The PLN Institute Curriculum

Major themes of the PLN Institute coursework

The curriculum comprises a rigorous, interdisciplinary course of study that brings together domains such as urban design and zoning, landscape design, the theory and history of placemaking, and practical skills including insurance, constructability, contracting, and revenue.

Following an initial immersion, each module will be conducted over a full day, once a month, and will include expert presentations and case studies, site tours, group charrettes, and one-on-one mentorship. Each module will conclude in an exercise -- in an individual or small groups setting -- intended to produce a specific work product.

An emphasis will be placed on peer-to-peer learning, acknowledging expertise that each participant brings to the program. The program will conducted in partnership with relevant centers of expertise; national-level experts will be leveraged as guest speakers or “coaches,” who will work in-depth with program participants to advance specific projects or outcomes.

Learning Modules

2-day immersion seminar

The Place Leadership Network begins with an immersive, two-day long session that comprises cohort-building, formal learning, networking, and site visits. Rather than focusing on the “hard skills” of urban change, this seminar will attend to the larger social, political, and economic context of the work of place management.

Harvard GSDParticipants will engage questions of racial and economic disparity in american urban areas, look at the complicated histories of housing financialization and segregationist policies in the shaping of contemporary communities, explore promising examples of ethical and community-led change, investigate ways in which local culture can be a catalyst for community resilience, and and share their own challenges and experiences.

The immersion seminar will be hosted by the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Additionally, through its Community Design and Learning Initiative (CDLI), Harvard will contribute urban design and planning resources to Place Leadership Network participants. Harvard faculty and students will work alongside community organizations -- sharing ideas, developing interventions, and collaborating on impact.

Urban design

This curricular module addresses the process and outcomes of physical transformation of place. It asks participants to understand their places through the disciplinary tools of planning and design.

Key themes: Participants will observe and document the existing conditions of their places in the visual language of design. They will be introduced to fundamental terms and tools of design. They will pay special attention to the “unseen” dimensions of their places such as historic redlining practices or proposed plans.

Activities: diagramming, field note-taking, peer critique, “redline tours”, identification of interventions through mapping

Outcomes: Participants will come away with a strong background and vocabulary in urban planning and design, and an approach to identifying unseen patterns and policies that influence their places.


This curricular module asks participants to think about the ways in which people operate in, and bear on, their places.

Key themes: Participants will think about how their places facilitate human contact and empower social exchange -- or hinder it. They will explore passive and active programming strategies, identify resources in their communities, and share methods for engaging audiences in the use of their places.

Activities: observation and documentation of use patterns, conducting a local asset inventory

Outcomes: Participants will develop skills to assess the quality and patterns of use of their places. They will also come away with a clearer sense of what local program assets are available.


This curricular module prepares participants to articulate the value of their places to key audiences, from policymakers to community residents, through multiple communications channels.

Key themes: Participants will investigate the role of marketing and communications in successful place management. They will learn to translate ideas into media-ready talking points, use social media influencers, and rely on exiting media channels for audience development, advocacy, or fundraising goals.

Activities: media influencers discussion, drafting media advisories, building a simple announcement

Outcomes: Participants will have an appreciation for how communications can help them achieve specific goals, and be prepared to use media tools and networks in their service.


This curricular module engages participants in developing, maintaining, and growing multiple sources of revenue for their places. Participants will become familiar with the continuum of funding mechanisms, from community benefit agreements to vendor licensing to fundraising.

Key themes: Participants will discuss the role of funding in sustaining their places, and explore potential sources of funds. Through candid discussions among the cohort and with regional funders, participants will access valuable information -- and donor networks.

Activities: funders roundtable, developing a program budget with revenue projections, national case studies

Outcomes: Participants will walk away with a complete project budget and funder relationships, supported by a thorough understanding of sourcing sustainable revenue.


This curricular module brings participants into contact with policymakers, regulatory agencies, and city departments.

Key themes: Participants will explore the policy context for their work, looking at regulatory issues such as zoning and permitting. They will be acquainted with the latest developments in Boston City Hall and other key agencies, while generating direct contacts with key leaders.  

Activities: tactical urbanism guidelines review, policy roundtable, drafting service provision agreements and MOUs with government agencies

Outcomes: Participants will be conversant with the regulatory language and context for their places, and cultivate direct constituent relationships with key agencies

Prototyping and tactical urbanism

This curricular module invites participants to quickly test and iterate ideas for transformation of their places, placing an emphasis on temporary, experimental interventions.

Key themes: Participants will learn and share tools and techniques for rapid prototyping ideas at urban scale, creating immediate change and energizing community stakeholders. Participants will hone an iterative approach that accommodates failure and feedback.

Activities: design charrette, site visits, tactical interventions where possible

Outcomes: Participants will define and stage (where possible) specific interventions in their places, with partnership and feedback from community.