This spring, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government launched the third phase of a statewide economic development partnership that is helping Georgia cities tackle issues that interfere with their potential for growth.

The 14-week Downtown Renaissance Planning and Design practicum is the newest component of the multi-agency collaboration, named the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership (GDRP) and designed to help cities across the state create more vibrant downtowns.

The GDRP also includes the Downtown Renaissance Fellows student internship program and the Renaissance Strategic Visioning and Planning (RSVP) program, which is a downtown revitalization initiative coordinated by faculty at the Institute of Government, a Public Service and Outreach unit at UGA.

The innovative partnership combines the resources of the Institute, the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) and UGA’s College of Environment and Design (CED) to assist cities’ revitalization efforts. Collaborating in the partnership are the Georgia Cities Foundation, the Georgia Downtown Association, and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

“With the assistance of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the CED, the Fellows program and now the Design Practicum have encouraged students to provide incredibly creative ideas to the cities of Georgia. In addition, the RSVP program has had remarkable success using public engagement to develop effective work plans that have already generated results,” said GMA Executive Director Lamar Norton.

Revitalization work through the GDRP began last spring, when the cities of Gainesville, Milledgeville and Porterdale were selected to pilot the Downtown Renaissance Fellows internship program. Fourth-year CED landscape architecture students worked with leaders in those three cities on a variety of projects, including downtown park and green space planning, corridor entrance design, and streetscape improvements.

“Participating cities get assistance on sought-after improvements from enthusiastic, knowledgeable landscape architecture students. The students benefit by getting the opportunity to work on actual projects designed to have a major impact on a Georgia community,” said Danny Bivins, a downtown development specialist with the Institute of Government and GDRP coordinator.

RSVP, the second GDRP economic development program, began last summer in the pilot cities of Cedartown, Cairo and Bainbridge. Communities selected for the RSVP program work with UGA faculty and students over four months to create a development strategy for each city’s downtown revitalization efforts. At the conclusion of the strategic visioning process, a final report with phased implementation recommendations is presented to each city.

“RSVP gives cities a short-term work plan with achievable steps they can implement immediately instead of getting a long-range plan that gathers dust on a shelf,” Bivins said.

The third GDRP revitalization initiative–the Downtown Renaissance practicum–began this January in six cities. The practicum pairs teams of students with cities to develop solutions to community challenges identified by municipal leaders.

The cities of College Park, Conyers, Forsyth, Griffin, Milton, and Washington were selected for the inaugural practicum. Ten CED seniors and graduate students are working with municipal leaders under the direction of Bivins, CED Assistant Professor Douglas Pardue, and Becky Taylor, GMA federal relations and research director. Projects now in progress range from designing a mile-long linear park in the City of Griffin to developing a plan to protect the downtown square in the City of Washington. The students will present their completed projects to city leaders at GMA’s Atlanta headquarters in April.