Tony Nelessen received ULI Academic Leadership Excellence Award

May 10, 2022

Bloustein School professor Anton (Tony) C. Nelessen has been awarded the 2022 Academic Leadership Excellence Award from the Urban Land Institute Northern New Jersey Chapter. The award was presented on Thursday, May 5 at the ULI NNJ 2022 reception in Woodland Park, NJ.

ULI has set the global standard in recognizing outstanding and transformational land use developments, best practices, and creative visioning. The individual awards recognize exceptional leadership and distinction in the area of submission.

One of the nation’s most respected urban visionaries, Tony has more than 50 years of professional experience as a professor, author, and practitioner in the fields of visioning, planning, and urban design. A professor of urban planning and design at the Bloustein School since 1974, he previously taught at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

Considered a pioneer in community planning and urban design through public participation using his trademarked Visual Preference Survey and Vision Translation Workshop, Tony has been a consultant to a diverse group of clients both nationally and internationally including developers, architecture and landscape architecture firms, environmental groups, national and local transit agencies, municipalities, and counties. He has also been the visionary, planning and urban design consultant on numerous Smart Growth projects, and transit-oriented and urban revitalization plans in New Jersey including the cities and towns of Newark, Orange, Princeton, Collingswood, River Edge, Morristown, Jersey City, Hoboken, Elizabeth, Metuchen, Middlesex, Lawrence as well as the counties of Middlesex, Burlington, and Bergen, and nationally.

Dean Marchetto FAIA, Founding Principal of Marchetto Higgins Stieve Architects nominated Tony for the award, saying not only was Tony his mentor but also that he “turned his understanding of architecture inside out.”

“As an architect, my feet are firmly grounded in the real developing world. Tony, as an educator, spends a lot of time with students in the theoretical world,” he said. “Tony taught me how to look at the environment completely differently. My outlook on my practice, on buildings, and on everything I do has changed. From looking at the piece—the building—to look at the whole. And looking at the negative space between buildings has become much more important. Buildings are really just walls around the space. It’s the space itself, and the placemaking of all of the things that have developed from there. I can’t say enough about Tony and what he’s done for me and opened my eyes to a bigger world.”

“Since I met Tony at my first Congress in New Urbanism event, he and I have worked together on many projects. And as much as he’s helped me in the professional practice, I can’t imagine how much he has helped young planners in the classroom and given them a vision for the future. He has provided very valuable ideas for our profession, and is well-deserving of the award,” Mr. Marchetto concluded.

“I am sincerely thankful and incredibly honored to have met and worked with Tony. As a former student and now a colleague of Tony, I am inspired by his commitment to practice, education, and family. He made everyone who worked for him feel like we were part of his family. He also helped me realize just how important my voice was in this profession and allowed me to approach planning and urban design through my comfort – drawing,” said Juan Ayala, Bloustein School Associate Professor of Practice. “Through the art of drawing, Tony shows his students how to see the simple things that make urban spaces relate to the surrounding architecture as well as how to use it to discover ideas and hidden information about places and social life.”

“Tony is very passionate about working with Bloustein School students on real-world projects. He leads his studio courses as if they are apprenticeships. Students learned quickly from Tony’s methods of approaching and designing projects. It was through his studio course that he brought awareness about the villages, hamlets, and towns in New Jersey to some of his students and it was shared in his book, Visions for a New American Dream.”

Ayala continued, “Personally, I appreciated his trust in allowing me to explore and discover new methods to draw as computers became more useful in visualizing design. Tony embraced technology and opened up new ways of including a wide variety of people in urban planning through his teaching methods. I witnessed how deeply engaged several community members were in his Visual Preference Survey and Hands-on Model Workshops as he motivated hundreds of people to participate in community decision-making and empowered them through these educational methods. Tony has an incredible ability to teach one person, or many people at the same time, about design and its impact on communities.

Since 1989, Tony has also led an award-winning urban planning firm A Nelessen Associates, Inc. which has become an urban planning and design “think tank,” a national creator in visioning, community planning, and urban design through public participation.

His bestselling book titled Visions for a New American Dream was published by the American Planning Association (1994). More recently, he published. Community Visioning for Place Making (Routledge 2021), a groundbreaking guide to engaging with communities in order to design better public spaces. He is currently working on What People Want, based on his extensive research conducting community visioning sessions across the country.

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