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Buffalo in Philadelphia: Meet Our Hosts

Q&A with Kelly Ganczarz (MUP ’10) and Gary Jastrzab (BA ’76)

Kelly Ganczarz and Gary Jastrzab with Dean Robert Shibley at the Buffalo in Philadelphia kickoff event on March 19, 2014.

The Buffalo in Philadelphia program kicked off on March 19, 2014, with a gathering of alumni and friends eager to reconnect, share memories and consider the School of Architecture and Planning community’s collective work in rebuilding cities and regions. Co-hosts Gary Jastrzab (BA ’76) and Kelly Ganczarz (MUP ’10), both leaders in Philadelphia’s development community, welcomed fellow School of Architecture and Planning graduates from across the eras to the first in a series of new alumni engagements for the School of Architecture and Planning.

We asked Kelly and Gary reflect on their time at the School of Architecture and Planning, the work they’re doing in Philadelphia and why they chose to take leadership roles with the Buffalo in Philadelphia program.

 

Fondest memory from your time at the School of Architecture and Planning?

KG/ As the Graduate Planning Student Association (GPSA) Social Chair, I worked with fellow students to bring President Barack Obama’s Director of the Office of Urban Affairs as the culminating speaker of the school’s lecture series. A new position for the new administration, I remember feeling so excited to be in a field that was not only recognized by the President, but influencing policy for generations to come. It turned out to be an amazing opportunity to share the City of Buffalo with a representative from the White House and show projects of the Architecture and Planning School.

GJ/ I was enrolled in the Environmental Design program as a sophomore and junior in the early years of the school's existence. The school was located in the (Buffalo) "Meter Building," later known as Bethune Hall, a former industrial loft structure immediately north of Bennett High School near Main and Hertel. My fondest memories were the long hours spent there over a two-year period, not only attending day and evening classes, reading and doing research, and working on team projects, but spending time with my like-minded classmates planning a "new world." Being exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking at that age was tremendously exhilarating. Plus, we held tournaments using the school's Ping-Pong table.

Favorite professor and/or course/studio?

KG/ As an undergraduate sociology major at UB, I took then Professor Robert Shibley’s course, “Buffalo Niagara by Design,” a first-hand look at current and prospective planning projects across the region. I could most likely pinpoint my decision to apply to the MUP program to that class. During my MUP experience, "Planning for Food Justice" taught by Samina Raja, associate professor of urban and regional planning, was the most interesting and rigorous non-studio studio anyone could ever dream up! I was completely enthralled and engrossed in the readings and research. From this work we presented a student poster at American Planning Association’s National Conference in Minneapolis in 2009.

GJ/ There are a number of faculty members that I remember very fondly. Himi Jammal was the Environmental Design program's spiritual father, Mike Brill impressed with his creativity, Scott Danforth introduced psychological and organizational perspectives to our planning studies, and Terry Martin and Mark Goldman served as "practitioners" imparting "real world" experiences. 

What do you miss most about Buffalo and Western New York?

KG/ The people, the festivals, the eternal optimism. As a former resident of the Allentown neighborhood, I miss walking through the historic neighborhoods rich with Victorian homes, unique shops and amazing restaurants. I feel left out having moved back to Philadelphia before the waterfront development really took off. This is one of my favorite places to visit; I watch its progression every time I go back.

GJ/ Buffalo and Western New York are where my family put down roots, where I grew up and went to school, and will always be "home," even though I've lived in Philadelphia for more than three decades. I'm excited by every opportunity to travel back to Buffalo; it's such an underappreciated city in terms of its physical design, architecture and history.

How did your experiences here at the School of Architecture and Planning prepare you for your career?

KG/ I was fortunate enough to have taken varied courses that diversified my portfolio and learning experiences. 2010 was a horrible job market to graduate into. However, a resume listing experience ranging from walkability surveys to community gardens policy to economic impact analysis made me marketable to a range of employers.

