UNC’s top-ranked master’s program is designed to successfully prepare students for professional planning practice. A central component of the curriculum is a final capstone project, an ‘MP,’ which provides an opportunity for students to apply the skills and knowledge they’ve developed in the classroom and demonstrate their readiness for practice. But the MP is also a space for students to engage with pressing social and institutional challenges that affect real-world communities.
Current second-years Tory Gibler and Catherine McManus are both working on projects with real-world applications to address 21st challenges. A preview of their MPs illustrates the breadth of research being done at UNC and the ways in which the DCRP program aims to develop planners that are both successful and socially-engaged.
Curbside Management in North Carolina (Tory Gibler)
Curbside management seeks to optimize curbside usage, typically in urban downtowns, where a variety of users, businesses, and city functions are all competing for limited space. Large cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, and New York are proactively addressing curbside management, but curb competition is not unique to large metropolitan areas. Small to mid-size southeastern cities face the same challenges at the curb, particularly with the growth in Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft, the emergence of micromobility start-ups (e.g. e-scooter and dockless bicycle companies), urban freight delivery, and new complete street policies. My research looks at six North Carolina cities to better understand how these urban areas are managing the curb in light of new 21st century challenges.
Water Committees in sub-Saharan Africa (Catherine McManus)
The United Nations estimates that 1.8 billion people worldwide do not have access to safely managed drinking water sources. A major contributing factor to this problem in sub-Saharan Africa is that 25% of hand-pumps no longer work within four years of their construction. What explains why some water points reliably serve a community for decades while others fail within a year? Often, the answer lies in how local water committees manage their water systems. My MP looks at data from more than 3,000 water points across twelve countries in sub-Saharan Africa to understand whether different characteristics of these committees – including their composition, operations, and fee collection system – influence local water system functionality. I also intend to examine the potential of new definitions of ‘functionality’ to test the validity of existing, commonly used measures. These are questions we need to answer to help guarantee safe, reliable sources of drinking water for all.