Grand Rapids city designer speaking at geography open house

GVL / Emily Frye 
GVSU Sustainbility Award Ceremony on Friday March 23, 2018.

GVL / Emily Frye GVSU Sustainbility Award Ceremony on Friday March 23, 2018.

James Kilborn

Grand Valley State University’s geography and sustainable planning department will be hosting an open house Tuesday, March 27, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The event, taking place in the Kirkhof Center, Room 2204, will feature guest speaker Suzanne Schulz, the managing director of design and development for the city of Grand Rapids, and will focus on recent developments and changes occurring within the city. 

Christian Carroll, president of the GVSU Urban Planning Association (UPA), believes Schulz will inspire students to think creatively about the urban landscapes in which they live.

“Suzanne Schulz is a very busy professional that is one of the most passionate and forward-thinking planners that I have seen,” Carroll said via email. “She is an activist planner that has recently become the president of the Michigan Association of Planning and fights for all individuals. Schulz has done recent work in the Heartside neighborhood of Grand Rapids that I’m sure will be beneficial for the community. 

“I know that her intuition and vision for the city is definitely something that other cities should look to as an example of extraordinary planning. I am excited to see what Schulz has to share with students and faculty at the open house.”

Carroll argues that smart planning and policy decisions from Schulz’s department have played a role in the region’s resurgence over the past few years. 

“Grand Rapids and its surrounding area is becoming a relevant location to not only Michiganders, but also the Midwest and even America,” Carroll said. “The proper planning techniques have been associated with this development, which has allowed for a more sustainable and equitable approach that many communities across America see in their 20-year plan but lack the resources and willpower to follow through with this approach. 

“In Grand Rapids, activism and collaboration with local stakeholders allows the area to move forward in a way that makes planning vital to the area.”

Elena Lioubimtseva, professor and chair of the geography and sustainable planning department, said  the relationship between the city of Grand Rapids and GVSU is unique in that many students find employment within the region after graduation. 

“The department is cultivating a strong relationship with the city, with the community and with the planning department,” Lioubimtseva said. “We are preparing young planners and that these young planners are working with Suzanne Schulz’s department, so that shows our relationship between our program and what’s happening in the city.”

Lioubimtseva is confident that Schulz’s presentation will align with the university’s push for sustainability, as both GVSU and Grand Rapids are investing in green infrastructure and energy-efficient buildings to reduce the impact on the environment. 

“Grand Rapids has the highest density of LEED-certified buildings; it has many green initiatives. We have the highest rate of green buildings per capita in the nation,” Lioubimtseva said. “She’ll be able to showcase the achievements of urban planning in Grand Rapids and to inspire more students to discover professions within the field of urban planning.”

Attending the open house will give insight into a department that is in the process of change, as a new degree emphasis in climate change resiliency will be offered for the fall semester. Academic advising along with opportunities to study abroad will be offered at the event. Carroll sees it as a great way for students to get a taste of the diverse options available for those pursuing a degree in geography and sustainable planning. 

“Attending the geography open house is beneficial to more than just geography students because geography is a discipline that encompasses almost every single major,” Carroll said. “This is shown by certain classes offered by the geography department such as cultural geography, which studies the geography of pretty much anything ranging from health to environmental sustainability. 

“Geography is a major that gears students toward a more focused path due to its broad range of topics, especially at the introductory level. If you are a people-person and want to help the world and see it from your own perspective, some type of geography discipline is good for you.”

Lioubimtseva hopes students stop by and check out the various opportunities and career paths a degree in geography can lead to.

“We really want to showcase what’s going on in the department and we want other students to know about the emphasis in urban and regional planning, emphasis in geospatial technology, emphasis in environmental development, and we are starting a new emphasis next fall in climate change mitigation, adaptation and resiliency planning,” Lioubimtseva said. 

The open house will include food and beverages. Department officials hope students in attendance will hear Schulz’s message and be motivated to drive change in the world, both here and abroad.