believes she serves best on the team of the Planning Commission in providing the perspective of an architect at the project level, and as a land use planner; she’s especially attentive to the guidelines  that projects need to conform to: the site layouts, the setbacks, height restrictions, the affordable housing components. Given her research on “workforce” housing in California, she is aware of  legislation, rules, and expectations. For almost two years Danadekar served on the City of San Luis Obispo’s Land Use and Circulation (LUCE) Advisory Committee and is uniquely prepared  to evaluate the urban design of a development and how it will fit into the larger plan for the city of San Luis Obispo.

Conversations about the urban design, density, and future of San Luis Obispo have been growing for years, but have gained momentum from state level policies and legislation. As a planning commissioner Hema is well versed in the community  concern about the control that the city can have on the future growth of San Luis Obispo. Because of the lack of housing in  California the State of California is increasingly dictating what aspects of housing development, density and growth city’s can control and what they can’t. The debate over local control pertaining to the scale of development has been preempted in certain cases, because the state seeks to increase  the production of housing, and specific kinds of housing, Dr. Dandekar explained.  She went on to say, “ I think the community is concerned about the impact this   is going to have  on parking, on crowding on density - sort of the quality of life parameters that they’ve taken a long time to nurture.”

When it comes to her opinion on the direction San Luis Obispo should go, she describes, “I think that quality of life in SLO is extremely high - its relatively easy to get around, air quality is good, traffic congestion I think is manageable, although some would contest that. But it’s not a very affordable community and high rents and prices make access to housing   difficult, especially for young people. I think the new legislation is trying to break through that but it’s not clear what the impacts are going to be on the city itself. And whether it will actually solve the situation. I think producing more and different kinds of housing is the solution, but the challenge is, can we manage that growth?” She continued,“That’s a normal challenge, the new challenge is what the state is mandating, and I think the evidence is not in as yet. Some of the projects that have been developed the community was not very happy with.  They are not what the neighborhood wanted. The Planning Commission asked the developer to make changes to  the projects in areas that were in their purview so physically are conforming.” But she adds, “We cannot control the rent that the developer asks for, they can ask for huge rents and it’s not within our capacity to control that. So one exercises whatever control one has - whether it’s on the design in terms of units and size and mix or the quality of the design in terms of its connection to the historic fabric, the kind of materials used, what happens in the commercial, the mix between commercial, residential, service, industry. One tries to push and regulate towards the direction that you think is good for the city overall, but there are limits to what one can actually make happen.”

When asked about the most important vote she has ever cast on the planning commission, she describes that it is difficult to find  just one. It is a series of votes, ones that make this city more equitable and affordable to everyone who currently and who may like to live here. Professor Dandekar has spent much of her career researching, learning about, and affecting housing, “A house,” she describes, “is what makes people feel like they have a home, and a home is a representation of a commitment to a place to a community to having a sense of security and feeling safe, feeling empowered.”

Professor Dandekar retired in the Summer of 2020 and will teach part time in the City and Regional Planning Department for the next five years and continue to Chair the Planning Commission of San Luis Obispo.  She hopes to now have time for other ventures such as books and articles from research that has been languishing in her files and a second extensively revised edition of her popular Indian cookbook.


Written by Josie Buchanan, MCRP ‘21


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