Monica Landgrave-Serrano commutes to campus on a bus piloted by someone she's come to know. If she's not onboard, he worries that she's OK; she has the same concern if he's less than enthusiastic in greeting her.
For Landgrave-Serrano, a graduate student studying planning at the University of Arizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, life is a journey of connecting, not simply choosing the beautiful over the gritty.
Landgrave-Serrano's belief in the social and economic power of urban planning started when she was a child in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, where her father was appointed founder and first director of the city's Municipal Institute of Planning. Weekends were spent trading the confines of a grade school classroom for the freedom of cycling along designated bike routes he'd pioneered through the city.
Each pedal stroke confirmed or challenged his assumptions, showing Landgrave-Serrano the dynamic nature of the transportation planning process. Her view of urban mobility expanded to include vehicle and pedestrian modalities as she traveled to Barcelona, Spain for continued studies following her undergraduate Bachelor degree in architecture from the University of Sonora.
Now back where she was born, Landgrave-Serrano's feet are putting on miles as she traverses downtown Tucson as a National Institute for Transportation and Communities student scholar and Transportation Research Board Minority Student Fellow. A project in assistant professor Arlie Atkins' transportation planning class put Landgrave-Serrano and her fellow students on the streets to practice tactical urbanism – trying simple things to improve both the mobility and interconnection of a community's residents and visitors.
New striped crosswalks. Secure bicycle racks near businesses and community centers. Comfortable benches next to commercial buildings. All create a sense of improved access in order to slow everyone down, improve safety and foster more sensory engagement of a place and its residents.
"The paper I was privileged to recently present in Washington, D.C., highlights a technique Dr. Atkins continues to explore," said Landgrave-Serrano, who spoke at the Transportation Research Board's annual meeting in January. "At its core are intercept interviews conducted on the street to get qualitative data about the perceived walkability of an area."
Highly portable and repeatable, the differences among cultural groups that have emerged from this methodology are profound, as she's continuing to discover. At the same time, her studies at the UA have shown her there's an important equity component that needs to be front and center whenever urban planning decisions are made.
For example, data show that Hispanic pedestrians prefer less-defined streetscapes with fewer amenities than some other groups. The reason? Simpler infrastructure erects fewer barriers to talking to business owners, fellow walkers and others.
"The Miracle Mile project planned for Tucson with HUD (Housing and Urban Development) funding needs to factor the preferences of residents and visitors into the equation," Landgrave-Serrano says with a palpable sense of conviction. "Electric scooters and bike share programs are alternative modes of transportation that benefit the environment as well as the health of their users. Ride-hailing companies provide a great service; however, they take people away from public transit, walking or biking while adding to vehicle miles travelled when traveling without passengers."
Landgrave-Serrano's belief in the power of planning to preserve and energize neighborhoods and cities seems to grow by the minute as her academic opportunities at the UA expand.
"My capstone project centers on Globe-Miami, Arizona, a town two hours east of Phoenix," she said. "It's a much different scenario than I’ve encountered in the past."
About 7,500 residents occupy the scenic location in the heart of the Tomo Mountains. Landgrave-Serrano wonders about the cars, bikes and pedestrians that are present, and the businesses, schools, churches and government buildings that could be weaved together. Will efficiency and sustainability benefit everyone?
For Landgrave-Serrano, a community's size is less important than the people who live there. So when her team travels to Globe-Miami, she'll be there with her walking shoes laced up, clipboard in hand and a welcoming smile on her face. Ready to learn, she's out to make new friends while she completes her degree by hitting the pavement once more.