Zwick Enjoys Helping Students Solve Problems in New Ways

Paul Zwick, Urban and Regional Planning – Faculty Profile

Paul Zwick is a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. He will be retiring shortly after having been a faculty member for more than 30 years. He sat down with DCP Communications and shared his insights about himself, his students and the college.

1. How did you discover urban planning?

After I got out of the Navy, I got married and went to college. I got an undergraduate (degree) from what at the time was Florida Tech, which is now UCF, in civil engineering and construction management. While I was sitting there, I was thinking, I don’t really want to build bridges or do the stuff that engineers do. It was a great education, but I didn’t really want to do it.

My brother at the time was here (at UF) studying architecture and said there’s this really interesting group of people in urban planning and you might want to come up and talk to them.

I was in the end of my junior year. I came up to talk to the department chair in urban planning who was a really interesting guy. I applied and got accepted.

When I got here, I started working with a faculty member named John Alexander. I was on funded research and through that I kept running into something called modeling. I started working on doing these models with John and a person that John had gone to school with, Howard Odum. Everybody called him H.T. and he was in the Center for Wetlands. H.T. is the closest thing the University of Florida has to a Nobel Prize winner. He and his brother (Eugene Odum) shared this award called the Crafoord Prize, which was for ecology. The Nobel committee gives it, but they don’t give a Nobel Prize for ecology. Dr. Odum was brilliant, and I got interested in doing those kinds of models. Out of it, I started wondering that we ought to be able to put this down in databases or on maps. We found this thing called geographic information systems (GIS). At the time (1978) it had been around for a while, probably for about 10 to 18 years depending on who you talk to. It was really quite new. The computers weren’t fast enough to do anything with, but we started playing around with it.

2. What aspect of urban planning are you passionate about?

When you’re an urban planner, you use maps of land use and distributions of particular types of categories, like how tall buildings are and how much they’re worth. It became a passion of mine to do GIS, but to do GIS in a way that would inform planning and would make future plans better. So I became an expert in GIS. My passion is information technologies, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and things like that in the context of urban planning.

3. What has been your most memorable class and research project?

I worked with Peggy Carr, another faculty member in landscape architecture. We developed this thing called the Florida Geographic Data Library that the GeoPlan Center maintains. We were the first people involved in getting that started. They (those in the GeoPlan Center) maintain it and have added to it over the years. This was sometime from 1990 to 1993 or 1994.

The Florida Geographic Data Library stores geographic information layers together with other information. I do not know how many layers are in the FGDL, but at one point in time, it was about 300. It pretty much led the nation in how to organize a GIS data library. Now, you see all categories of cloud and web-based GIS databases. We gave Google Earth and ESRI the data for Florida.

Recently, another project Peggy and I worked on was Florida 2060 and the follow-up, Florida 2070. Those two were about what the state of Florida might look like in the future.

Those two projects were what I consider to be fun projects. The Florida Geographic Data Library won awards. I’d say someplace between four and six of our projects have all won national awards.

4. Is there anything you’re working on right now?

Yes and no. I’m not doing any funded research right now because I’m retiring soon. I’m still doing the same general kinds of research.

In the first book Peggy and I wrote, we did things general. You can do general land use analysis quickly. The Florida 2060 study was a real general discussion of land use analysis for the entire State of Florida.

What happened is that DOT and many people got interested in saying: “Can you actually start to map and develop scenarios, for example, that will help us understand how employment shifts in spaces as well as county populations?” Where do people live and where do they work is a really big question.

What I’m doing now is working on Hillsborough County because I’m getting ready for studio next fall. The studio next fall is going to look at risk assessments. One type of risk assessment could be how many parcels are going to be affected by sea level rise?

5. What is the best part of your job?

I really like teaching students, but I don’t like teaching students out of books. What I really like to do is teach students new ways of thinking about problems. I bring to the classroom what my research has shown. I teach students things like spatial statistics, but I try to teach them how to use spatial statistics to make a difference in somebody else’s life as well as their own lives.

6. What is your favorite thing about the UF College of Design, Construction and Planning?

I like the idea that there’s diversity in the college. I like the fact that this college has construction management, architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, planning, historic preservation and now the sustainability program, and in that, the geo-design program.

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