AAUW Alumna Making Strides in Miami’s New Urbanism

July 24, 2013

It is difficult not to feel inspired when listening to someone speak passionately about what they do. AAUW alumna Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk revealed an infectious drive behind her words as she told us the story of her professional achievements.

Headshot of Elizabeth Plater-ZyberkPlater-Zyberk was awarded an AAUW Selected Professions Fellowship in 1973. With the help from her scholarship, she went on to complete her master’s degree in architecture from Yale University in 1974. Since then, she has made important contributions to the new urbanism movement and the built environment as a whole. She co-founded two Miami-based architectural firms, Arquitectonica and Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company. After 18 years serving as dean of architecture at the University of Miami, she has recently stepped down, calling her experience there a “tremendously privileged” one.

As a child, Plater-Zyberk found herself fascinated by her architect father’s work; she credits his influence in igniting her early interest in building and design. “I remember the beautiful drawings that he would make, and visiting the sites, and participating in the construction that went on in our house. … It was those early drawing and building experiences that encouraged me.”

Her passion for architecture eventually expanded to encompass a vision of new urbanism, which became the focus of Duany Plater-Zyberk. At first, she explains, new urbanism deviated in approach from the conventional standards for urban housing subdivisions, creating what essentially became “alternatives to suburbia.” Today it “sustains social interdependence by being environmentally responsible, economically sustainable, and enabling people to have a good life without being overly dependent on automobiles and other costly resources.” Plater-Zyberk’s influence on the architectural world and sustainable living has been quite remarkable; her most impactful recent work has been on the project Miami 21, which created a new zoning code for the city of Miami. A likely factor in her success is her ability to view the built environment as a reflection of history, an ability she describes as “appreciating the human effort of our predecessors.”

Behind all of her accomplishments, Plater-Zyberk graciously emphasizes the importance of AAUW and the impact her scholarship had on her professional endeavors. “[The AAUW fellowship] played a very important role because I had extremely limited resources. … Having the grant for the last year of my professional training at Yale was extremely important, as I might not have kept going if I hadn’t had it.”

As she begins a new leg of her professional career, Plater-Zyberk looks forward to her return to teaching and becoming further involved in projects such as Seven50 — a seven-county, 50-year plan aiming to make communities in southeast Florida more sustainable, more walkable, and more oriented towards the well-being of the people using them. “It’s a big thrill, to think that one can make a contribution to that.”

Her advice to readers and future fellows is to say yes to opportunity:

Looking back, I think of the times I didn’t know where I would be going and of how taking next steps leads you. Sometimes that next step seems to be entering an abyss or a void, and you don’t know exactly where it will take you, but you know it is a next step. My advice is always say yes when an opportunity comes up, even if you don’t know exactly how it will be or where it will lead you. In a sense, AAUW enabled me to do that. I’m grateful for AAUW and for the woman, the administrator, who introduced me to the opportunity of the scholarship.

This post was written by Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily Carroll.

AAUW Intern By:   |   July 24, 2013

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