Michael DiPasquale, AICP, AIA — Sustainable Community Development
Michael DiPasquale is a registered architect and certified urban planner with a small practice in Northampton, Massachusetts. His work consists of urban design, mixed-use buildings, and housing for persons with special needs, including one of the nation’s first housing developments for persons with AIDS. He has extensive experience in the revitalization of America’s “Legacy Cities,” the country’s once great manufacturing centers. He recently collaborated with Davis Square Architects, Boston on the design of a mixed-use development in Northampton, Massachusetts.
I graduated from college (University of Detroit Mercy, BS Architecture, and Washington University in St. Louis, MArch) with a Master of Architecture degree. My first architecture job was in my hometown of Buffalo, New York. After working there for several years, I took a position at a firm in Boston, and worked at several firms in the Boston area for almost 20 years, eventually becoming an Associate at a small firm in Somerville, Massachusetts.
In 2001, my husband and I moved to Northampton, Massachusetts, where we wanted to raise our children and be closer to family. Shortly after moving I enrolled in the graduate Regional Planning program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I was fortunate to land a job at the university after graduation, administering the Citizen Planner Training Collaborative, an educational program associated with APA's Massachusetts Chapter that provides training to members of municipal Planning Boards and Zoning Boards of Appeal.
A few years later I received my AICP and was hired by the university as an Extension Assistant Professor of Regional Planning, doing outreach to nearby cities and towns and teaching to university students.
My architecture background included a large emphasis on design, both buildings and public space. This experience with design, and a knowledge of proxemics, and how people occupy space has been very helpful to my community and urban design work that I do through our UMass Extension initiative, the UMass Amherst Design Center in Springfield, housed in a storefront in Springfield, a post-industrial urban center about 25 miles from our Amherst campus. At the same time, my planning experience from school, which included many courses related to sustainable design and urban development also inform my current work.
Some important skills I have learned as a professional architect and planner include project management and personnel skills (hiring good people and managing/mentoring them). These skills have been invaluable in my work with students and municipal officials. Our Design Center is run like a small firm. This means I must negotiate contracts and must hire students.
I feel strongly that employees, whether they be students or graduate professionals, need to feel they are working in a supportive environment where they are learning a range of skills and are treated fairly. My many years working in the private sector has allowed me to develop successful ways of making this possible.
A person should be open and accessible to the needs of the community. We don’t run or dictate projects, as we facilitate successful community/design processes. We need to be good listeners, and we need to be open and honest about the process we are leading, and the expected results especially related to time frame and scope/scale of work.
Some days are more typical than others. But since a large part of my work is community outreach, I am often on the road, much of my time is spent in Springfield, at the “Design Center” or our “Make-It Springfield” community makerspace, which I co-founded as a temporary “pop-up” just about three years ago.
The best surprise has been the chance to work in Springfield, Massachusetts. I had never been to Springfield before taking this job. The city is a beautiful place with a rich manufacturing history (the first gasoline-powered automobile was manufactured there) and it has the wonderful assets of many similar cities, and of course a fair amount of interesting challenges.
Looking back, I think it would have been an advantage to spend some time working at a professional planning/urban design firm. I like teaching and interacting with students. We have some really outstanding students at UMass Amherst. I also like the variety of my work. Every semester is different.
I’m not the first person to say this, but my advice is to find something you love and do it well. Also, the work world has changed a lot since I started. But some things like showing up on time, getting along with others, and being a team player are always going to be important if you want to be successful. Read a lot of books, and read the newspaper, keep up with your profession and the world, more generally.
BS Architecture University of Detroit Mercy
MA Washington University in St. Louis
Master Regional Planning: University of Massachusetts Amherst
First planning job
Intern: City of Holyoke, Massachusetts Planning Department
My hometown, Buffalo, New York, what Frederick Law Olmsted called "The Best Planned City"
My parents, Italian immigrants that modeled conviviality and an appreciation of beautiful things; my boss, Brooks Mostue at Davis Square Architects; my mentor in high school, Donald Gorey, architect; my professor, James Fitzgibbons, Washington Univerity: he taught me to find something I like doing, and master it.
Freehand drawing and graphics are strong points