top of page
Aerial Photo of a City

Johnny Ray Rail-to-Trail

The Fall 2022 CPLN 7600: Synthesis Studio developed conceptual plans for the Johnny Ray Rail-to-Trail for their capstone project taught by Dr. Sweta Byahut. This project was undertaken in collaboration with the Lee Russell Council of Governments (LRCOG), and coordinated by Daniel Wyatt and Benjamin McGarr from LRCOG. 


The goal of Johnny Ray Rail-to-Trail project is to convert 37 miles of decommissioned rails lines to ADA-friendly, non-motorized; multi-use trails connecting Chambers, Lee, and Randolph counties in Alabama. This investment is expected to produce many social, economic, and health benefits in the surrounding rural communities. The project will support connectivity between schools, trails, parks, points of interests and jurisdictions in the region.  It will provide long distance multi-use regional trail amenity in rural and small towns of Opelika, Lafayette, Five Points, and Roanoke in Alabama. It will not just encourage walking and cycling for recreation and transportation, but also result in improved public health, bolstered community quality of life and safety, and strengthened local economies. 


Over the course of the semester, students have assured the LRCOG with the planning of the proposed trail for Opelika, Lafayette, Five Points, and Roanoke. Their objective was to develop a conceptual plan for the trail and surrounding area in each community, identifying a range of development proposals, and implementation strategies. At the end of the semester, students presented their final projects to the LRCOG and stakeholders from the communities including policy makers, engineers, planners, city and county officials, and others. The presentations were organized by the LRCOG, and provided community stakeholders an opportunity to see the ideas developed by students.

City View from Above

MLK Blvd Corridor Plan 

The Spring 2021 CPLN 7200: Urban Design Studio, taught by Binita Mahato, worked on Auburn Martin Luther King Blvd (MLK) Corridor Urban Design Concept Plan focusing on the redevelopment of the corridor and its adjacent areas. Students worked closely with the Auburn Corridor Investment group (ACIG) following a six-step design process – sensing the project area through site visits, observing and collecting data and information of the site and surrounding area, mapping and documenting people, places, and phenomena; synthesizing the collected/ documented data; theorizing goals, objectives, mission, vision and values for the corridor; analyzing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and spatial development potential of the corridor; making rational designs, and implementation strategies through drawings, illustrations, plans, and texts; and communicating proposed plans through writing, illustrations, speaking, and presenting.

Students presented their work in an informal poster session open house to the ACIG members, Dr. Olivia Cook and Mr. Erik Zellars, City of Auburn staff members, Vice President for University Outreach and Associate Provost Dr. Royrickers Cook, CLA Dean Dr. Joseph Aistrup, Department of Political Science Chair Dr. Paul Harris, and MCP faculty. Mr. Zellers complimented the MCP faculty and students on their outstanding works, saying that they are a tremendous asset to the community. He later informed the program that the Auburn Corridor Investment group (ACIG) is moving forward with the project on MLK, and that their design is directly influenced by the students' inputs.

Urban Gardens

Downtown Opelika Redevelopment 

Spring 2019 Urban Design Studio, taught by Binita Mahato, worked on several small scale redevelopment projects around Downtown Opelika. The students started the studio with a field trip, led by the Planning Director of the City of Opelika – Matt Mosley. During the field trip, the students got exposed to the history of the area and potential sites and development opportunities. The studio then followed a six-step process to conceptualize and propose several redevelopment plans for Downtown Opelika. The processes include  –  1) SENSING: observing and collecting data and information, mapping and documenting people, places, and phenomena; 2) SYNTHESIZING: organizing, structuring, and absorbing collected/ documented data; 3) ANALYSING: analyzing synthesized data to identify issues and problems; 4) THEORIZING: framing goals, objectives, mission, vision, and values; 5) MAKING: developing implementation strategies, plans and proposals; and 6) COMMUNICATING: communicate plans through writing, illustrations, speaking and presenting.


Along with the studio project, the students also acquired a basic knowledge base on urban design, such as Elements of Urban Design, their standards and measures, Measures of Urban Design; Urban Design Principles; and Urban  Design  Theories through a series of class lectures and readings. The students also learned design method skills like primary & secondary data collection and analysis; mapping and illustrating people, places, and phenomena.


The students worked in groups to identify project areas and scopes within downtown Opelika and formulated plans on various key issues concerning railroad reconnection, Court Square redevelopment, Industrialization prospects, public art opportunities, and main library improvements. The students presented their proposals as a combined Downtown Opelika Revitalization Plan to the City of Opelika at the end of the semester.

Downtown Ope Redevelopment
Opelika Synthesis studio

City of Opelika, Community Health Assessment

During Spring 2018 Synthesis Studio class, led by Dr. Rebecca Retzlaff, students worked with community members in Opelika, the Opelika Planning Department, and the Opelika Community of Hope Project consultants the Mobile Studio. Within the framework of community health, the successful completion of a synthesis project required students to pursue an extensive investigation and analysis of a specific and compelling planning problem, and then to fully develop and present findings and recommendations-from analysis through implementation–in verbal, graphic,written,and electronic form.


Two community outreach events were held by the students of for the youths participating in Ward 2 Academy Saturday school at the Opelika Learning Center, directed by Councilwomen Tiffany Gibson Pitts. There were four stations with various activities. The station were- story, block city, scavenger hunt and maps. The main target of those two outreach events as to gather data on what makes Opelika a great place to live for youth and what could be improved.


A list of topics was provided by Matt Mosely, Planning Director in Opelika, which was used by students to choose their project. Some of the topics were neighborhood commercial, downtown plan, community garden, parks and recreation plan, housing plan, transportation, natural hazards and resilience plan, and others.


Jay Howell received the 2018 Distinguished Leadership Award for a Planning Student from the American Planning Association - Alabama Chapter for "Reimagining 1st Avenue" project.

Bike Master Plan

Bike Master Plan for the City of Auburn

This student project in Dr. Sweta Byahut's Sustainable Transportation Planning class was conducted in collaboration with the City of Auburn’s Bike Committee and the Planning Department. There was substantial preparatory work before the start of the semester to determine the scope of work, including meetings with city officials and the Auburn’s Bicycle Committee to determine the project focus. Ms. Brandy Ezelle (Traffic Engineer and member of Auburn’s Bike Committee) visited the classroom twice to provide guidance and feedback to students.

This project brought together sophisticated analysis and creative solutions in network planning, detailed design, engineering, and policy recommendations. In Phase 1, students analyzed case studies of communities around the country.  In Phase 2, four groups investigated existing bicycling conditions using Bicycle Level of Service analysis for facilities using the Bicycle Compatibility Index (BCI) method, prepared GIS maps analyzing land uses, economic activities, demographic characteristics, street network, photo-documentation of existing facilities, as well as evaluated communications, marketing and bike safety education and enforcement strategies. In Phase 3, teams worked to identify strategies and policy recommendation to help Auburn advance to silver rating as a Bicycle Friendly Community. They clearly articulated planning goals and objectives, and developed the proposed network at local and regional scales, including improving network connectivity and identifying new/improved routes.

Students brought different elements together in a unified plan and produced a professional-quality report. At the end of the semester they made a presentation at the City Meeting Room to a full house, including several members of the Auburn Bicycle Committee, longtime residents, faculty, and city officials. They provided detailed insight and analysis, offering creative and viable options for an updated Bicycle Plan.


This class received the 2016 Distinguished Leadership Award for Planning Student/Team from the American Planning Association - Alabama Chapter.