Huxley's Urban Planning Students Win 2020 APA Award for Ferndale Project

Western’s senior Planning Studio class, offered as part of the Urban Planning and Sustainable Development Program (UPSD) in the Huxley College of the Environment, has earned the 2020 Excellence in Planning award for its project last school year on the redevelopment of downtown Ferndale.  

The award was granted by the Planning Association of Washington (PAW) and the Washington Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA). 

The planning study that earned the award was a collaborative effort between the City of Ferndale, the Urban Planning Studio classes of winter and spring quarter and WWU’s Sustainable Communities Partnership program (SCP).  

“Our senior planning studio class sequence routinely collaborates with local communities to undertake an applied planning study,” said Western Washington University Professor of Environmental Studies Nick Zaferatos.  

“The studio classes have collaborated with communities for the past 15 years, and include partnerships with Bellingham, Ferndale, Arlington, Edison, Skagit County, Guemes Island, and other communities,” he said.  

He also said that the program has close ties with the City of Ferndale because the executive administrator and planning director are graduates of the program, making them very familiar with the process.  

Zaferatos explained the contribution of each party and said that the City of Ferndale is called the benefitting partner, meaning that they serve as the class client and provide support throughout the project.  

“The SCP program serves as an administrative unit that negotiates a contract with the local community and distributes funding through the contract to support student planning activities. SCP also assists in editing and distributing the final student report. The Urban Planning Studio classes conduct all phases of the research, community engagement activities, presentations to the community, and final report production,” he said.  

According to Zaferatos, the project revolved around creating planning alternatives for the City of Ferndale and a strategy for implementing these plans to meet project design goals.   

“The entire class was solely devoted to the study. Two classes coordinated on the project – the Winter Planning Studio II class which focused on plan concept development for downtown Ferndale’s redevelopment, and a Spring Planning Studio II class which focused on implementation strategies,” he said.  

The projected was prompted by economic decline in Downtown Ferndale that was made worse by the construction of Bellis Fair Mall in 1988. A number of groups, including the Ferndale Chamber of Commerce, have since tried to revitalize the downtown area, with various degrees of success.  

Students of the Urban Planning program used a variety of methods to reach out to the community in an effort to develop a plan that reflected community values. The plan included steps for incremental development and short-term strategies to meet a long-term vision. Ideas like the re-orientation of streets for pedestrian purposes and park and trail planning gained broad support from the mayor, city administrator, real estate developers and more.   

After the completion of the student project, Ferndale officials adopted of some of the project's recommended changes to the city's downtown architectural and site design standards.

“I personally held pretty high expectations that the student work would be very successful and result in acceptance by the Ferndale community and its leadership,” said Zaferatos. 

You can learn more about Huxley’s Urban Planning and Sustainable Development Program here.