Mahbubur Meenar, Ph. D, of Rowan’s Community Planning and Visualization Lab shed light on winning New Jersey’s Outstanding Community Engagement and Education Award for their work in stormwater management and the multitude of projects student researchers can explore that seek brighter futures for underserved communities.
Meenar’s educational background is extensive. He studied architecture in Bangladesh and earned his master’s degree in urban and regional planning at the University of Buffalo. He received his doctorate in geography and urban studies from Temple University.
“I switched from architecture to planning because I was interested about the whole city rather than [just] a building,” Meenar said.
The same philosophy is what brought him to Rowan University, and what drove him to develop the community and environmental planning program on campus to help towns all over South Jersey. His success catapulted him to the top of the program and he helped initiate a graduate urban planning program that coincides with the lab.
“I was actually in charge of developing [the urban planning] program in my very first year,” Meenar said. “We just recently launched in 2020, during the pandemic, our very first cohort that started the graduate program.”
Meenar’s focus is the relationship between people and the environment. Whether it be a stormwater management project in Camden or inclusive gardens for disabled communities, Meenar’s lab contributes to the promotion of a better relationship between the two.
“That is the overarching goal, to make our cities more healthy, equitable and accessible to all types of people, especially the people who are vulnerable and who are disadvantaged,” Meenar said.
Over the past few years, Meenar set his eyes on the people of Glassboro who were struggling to put food on the table during the pandemic. His team initiated Glassboro Grows, a training program for residents to learn how to grow, nurture and harvest food from inside their homes or backyards.
“There were 25 households who participated in the program,” Meenar said. “We also had a wellness, mental health, physical health component from out health science department, they were all students. And they would talk to these families every week.”
Unfortunately, the grant for Glassboro Grows has ended, but Meenar and his lab of researchers look forward to possibly continuing the project, or expanding it even further.
In addition to the award-winning Camden stormwater project, the lab has research tracks including multi-sensory virtual reality, electric vehicle affordability and the impacts of green infrastructure. Meenar mentioned he would not be able to undergo such tracks without local partnerships, basic public outreach and citizen data science.
Jenna Monaghan is a master’s student enrolled in the Urban and Regional Planning program and has been working on green spaces like urban gardens, street trees or green roofs and their emotional effect on people.
“I have gained a lot of insight into the world of planning and have gained the necessary skills of engaging with people and asking questions and understanding people’s backgrounds,” Monaghan said. “I have also professionally made connections and was lucky that we partnered with the nonprofit I am currently interning with which has allowed me to gain even more insight.”
She explained further that planning is “an often misunderstood profession” but the lab provides critical skills in research, geographic information systems, communication skills and much more.
Senior Jonothan Hansel is tasked with sending out surveys to help gather information about greenspaces in underserved communities.
“The experience has absolutely helped my professional prospects by helping me foster deeper connections with my peers and with faculty, especially Dr. Meenar,” Hansel said, adding his acquired skills. “Such as learning how to write a literature review, which will be useful for marketing myself to future employers.”
Winning New Jersey’s Outstanding Community Engagement and Education Award, Meenar cannot do anything but be appreciative.
“I’m grateful because of my partners. I’m grateful because of these community members who participated. I’m grateful because of these community organizations who worked with us to do these projects.”
For more information on the community planning and visualization lab, visit https://www.planviz.org/.
For comments/questions about this story, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @TheWhitOnline