Jane Grabowski-Miller helped plant the foundational seeds of New Urbanism in Wisconsin almost three decades ago and continues supporting the movement today as a CNU Wisconsin board member and a development specialist with American Family Insurance. She worked for 19 years on Middleton Hills (the first New Urbanist development in Wisconsin), chaired CNU 19 with “Mayor Dave” Cieslewicz in Madison, and now works to instill New Urbanist design principles in The American Center, a 450-acre project in Madison. Jane’s passion since early in life has been to create environments that people enjoy, that add to their quality of life, and that are better for the environment. She has and continues to realize her passion and make a huge difference.
Jane grew up in Detroit, in a walkable neighborhood with alleys and bungalows lining the streets amongst beautiful elm trees. She became interested in neighborhood planning while in high school and briefly studied architecture at the University of Detroit before focusing on master planning and land development at Michigan State, where she earned a degree in Landscape Architecture.
She landed a position in the early 1980s with The Architect’s Collaborative, a firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, founded by Walter Gropius. She lived within walking distance of her office and focused on large projects in Saudi Arabia and Baghdad—an experience that fed her passion and guided her future work. She later managed the preliminary design process for Massachusetts state college buildings and master plans, taught at the Boston Architectural Center, and eventually took a position as the Facilities Planner for Logan International Airport. She describes the experience like looking over a small city, including building designs, master planning, transportation, and security issues.
Jane eventually moved to Madison with her husband, an architect who was teaching at MIT, and worked for Marshall Erdman on a dream project—a new neighborhood like the one she grew up in—based on the newly formed principles of New Urbanism. In 1995, she became a CNU member and started working with Andres Duany on the 350-acre traditional neighborhood development called Middleton Hills. She has presented it as a case study at numerous CNU Congresses, exploring questions like “What is an urban mixed-use development?” “How can retail be integrated in a mixed-use development?” and “What challenges and lessons learned were associated with Middleton Hills?” As the first and most noteworthy New Urbanist project Wisconsin, it is often considered a best practice example that captures CNU’s attention.
In addition to speaking at Congresses, Jane feels it is especially helpful to attend them, meet with colleagues to share experiences, see different projects, and explore new cities through tours. She encourages all members to attend Congresses as there are so many ways in which they are life enhancing.
Her job now as the Development Specialist for The American Center has taken her full circle. Originally conceived around the same time as Middleton Hills—based on planning principles that were popular in the 1970s and 80s—it was intended to be mostly corporate office buildings, with large blocks and curved streets. In the last six years, Jane has moved the design toward a mixed-use, walkable, neighborhood pattern with more connected streets, multi-family housing, and a neighborhood center, which are integrated with the project’s existing hotels, restaurant, college, dental clinic, convenience grocery, and two hospitals. A 240-unit apartment complex has just been completed and two more apartment complexes are in the works, as is a regional medical clinic. Jane feels a special sense of accomplishment knowing that the urbanism concepts she fought for and championed in the mid-90s have now been embraced on larger projects like The American Center and by the Madison community at large.
By Pat Algiers, CNU-A, CNU Wisconsin Board Member