Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson has used skills and opportunities as a landscape architecture faculty member at UGA to breathe life into his Ghanaian hometown of Cape Coast. The UGA summer study abroad program in Ghana has allowed him to help rejuvenate the town where he grew up, the park he frequented as a child and some adjacent streets, while teaching his students valuable lessons about urban renewal and public service.
DeGraft-Hanson helped initiate the Ghana Study Abroad program, and in the summer of 2001, UGA students in landscape architecture and historic preservation programs became short-term permanent staff members at the Office of the Regional Director, Town and Country Planning in Cape Coast, Ghana. Students were partnered with local staff for four weeks where they analyzed twelve pre-identified sites that needed urban improvement in Cape Coast. The student-practitioner teams conducted site analyses, research and interviews with Cape Coast decision makers and citizens, producing conceptual environmental development plans for six of the sites.
"One of the six sites we drew rehabilitation plans for was the historic town square, Victoria Park," said DeGraft-Hanson, who planned and organized the class with historic preservation faculty member Pratt Cassity. "I remember family visits to the park, especially for the town's annual ‘Afahye' (harvest) festival. It was very rewarding to see the students I work with now helping to rejuvenate the place where I grew up."
DeGraft-Hanson was not the only one who wanted to see the plans. The eagerly awaited final designs were presented to a large audience, including local chiefs and town council members. Ghanaian television, radio and newspapers covered the event. The work begun in Cape Coast during summer 2001 is finally yielding green results. As a result of a recent grant from the Ghana government and the World Bank, the plans designed by the UGA faculty and students are finally being implemented. The town has already planted several hundreds of street trees and made environmental improvements per the 2001 UGA planning and design documents.
This unique opportunity for partnership has produced not only optimal solutions to urban problems but also lasting relationships between the students and the Ghanaian counterparts. In summer 2004, Cassity returned to another town in Ghana, Akim-Oda, with four environmental design graduate students. They worked on similar site improvement plans for the town, presented to an even larger audience, and received requests for even more UGA student and faculty participation in Ghana's environmental improvement plans.