GJ/ The School of Architecture and Planning exposed me to the systems approach to thinking about and solving problems, and the wider University at Buffalo provided me with a knowledge base and analytical skills that have served well in my professional life.

 

What advice do you have for students as they prepare to transition into the planning or design professions?

KG/ Intern, work study, volunteer get involved while you’re in school! Experience and networking brought job opportunities to me that were not listed on job boards. And once you are gainfully employed, it might not be your dream job so look out for projects in your neighborhood or industry related professional groups that link you up with folks with common interests!

GJ/ Take every advantage to get practical experience through internships or community work. Developing good communications skills through writing and graphic presentations are also very important as you move into the professional world.

What are some of the most exciting developments taking place in Philadelphia today, and how are you helping to advance them through your work?

KG/ As business development director for Floss Barber, I am constantly connecting with key decision makers on the next big development. We are partnering with architecture firms and real estate developers in Center City, University City and even some eye-opening adaptive re-use in the suburbs.

Bainbridge Green is an environmental infrastructure project I have been involved with as a member of Philadelphia's Queen Village neighborhood. We recently received the initial plans from the Community Design Collaborative and are now looking at ways to start fundraising and bring awareness to the project.

I also co-chair CANstruction Philadelphia, which brings design firms together for the unique opportunity to build structures of canned goods that are later donated to Philabundance. Last year, we raised 30,000 lbs of food, equal to about 70,000 meals. Our organization is a top three contributor to the food bank serving families throughout the Delaware Valley. My involvement in the event stems from my interest in improving access to food for underserved communities.

GJ/ Over the past several years, the City of Philadelphia has prepared a new Zoning Code and undertaken a new citywide Comprehensive Plan, both for the first time in five decades. A third component of this initiative, the Citizens Planning Institute, is the City Planning Commission's education and outreach arm, encouraging city residents to engage more proactively in planning their neighborhoods. Though a variety of public, private and institutional efforts, the city is experiencing a building boom, its population is increasing, and neighborhoods long overlooked are experiencing housing and commercial reinvestment. Last year, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission received the American Planning Association's National Planning Award for a Best Practice in recognition of this work.

You’re both busy professionals. Why do you feel it’s important to stay connected with the School of Architecture and Planning and your fellow graduates?

KG/ I think there is much to gain from meeting and staying in touch with people from The School of Architecture and Planning as well as in the industry. Here in Philadelphia, it’s always fun to run into an alum and chat about your favorite wing joint or best snow day story. And of course, who doesn’t want a shoulder to cry on when reminiscing about studio and final project nightmares!

GJ/ As a graduate of the School of Architecture and Planning and a board member of the UB Alumni Association, I'm interested in building stronger links between Buffalo and Philadelphia by encouraging more alumni networking, mentoring, and participation in educational and social events. The "Buffalo in Philadelphia" program is a great way for the architecture, design, and planning alumni in Philadelphia to become re-engaged with UB and the School.The School of Architecture and Planning and the University at Buffalo played an immensely important role in my personal and professional development. I almost can't imagine not wanting to maintain a connection to such a significant influence in my life.

 

Why should other alumni get involved?

KG/ Why not? Connecting with alumni opens the potential to meet people both professionally and personally that can add value to your UB experience as well as your profession al network.   

GJ/ This is a great opportunity for UB and School of Architecture and Planning alumni to reconnect with their academic and professional roots, and to contribute to the continued success and prestige of the university.

 

How would you like to see the “Buffalo in…” series grow?

KG/ It would be amazing to learn and grow professionally through the UB network. I would be interested to see what UB alums are working on in Los Angeles and Houston and how their experiences at The School of Architecture and Planning influenced their careers, success and projects.

GJ/ I'd like to see the "Buffalo in..." series reach out to regions where there is a concentration of alumni, and return on an annual basis to solidify the sense of belonging to, and growth in the prestige of the School of Architecture and Planning.

 

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