Wisconsin Idea

The Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture is built upon a commitment to applied research, service-learning and community-based pedagogy in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea. Department activities include student and faculty engagement with communities through service-learning and applied research and service projects. Several examples are included here.

 Earth Partnership Program

Earth Partnership promotes native habitat restoration as a process for community learning and land stewardship. Through facilitated relationship-building and dialogue, communities identify their shared stewardship vision, and how restoration education can help achieve it. Training is made available to a variety of learners through teacher professional development, youth programming, and family and community engagement.

Earth Partnership includes three culturally-based initiatives: Indigenous Arts and sciences, Latino Earth Partnership/Colaboración Ambiental, and Global Earth Partnership.

Environmental Design Lab

The Environmental Design Lab (EDL) works to create healthy places for everyone. The EDL does community-based, participatory research in health and place. Their lab strives to be an embodiment of the Wisconsin idea: research, outreach and public service that extends beyond the university to engage with the larger world. The foundation of the work consists of building trusting working relationships with individuals and communities, with the ultimate goal of transforming the places where we live, work, and play. The EDL does community-based research, evaluation, outreach, and design related to the effects of nature on human health, outdoor nature classrooms,  and are long-time collaborators with Earth Partnership.

They are also partners in two statewide initiatives: the Wisconsin School Garden Network, a community-academic partnership project—funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health—that supports garden-based education in Wisconsin by providing free resources and workshops and creating spaces for educators to connect with each other, and the UW Obesity Prevention Initiative, a community-academic partnership that includes coalitions and community organizers across WI along with faculty from the School of Human Ecology and The School of Medicine and Public Health.

Take a look at one of their projects! A Garden that Grows Learning 

Geodesign Collaborative

Geodesign Collaborative brings together academia, industry, and various agencies. We prioritize providing students with hands-on professional experience applying planning and design technologies and knowledge to address the needs of internal and external partners. Housed in the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture, the Geodesign Collaborative reflects aspects of a strategic plan focused on achieving high levels of student satisfaction and reinforcing relationships with communities on and off campus through the Wisconsin Idea via scholarship that integrates academic, professional, and community interests.


Landscape Conservation Lab

The Landscape Conservation Lab specializes in the conservation, design and adaptation of landscapes and regions in a changing environment. We have combined conservation science with geospatial analyses, scenario modeling and citizen engagement approaches to inform innovative conservation strategies and design. In particular, we have been leaders in developing Spatial Narrative approaches and Geodesign tools. Our focal areas of interest have included:

  • International crane conservation (Grus spp) in Wisconsin and Asia
  • Great Lakes forest landscape scenarios
  • Place-based learning and stewardship in coastal communities
  • Bioregional landscapes & ecosystem services (e.g.: pollinator foraging, wild rice harvesting, maple sugaring)
  • Cooperative conservation models: Leopold-Riley Game Cooperative

The Kaufman Lab

The Kaufman Lab honors the memory of Jerry Kaufman whose career influenced many planning subfields and who was seminal in the creation of foodsystems planning. We work in many subfields, housing and food, transportation and food, urban agriculture, food distribution, and farm2institutions. We’re excited for you to use the resources created by members of the lab.

BLA Capstone Projects

Each year our BLA capstones span a diverse set of projects. Students take the Wisconsin Idea to all regions of the state by working with a variety of municipalities, non-profits and public agencies while gaining the experience they need in the practice of landscape architecture. Capstones provide the students with the opportunity to demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and ability to resolve “real-world” design problems. Since the 1980s, our students’ capstone projects have addressed the needs of more than 290 clients and have occurred in more than 80% of Wisconsin’s counties.

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MSLA Graduate Workshops and Labs

MSLA Graduate Workshops and Labs. These courses involve theory, concepts and processes that are applied to problems facing national, state and local agencies and groups. Examples of collaborations include the National Park Service, Natural Heritage Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, WI DNR, Fitchburg Center, Inc., other land trusts and conservancies, Department of Public Health, neighborhood associations and other community based organizations.

Field Courses

Service learning field courses. Recent courses offered in: Honduras (Park Planning and Design), Costa Rica (Cloud Forest Restoration and Education), and Nicaragua (Global Health Certificate Course). Many other courses include applied elements and joint team-based student projects (e.g., site design, housing, food systems, water quality).

UW-Madison Extension

Several members of the Department hold joint appointments with the UW-Madison Extension as Statewide Specialists. UW-Madison Extension has a primary responsibility of making linkages between university research and the real world as experienced by the citizens of our great state. The Department’s outreach efforts have resulted in consultations to local, state-wide, national and international agencies; workshops; and a variety of publications.


Client-centered community-based partnerships. Recent project partners for junior-level Landscape Architecture courses (LA560, LA562, LA563) include: International Crane Foundation, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center (Milwaukee), Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers (Milwaukee), Franklin Elementary School (Madison), The Rudin House – Frank Lloyd Wright Historic Site (Madison), St. James Preschool (Madison), UW Facilities Planning and Management (Madison), Capital Area Regional Planning Commission (CARPC), City of Madison Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development, Fitchburg Center, Inc. and the City of Fitchburg’s Mayors Office. We also have several community partners who share common values with us.

URPL Graduate Workshop

URPL Graduate Workshop. As a requirement of the MS URPL, second year graduate students enroll in a semester-long workshop addressing a community planning issue. Recent projects have addressed non-motorized transportation, housing, land use, water quality, community and economic development, and more. Recent partners include the City of Monona, Marathon County, City of Fitchburg, Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Wisconsin DNR, Jefferson County, and more recently, Sauk City and Prairie-du-Sac!

Applied Research

Applied research, engagement, and extension activities include projects addressing community and economic development, food systems, human health and the built environment, local government planning, analyses of urban growth and land use change, housing and transportation, rural amenity and recreation analysis, environmental and natural resources restoration and protection. Several faculty have formal integrated appointments with UW-Extension addressing many of these topics. All faculty and staff are engaged in local, statewide, national, and international service, applied research, and outreach activities. You can hear about our faculty’s research in our annual Lecture Series where our faculty and friends in other departments come to speak about their research.