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University of Oklahoma's Institute for Quality Communities to Host First Placemaking Conference

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University of Oklahoma's Institute for Quality Communities to Host First Placemaking Conference


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                               

CONTACT: Public Affairs, (405) 325-1701

NORMAN – Experts on designing livable and healthy communities, large and small, will headline the University of Oklahoma Institute for Quality Communities’ first Placemaking Conference Wednesday, April 3, on the OU Norman campus. The conference targets city planners and developers as well as mayors and city councils across the state to collaborate in an effort to enhance Oklahoma communities.

Featured speakers at the luncheon and dinner sessions, respectively, will be: 

  • Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time and a designer, consultant and thought leader in the areas of walkability and New Urbanism
  • Hank Dittmar, chief executive of Prince Charles’ Foundation for Building Community in London, England, and an international expert in the fields of urban design, development, and urban and transportation policy.

Speck and Dittmar will be joined by 10 industry leaders from around the country who will share their perspectives on improving community planning, design and governance during the daylong conference. The morning and afternoon sessions will be held in the Paul F. Sharp Concert Hall in Catlett Music Center, 500 W. Boyd St. The lunch and dinner will be held in Oklahoma Memorial Union, 900 Asp Ave. 

Buses will be available to transport conference attendees to and from Catlett Music Center and Oklahoma Memorial Union.

Conference organizers hope the event will serve as a catalyst for the creation of communities that meet the needs of this generation as well as a rich built environment that will be legacy for generations to come.

The Placemaking Conference will begin at 9 a.m. in Paul F. Sharp Concert Hall, with a session titled “Toward a Sense of Place.” A welcome will be offered by Blair Humphreys, director of the Institute for Quality Communities, who will then introduce Charles Graham, dean of the OU College of Architecture. Graham will then offer opening remarks and introduce the first speaker of the session, Christopher Leinberger, a land use strategist, author and developer. Leinberger, who will discuss “State of Oklahoma Communities,” is a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and directs the Graduate Real Estate Development Program at the University of Michigan. 

The 10 a.m. session in the same location will feature three panelists. Donovan Rypkema, principal of PlaceEconomics, a Washington, D.C.-based real estate and economic development consulting firm, and a leading voice in historic preservation, will discuss “Economic Benefits of Preservation.” Ellen Dunham-Jones, who is known for her work in aging suburbs and is co-author of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs, next will speak on “Retrofitting Suburbia.” 

The third speaker, Ethan Kent, the vice president of the Project for Public Spaces and an authority on placemaking, will discuss “Future of Place.” Hans Butzer, director of the OU Division of Architecture, will moderate a question-and-answer session following their presentations.

The luncheon featuring Speck, a city planner and architectural designer with Speck and Associates, Washington, D.C., will follow at noon in the union’s Molly Shi Boren Ballroom. His book, Walkable City, is the inspiration of his lecture of the same name. Through his writing, lectures and built work, Speck advocates internationally for smart growth and sustainable design. As director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 to 2007, he oversaw the Mayors’ Institute on City Design and created the Governors’ Institute on Community Design, a federal program that helps state governments fight suburban sprawl. 

In addition to Walkable City, Speck is the author of The Smart Growth Manual and serves as a contributing editor to Metropolis Magazine.  He also serves on the Sustainability Task Force of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The conference will resume at 2 p.m. in Sharp Concert Hall for a session on “Creating More Livable Communities.” Dr. Richard Jackson, professor and chair of UCLA’s School of Environment and Public Health and host of the television series Designing Healthy Communities, will begin the session with a lecture titled “Healthy Communities,” dealing with the intersection of community design and health, including innovative solutions for the future. Following Dr. Jackson will be an address on “Pedaling Toward Healthy Communities” by John Cock, a principal of Alta Planning + Design, which helps communities increase cycling levels and implement bike-share programs, and who has spent his career creating active communities where bicycling and walking are safe, healthy, fun and normal daily activities. Dan Burden, a national authority on walkability, street corridor and intersection design, traffic flow, road diets and other planning elements that affect America’s streets, will discuss “Livable Communities.” The session will conclude with a panel discussion moderated by Dawn Jourdan, director of the OU Planning Department.

The final afternoon session, “Getting Engaged,” will begin at 3:30 p.m. in the same location. Jason Roberts, co-founder of The Better Block movement, will discuss his vision and success in “The Better Block Project” in a lecture of the same name. “Tools of Engagement” is the topic to be addressed by Sid Burgess, director of government relations at DotGov Inc., a government application company connecting governments with technology, and a noted advocate for livable communities, helping local governments and civic advocacy groups use Internet tools and resources to be open, accessible and connected to the public. Ron Frantz, an Oklahoma Main Street Program architect who currently serves as director of the Great Plains Studio for OU’s Institute for Quality Communities and an associate professor of architecture, will then discuss “IQC in Oklahoma.” A panel discussion moderated by Humphreys will follow their addresses.

The event will conclude with a dinner in the Molly Shi Boren Ballroom featuring a keynote address by Dittmar. In addition to serving as chief executive of The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community since January 2005, Dittmar also is a board member and immediate past chair of the Board of Directors of the Congress for the New Urbanism, an international membership organization that promotes the creation and restoration of compact, walkable, mixed-use cities, towns and neighborhoods. He is the author of Transport and Neighbourhoods.

Dittmar is a Distinguished Research Associate at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment and was a Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2008, he was honored with the Seaside Prize in recognition of his contributions to urban design around the world.

Founded in 2008 in the OU College of Architecture, the Institute for Quality Communities provides community design and development assistance to Oklahoma towns and cities.  

For reservations to any of these events, more information and accommodations on the basis of disability, please call the OU Office of Public Affairs at (405) 325-3784 or email For information on the Institute for Quality Communities and a complete schedule of events, please visit the website at

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