Dr. Kristin Larsen: Balancing Preservation, Innovation, and Education in Urban Planning at the University of Florida

Dr. Kristin Larsen has made significant contributions to the field of Urban Planning at the University of Florida, transitioning from student to professor and innovating with the establishment of the first fully-online accredited graduate planning program in the U.S.

Dr. Kristin Larsen being introduced by City and Regional Planning Professor Michael Tomlan before her lecture at Cornell University. Photo by William Staffeld / AAP

July 5th, 2023

Dr. Kristin Larsen, Professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (URP), boasts an impressive history with the university and the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. Inspired by her childhood visits to the historic communities of St. Augustine, Savannah, and Charleston, her journey began with an interest in cultural anthropology. However, pragmatism prevailed and led her to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Florida.

The transformative catalyst of her career was an immersive summer experience in Nantucket with the Preservation Institute Nantucket in 1986, which she asked her parents to support as her graduation gift. This was the last summer Blair Reeves, the program’s founder, was running it.

Best summer ever.
Dr. Kristin Larsen on her summer participating in Preservation Institution Nantucket

Preservation Institute Nantucket Class of 1986. Dr. Larsen can be seen on the bottom row, second from the right.

Recognizing her passion for historic preservation but seeking to expand her career horizons, Dr. Larsen chose to pursue urban and regional planning for her graduate degree. She was accepted into a two-year internship for incoming students funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This valuable opportunity allowed her to work part-time for the City of Gainesville in the areas of historic preservation and housing.

Dr. Kristin Larsen with alumnus Ashon Nesbitt, MURP class of 2005, CEO Florida Housing Coalition

Starting her master’s in urban and regional planning at the University of Florida in the fall semester of 1987, Dr. Larsen had the privilege to learn from esteemed founders of the UF planning program, including Earl Starnes and Ernest Bartley. This period of hands-on learning and professional growth led to a prestigious job offer from the City of Orlando, where she worked for five years across various planning areas such as current, growth management, and housing planning. It was also during this time that she earned her AICP credential. She then moved onto participating in a 6-year PhD program in Community and Regional Planning at Cornell University from 1995-2001.

As Dr. Larsen transitioned into academia, she showcased her dedication to nurturing future professionals in the field. She led a committee from 2002 to 2009 to strengthen the Historic Preservation Program at UF, resulting in a strategic plan, a new graduate concentration, and a certificate. This achievement mirrored her own student experience, as she also secured HUD grant funding to support students, much like the program that had assisted her.

One of Dr. Larsen’s landmark achievements was pushing for the establishment of the first fully-online accredited graduate planning program in the U.S. This initiative began with just 12 students in the fall semester of 2012 and has grown exponentially since. The department underwent two outstanding accreditation reviews under her leadership — two for the on-campus program delivery and one for the online program delivery — receiving praise for its areas of excellence and full 7-year accreditation marks.

Dr. Larsen was the Director of the School of Landscape Architecture and Planning (SLA&P) from 2013 to 2021, also chairing the Department of Urban and Regional Planning in 2011 and 2012 and throughout much of her tenure as school director. She fostered increased collaboration between departments, introduced an interdisciplinary course, and established a faculty mentoring program. Her leadership was nationally recognized when chosen for a Higher Education Resource Services workshop in 2016.

Dr. Kristin Larsen and Rosemarie Fusco, UF MURP class of 2019, recipient of 2019 FL APA outstanding student award

After stepping down from her director position in 2021, Dr. Larsen has taken a sabbatical and returned to being a professor. She enjoys teaching Planning Theory and History (URP6100), continually updating her lectures with new research and conference materials. She also finds satisfaction in teaching a broader range of planning and housing courses.

The best part of teaching and advising is engaging with our students – this past semester I have taught undergraduates, graduates, and doctoral students from a variety of countries and from diverse backgrounds.  The students always bring so much energy and insight to the topics I teach, which makes it immensely rewarding.
Dr. Kristin Larsen

Dr. Larsen with Clarissa Carr, courtesy of UF Historic Preservation Program/Facebook

Along with being a professor, Dr. Larsen has returned to conducting research that she is passionate about. Her current research project is a stimulating intellectual biography on Henry Wright, a significant yet lesser-known figure who was an architect, landscape architect, planner, and houser. This project involves visits to archives in St. Louis, Ithaca, and New York City. She recently signed an advance contract for her forthcoming book about Wright and his role in the 1904 World’s Fair, along with how he worked to rehouse urban America.

In her personal life, Dr. Larsen cherishes time with her husband, retired landscape architecture professor Glenn Acomb, and their border collie, Max. They plan to take time off for a fishing trip in Florida Bay, located in the Keys. Additionally, Dr. Larsen looks forward to practicing her ukulele on a daily basis, showcasing her appreciation for life’s varied rhythms – in both music and urban planning.

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