1987

"Pracademic" Pivo: Blending Professional Practice and Academic Research in Urban Planning


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Some residents of the Pacific Northwest may know him from the many television, radio, and newspaper reports in which he has appeared. Others may have heard him speak in one of his frequent public presentations on growth management issues. Gary Pivo, UW professor of urban design and planning, describes himself as a "pracademic"--someone who seeks to blend academic research and professional practice, in this case, around the theme of the leading urban planning issues facing the State of Washington.

Pivo's efforts have made him a scholar of national reputation in the area of growth management. Notes Jerry V. Finrow, Dean, College of Architecture and Urban Planning: "Both his scholarship and his personal service to environmental quality make him an important asset to the UW and to the state as a whole."

Pivo served as Special Assistant to the Governor's Growth Strategies Commission and as Washington State Legislative Fellow in 1989 to 1990. During that time, Pivo prepared Growth in Washington: A Chartbook,footnote 1 which provided a basis for the development of the Washington State Growth Management Act. The Act, adopted in 1990, and expanded in 1991, establishes a statewide framework for growth management. It requires cities, counties and state agencies to adopt plans that are consistent with statewide land use, transportation, housing, environmental and other goals.

Subsequently, Pivo helped establish a statewide citizen's group called 1,000 Friends of Washington, where he served as President of the Board until 1997. The organization is dedicated to the implementation of balanced and effective growth management in Washington State.

Pivo joined the UW faculty in 1987. Much of his teaching, he says, reaches out to the community; and teaching, in turn, feeds into his research. "For example, a few years ago I taught a course that examined rural development patterns," says Pivo. "It resulted in a student-organized conference entitled 'Preserving Ruralness through Cluster Housing: Problem or Opportunity'." That work led Pivo to study issues in preserving community character in the face of rapid development. One case he examined concerned the town of Snoqualmie, Washington.footnote 2

"For the past 15 years, a major focus of my research has been the changing nature of metropolitan spatial structure, particularly the decentralization of jobs and housing, and the effects this trend is having on society and the environment," says Pivo. "A central goal of many urban and regional plans now in place in the U.S., including many in Washington, is to channel suburban job growth into centers of various sizes like downtown Bellevue and downtown Kirkland, where higher concentrations of jobs, housing, recreation and shopping exist together. This can reduce the need to drive, and increases the alternatives to driving alone," he explains.

That focus led Pivo to study the pattern of office suburbanization both in the Puget Sound region and in other parts of the country. The work resulted in two seminal publications on suburban development trends. Pivo used six longitudinal case studies to test the validity of four theories of office suburbanization. He found that "urban villages," "office corridors," and other popular theories are too simple to adequately explain the observed complexity in the cases studied. Suburban office development more closely resembles a "net of mixed beads," he finds.footnote 3

"It will be important to evaluate the impacts of this emerging pattern on various planning issues and to better understand its underlying causes, if city planners wish to alter current trends," notes Pivo. "A new metropolis is upon us, and we need to understand what will be a critical element of the twenty- first century metropolitan region," he concludes.footnote 3

In addition to his research on urban land use patterns, Pivo also has been studying the tools used by local governments to manage growth. "This line of work is highly relevant to Washington State," he explains, "because local governments are now mandated to adopt and implement local growth management plans."

In 1990, under a grant from the Northwest Area Foundation, Pivo initiated the Growth Management Clearinghouse Project, which surveyed local governments across the country to find out what tools they are using and what factors contribute to the adoption and effective use of those tools. The project led to a series of information packets written by students called the Tools That Work Series. The packets describe over 30 different, highly effective growth management programs throughout the country. These reports are now available from the UW Suzzallo and Allen Library Resource Sharing Service. "Well over a thousand of them have been distributed to citizens and government officials throughout Washington State and the U.S.," he notes.


  1. Growth in Washington: A Chartbook, G. Pivo and R. Lidman, State Institute for Public Policy, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington, 1990.
  2. "How Do You Define Community Character: Adapting the Environmental Impact Statement Process to Snoqualmie, Washington," G. Pivo, Small Town, Nov.-Dec., 1992, p. 4.
  3. "The Net of Mixed Beads: Suburban Office Development in Six Metropolitan Regions," G. Pivo, APA Journal, Autumn 1990, p. 457.

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