If you ever find yourself in a conversation with Jack MacLeod, prepare to be charmed.
A natural and enthusiastic conversationalist, MacLeod peppers his conversations with phrases like “the best thing ever” and “it’s been so much fun!” It’s hard not to get carried away by his enthusiasm.
MacLeod, a member of the class of 2022, is set to take another step toward adulthood when he graduates from the University of Virginia School of Architecture on May 22. He will earn a Bachelor of Science in Urban and Environmental Planning, with a minor in Historic Conservation.
MacLeod can trace his fascination with infrastructure and how communities connect to his childhood, a love born with for toy cars, trains and highways.
“When I was a kid, I loved traveling on the highways,” he said. “Every time we went to Boston to visit family, I obsessed over going under The Big Dig,” “an underground tunnel bypass route through South Boston.
His fixation on urban design was solidified when he was just 9 years old and memorialized on his mother’s Facebook page, when after a visit to Cambridge he declared he wanted to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
His remarks about MIT not being covered by the Virginia529 College Savings Plan were prophetic. Thirteen years later, AccessUVA, a financial aid program that meets 100% of demonstrated financial need for students, would seal the deal for MacLeod. He was going to be a Wahoo.
But he wasn’t always sure he wanted to be. “’I’ve heard that the culture of competition is intense,’ he said. “So I was pretty put off by UVA I would say. But I came, and to my surprise, I found that a lot of those stereotypes weren’t true within the communities that I joined. “, did he declare.
His passion for the discipline of urban planning was also guided by where he grew up: his beloved Virginia Beach. “Growing up in Virginia Beach, sea level rise was a huge issue,” he said. “It’s the second most affected place in America by sea level rise just after New Orleans.”
MacLeod added, “I think it’s stuck with me; an innate knowledge of how people relate to their place of origin, but also how the communities we develop and the infrastructure we have are sometimes at odds with the environmental setting on which they were built built.
During his second year of college, the architecture student received a Gilman-McCain scholarship, funded by the Department of State. The study abroad program is available to dependents of active duty military members. (MacLeod’s father is in the Navy.)
The coronavirus pandemic, however, prevented MacLeod from traveling overseas. Still, he made the most of it, and like his AccessUVA financial aid program, he said he was grateful to have received the scholarship. “I felt very, very lucky and very honored that this opportunity was given to me again,” he said.
So instead of going to Morocco as he had hoped, MacLeod completed a four-month remote internship with SEWA Bharat, a non-profit organization in India that supports women in the country by helping them solve land rights issues in urban areas.
“I had never worked in an international setting before,” he said. “I deepened my language a lot on urban planning themes and ideas, but in a totally different context from what I experienced at school. Much of what we do at A-School is based on our immediate surroundings it was really interesting to learn how housing and land use policy is implemented and considered by members of the community in a totally different location from Charlottesville. It was a really cool experience.
Affordable Housing in Charlottesville
Since junior year, MacLeod has spent all of his summers in Charlottesville and has made it a priority to really get to know the different parts of the city. His classes also immersed him in the local community.
“A a lot of what we learn is about Charlottesville because it’s right outside our classroom doors,” he said. “In my studios, a lot of the issues we tried to solve revolved around affordable housing, which has reached crisis level in Charlottesville.”
MacLeod said he thinks the question is one that many students don’t really think about. “You come here for four years, you go to school, then you leave without ever having to deal with the nuances of the relationship your school shares with the city that hosts it,” he said.
Last fall, he and a team of his classmates participated in a neighborhood planning studio.
“Our mission was to select a neighborhood or area of Charlottesville so that we could come up with design and policy interventions for certain issues facing the community,” he said.
They chose a neighborhood in the Woolen Mills neighborhood, which was once owned by Thomas Jefferson. It was an industrial area and housed a working mill from the 1790s through the 1960s. The company helped employees buy property around the mill to build houses. Today it is zoned for mixed-use development.
They focused on connecting Carlton View apartment residents to resources and amenities, as the apartments are designated as affordable housing.”
“Our goal was to find solutions that would allow the Broadway Street Corridor to develop in a way that supported the low-income population, maintaining or trying to improve its accessibility and introducing a policy framework in which businesses, grocery stores, pharmacies and other key resources could be developed in this area,” he said.
They also looked for ways to bring in more affordable housing without displacing current residents. “It was really interesting to be able to apply what I was interested in, in a sort of practical setting,” MacLeod said.
Suzanne Moomaw is President and Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning at the School of Architecture. She was MacLeod’s academic advisor “and a wonderful mentor,” he said.
“Jack is outstanding,” she said. ” He is curious. He is creative. He is caring.
“I remember in class I asked students to discuss their vision of cities, and I remember Jack saying something like, ‘I love cities and I love the relationships I interviews. I want cities, all cities and all people, to have that kind of love, care and sustainability in our cities.
“It’s that kind of attention that really encouraged me to get to know him better. And he really is an exceptional student,” she said.
After graduation, MacLeod will move to Nashville for a job at an infrastructure solutions consulting firm. “I will be working as an environmental planner on projects that they have primarily with the Tennessee Department of Transportation,” he said. “I will work with environmental policy and law to help promote sustainable transportation practices in the state and region.
He said it would be a big move because he’s never lived outside of Virginia, “but I’m really excited for it.”
MacLeod said he will be greatly missed in Charlottesville.
“The summers have all been such a formative part of my time here at UVA, just hanging out with people I wouldn’t normally hang out with during the school year, but also learning how to function in Charlottesville without the influence of taking classes or be a full-time student,” he said.
“It’s a city big enough to never get bored, but also small enough to foster connection. UVA also supported and comforted me in a way, as I tried to figure out who I am and what I wanted to do after graduation. So I will miss Charlottesville immensely. It’s going to be really hard to say goodbye.