Planning in the Highly Engaged Community: Perspectives from the Field

bricked pedestrian area flanked by retail buildings

The Ithaca Commons. photo / Kenneth C. Zirkel, Wikimedia Commons

Kimberly Michaels leads design and management on a diverse set of project types. She is most known locally for her work shepherding large projects through complex and/or contentious municipal review processes. She has nearly 20 years of experience navigating projects through SEQR, zoning, permitting, and site plan review. Her passion is to develop spaces that are sustainable, integrated into the natural world, and mindful of the human-environment relationship. Michaels's experience includes higher education, healthcare, learning landscapes, playgrounds, private and public gardens, master planning, and detailed site design with an emphasis on sustainability and green design practices. Her work has been selected as a featured site by the Sustainable Sites Initiative, published in the Journal of Green Building and will be included in an upcoming book by Robin Moore, Early Childhood Outdoors. Michaels is a registered landscape architect and brings several years of professional experience in education to her work.

Lisa Nicholas, AICP, is the deputy director of Planning for the City of Ithaca. As staff to the city's planning board since 2005, she has been involved with the numerous and complex development projects that have — and continue to — shape, transform, and enliven Ithaca, including those in the city portion of Cornell's campus. She has 20 years of government planning experience at the state, federal, and local levels and holds a master's in regional planning from the University of New Mexico.

Scott Whitham, principal of Whitham Planning and Design, has over 20 years of experience in leading complex projects and project teams. His work has ranged across diverse built-environment disciplines and has included planning new regional park systems and revitalized urban waterfronts and leading in the preservation and rehabilitation of significant historic structures and landscapes. Whitham is also responsible for managing the planning, design, and construction of educational facilities and campuses. Actively engaged in his community, Whitham's volunteer work has been equally diverse, from serving as chair of the City of Ithaca Planning Board to chair of the Architecture, Planning and Design Panel of the New York State Council on the Arts, among many other roles.


Seasoned practitioners from Ithaca who have several decades of combined experience in both the public and private realms will discuss the dynamics of professional urban planning and design in a highly motivated and engaged community. Their collective perspectives cover the full spectrum of professional planning and design practice: guiding the community planning process, administering growth management regulations, representing private sector developers, and serving as municipal board members.

As Boston politician and House Speaker Tip O'Neill once said, "All politics is local." The same can be said for the practice of urban planning. And often for community residents, planning is not merely local, but also very personal. The panelists will discuss how in their work they navigate the sometimes complex and controversial issues entwined in urban planning and development decision making, working with neighborhoods and community groups, negotiation and dispute resolution, and promoting equity and social justice in the arena of community planning and growth management in Ithaca.

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