Public Engagement & Placemaking


Faculty in the Public Engagement and Placemaking specialization conduct studies on the role of urban design, public art and citizen participation in the enhancement of a sense of community. Representative activities include designing to create, sustainable and more appealing neighborhoods, understanding and analyzing how citizens and their local school systems can work to stabilize, understand and enhance their neighborhoods and the role of public processes, public art, and public interest design in the planning for a community’s future. Students and faculty in this specialization come from the fields of architecture, urban planning, sociology, and art.

Built Environment and the Experience of Place

Architecture Professor Ronit Eisenbach employs design to generate discourse about the built environment. Through a practice that includes teaching, curating, exhibition design and the construction of temporary site-specific environments, she explores how the perception of subjective, invisible and ephemeral objects affects understanding and experience of place. An interest in thinking through making and refining perception has led her to develop a series of situation-based, design-build studios that frame elements of architecture such as light, color, space and shadow in conversation with human movement. At the University of Maryland she chairs the Kibel Gallery, and in 2009 Eisenbach published a book titled Installations by Architects: Experiments in Building and Design (Princeton Architectural Press), co-authored with Dr. Sarah Bonnemaison.

Engaging Working Class Immigrant Neighborhoods in Suburban Maryland

Planning Professor William Hanna (1931-2015) was a strong believer in the learning power of active involvement in planning, combining university education, scholarly research, and community activism. Much of his work focuses on the majority- immigrant neighborhood of Langley Park, MD located immediately West of College Park. Hanna served as the director of Action Langley Park, a nonprofit organization of residents, businesspeople, workers, social service personnel, and other members of the community. The group co-sponsors health and other community events, publishes the biweekly Barrio de Langley Park newsletter, and advocates for positive public sector action pertaining to immigrant welfare. Hanna completed a book-length report on the marginalization of working class immigrant neighborhoods.

Engaging Community Through Public Art and Design

Using public art and design, the University of Maryland art and architecture students have engaged in a dialogue with the Long Branch community about their neighborhood. Under guidance of Architecture Professor Ronit Eisenbach and Department of Art Professor John Ruppert, ten temporary site-specific sculptures was displayed at the Long Branch Library and along Flower Avenue from May 6-20, 2013.

Trespassers?: Asian Americans and the Battle for Suburbia.

Planning Professor Willow Lung-Amam wrote a book entitled, Trespassers?: Asian Americans and the Battle for Suburbia. The book investigates how recent trends in high tech Asian immigration are reshaping suburban form, geographies of race, and politics of development in Silicon Valley. In an in-depth case study of one Silicon Valley community, the book investigates the history of Asian immigration in the region and three spaces that mark their influence on its built form and politics—Mansions, high-performing schools, and Asian malls. Professor Lung-Amam argues that these spaces highlight new uses and spaces of everyday life and meaning among Asian immigrant suburbanites. But they also show how landscapes, even those occupied by minorities of means, are “minoritized”—the subjects of cultural critique, social contest, and new forms of regulation. The book exposes the ways in which white, middle-class norms, meanings, and values continue to be reinforced through planning policy and processes, as well as the design of the suburban built environment. It shows that the built environment is also a critical arena for an emergent politics over a “right to difference” in suburbia, as Asian immigrants as well as other minority groups are no longer simply fighting for access to suburban space, but for their right to different ways of being suburban and its expression in their everyday landscapes.

Mosques, Temples, and Churches: Asian Immigrant Placemaking and Politics in Silicon Valley Suburbia

This research looks at the ways in which Asian faith institutions (including mosques, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist temples, and Asian Christian churches) are reshaping the form, use, and function of Silicon Valley suburbia’s landscape as well as the planning and neighborhood politics behind their development. Through in-depth interviews with various faith leaders and community members, ethnographic data obtained from participation at events at several institutions, and archival data, including planning, design, and development documents, newspaper articles, and institutional marketing and informational literature, this research proposes to show that faith institutions have often been at the center of debates over the changing racial and ethnic composition of Silicon Valley communities, while also serving as critical social and political institutions for many Asian immigrants. The research highlights how these institutions service the needs of Asian immigrants in ways that go well beyond their roles as places of worship. They host to a range of social, community, political, and cultural functions that reinforce the common cultural practices, meanings, values, and identities of Asian immigrant suburbanites. But it also shows these spaces as contested grounds as local neighbors and planners negotiate the design and uses of these spaces in a rapidly diversifying region.

