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Professor Willow Lung-Amam and her students in her Urban Studies and Planning graduate course, Planning and Design in the Multicultural Metropolis, began surveying Frederick businesses months ago. The course, part of the Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) concludes the first of two semesters’ work this week. Students have focused their work along the Golden Mile, which stretches along Route 40 and serves as the gateway to Frederick’s historic downtown and home to countless recently arrived immigrant businesses and households.

Professor Lung-Amam saw an opportunity with PALS to work with businesses along this stretch around the city’s planned redevelopment for the area. The class project focused on three primary goals: educating new immigrant businesses about the redevelopment; assessing their business needs that could addressed by new public investments in the area; and developing outreach strategies that could be used by the city for this project, and to better engage to the area’s increasingly diverse immigrant communities more broadly.

Students worked with two prominent immigrant advocacy, education, and service providers in the area – the Asian American Center of Frederick and Centro Hispano. These partnership were key as students conducted business surveys and talked to community leaders about their needs and how redevelopment along the corridor could help to meet them.  These community groups were familiar with, invested in, and trusted by the neighborhood and critical to the success of the hands on, face-to-face approach the students took.

In the spring Dr. Lung-Amam’s Social Planning class will continue the project by hosting a community forum at the Asian American Center in the hopes of fostering a broader conversation with the businesses and community residents. Dr. Lung-Amam cited the forum as opportunity to return to their original objectives of education, assessment and outreach and giving community a chance to talk amongst themselves and directly with the City about redevelopment.

This semester’s class is in the final stages of drawing up their conclusions and recommendations. They will deliver their findings at the Asian American Center in Frederick on Thursday, December 18 from 7:00 – 8:30pm (full information here). City officials, businesses and the community leaders that the students have worked with have been invited to their presentation to provide feedback on their findings (editorial note: we’ll provide an update from Winstina Hughes, a student in the course due to present, in the coming days).

As the course concludes, Professor Lung-Amam reflected on the benefits that her students received by working in Frederick. She credited their project for stimulating a lot of class discussions about related issues. Specifically, Lung-Amam pointed to the benefit to their class conversations on issues related to cultural difference, immigration, inequality, and race. The project helped student take these often-abstract, broad topics and make them very real by relating them to their work in the profession and to their personal experiences.  “Frederick helped us frame hard-to-talk-about issues in a way that we could all relate,” Lung-Amam said. She concluded that, “One of the benefits that students realized is why it’s often difficult to find consensus in communities and the different set of skills that planners need to do that. We deal with questions like ‘How do you deal with people and the cultural sensitivity you need as a planner?’ In my class, students are building a different tool kit; skills that they’ll need to deal with diversity that they’ll encounter in the profession and in their own communities. They’re learning a lot by doing. My goal is to challenge them.”