Immigration and the Changing Politics of Place in the New South

This project, conducted by Planning Professor Willow Lung-Amam, is a case study of the Chapel Hill school district as it was in the process of redrawing its attendance boundaries for, among other things, enrolling students in a newly re-opened historically African American school. The reopening of this school was an important moment for African Americans in Chapel Hill, particularly those who lived in the Northside neighborhood, whose children had been bussed out of the neighborhood for decades to balance enrollment at predominantly white schools throughout the area. In the debate that ensued, the loudest voice of opposition somewhat surprisingly came from recent Asian immigrants who clustered in a neighborhood slated to be redistricted to the new Northside Elementary School.


The research raises questions how the politics of race and immigration factored into the debates about the new school and its attendance boundaries. Using in-depth interviews with affected residents and school officials as well as archival research on district-wide public debates, newspaper accounts, and literature from the organizing efforts to oppose the new school’s attendance boundaries, the project follows the debate from its origins to its resolution. The research proposes to show how its central concerns fit into a larger framework of changing demographics of the New South, and particularly how these demographics shifts are raising new questions about the presumptions behind educational policies that were and still remain prefaced on a black-white paradigm. Instead this research suggests a new politics of race and education in the South, which complicates the ways in which school policy understands and address issues of diversity and equity in a rapidly diversifying region.

The Paper Streets—Takoma Park, Maryland

The Paper Streets—Takoma Park, Maryland project brings together faculty members from the School of Architecture, Historic Preservation, and Urban Planning and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture to investigate the phenomenon of roads that were planned but never built. The project is funded by a University of Maryland Advance Seed Grant and focuses on using the task of uncovering paper streets and designing strategies for their future in the city of Takoma Park as an opportunity to create a critical framework for “paper streets” as a design typology within the fields of architecture and landscape architecture. This project also seeks to design a process by which city planners, not just in Takoma Park but also in cities nationwide, can engage their communities and develop their paper streets.
Current Project Status:
Jana VanderGoot, RA and Dr. Kelly Cook have completed the Phase 1 field survey of Paper Streets in Takoma Park, Maryland from 2014-2015. They spent part of the summer doing in situ field investigation and putting together findings from local archives that historically investigate possible sites of paper streets and their historical uses. They finalized their research by examining parcel maps available from Montgomery County, completing a series of drawings that examine the watershed and the development of the streets, and writing a paper that contextualizes the paper streets within city developments of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The project is currently in Phase 2, with design strategies for developing the paper streets as an urban amenity through theaddition of lighting, seating, bicycle storage, and covered places for rest. Design work will focus on the creation of architectural space that is immediately recognizable as a safe, public amenity.

File Info Abstract:

File size: 3.96 MB
Paper Streets 1st street west street (TKPK_PaperStreets.pdf)
Associate Professor

Luis Quirós

Assistant Professor
Associate Professor
Assistant Professor - Affiliate Professor in Landscape Architecture, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Eisenbach, Ronit Installations by Architects. New York City, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009.
Lung-Amam, Willow. “Dumb White Kids” and “Asian Nerds”: Race and Ethnic Relations in Silicon Valley Suburban Schools." Transcultural Cities: Border-Crossing and Placemaking. Ed. Jeffrey Hou. London: Routledge, 2013. 177-190.
Chang, Shenglin E., and Willow Lung-Amam. "Born Glocal: Youth Identity and Suburban Spaces in the U.S. and Taiwan." Amerasia Journal. 36.3 (2010): 29-52.