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UK landscape architecture alum finds passion designing urban communities

UK landscape architecture alum finds passion designing urban communities

UK landscape architecture alum finds passion designing urban communities

Simone Heath was the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Kentucky’s landscape architecture program. She is now using these skills to help build stronger communities in Atlanta as an urban designer.

LEXINGTON, Ky.—

From starting her own business cutting grass at an early age, University of Kentucky graduate Simone Heath used her diverse education to lead the planning and designing of local community spaces as an urban designer in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Heath, a 2012 UK Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment alum and first Black woman to graduate from the Department of Landscape Architecture (LA) program, shares how this industry is much more than landscaping and lawn maintenance: 

Simone Heath engaging with her community during the Peachtree Atlanta Streets Alive event. Photo provided by Simone Heath.
Becoming a successful urban designer and planner, Simone Heath believes strongly in engaging with her community. Photo provided by Simone Heath during the Peachtree Atlanta Streets Alive event.

“There’s a perception that landscape architecture is about cutting grass, maintaining yards or building a garden,” Heath said. “We are design professionals. We design and plan spaces people touch and use every day, like roads and buildings. Our profession is all about constructing what people want and need to have a positive experience.” 

In Atlanta, Heath recently started her own consulting business called Urban Analytics, Planning, & Design, LLC. She also holds roles with A Sip of Paradise Garden as board advisor and is a YWCA of Greater Atlanta’s Georgia Women’s Policy Institute fellow. Each has shared values of creating stronger, more vibrant urban communities and creating policies and programs helping vulnerable populations. 

Discovering UK 

Growing up in Fayetteville, Georgia, Heath remembers loving watching her dad cut the grass. When she and her sisters were asked to help, everything changed for Heath at that moment. 

Simone Heath enjoyed her experience at the University of Kentucky and continues to bleed blue. Photo provided by Simone Heath.
Simone Heath greatly enjoyed her experience at the University of Kentucky and continues to bleed blue. Photo provided by Simone Heath.

“I remember enjoying being outside, cutting patterns and designs in the grass,” Heath said. “People in my neighborhood took notice of my yard work, so I started my own business at age 10 and kept that going for another eight years.” 

In high school, Heath was interested in taking a foreign language class, however, it was full. She recalls, reluctantly at first, taking a landscaping class instead. There, she discovered her love of drawing and drafting house structures. 

Heath was interested in learning more about landscaping careers when she attended her high school’s Career Day. At the event, Heath learned about UK’s LA program and the William C. Parker scholarship, designed to identify students who will positively contribute to an inclusive campus. 

After arriving on campus, she found an instant connection with other students and became involved. Heath joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc, UK Student Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, UK Horticulture Club and UK Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS).

Finding her superpower

Heath learned about MANRRS while serving as a student ambassador. The UK MANRRS chapter helps promote the advancement of underrepresented groups in agricultural and related sciences. Members can participate in diverse activities supporting their and others' academic and professional development and achievement. 

“UK MANRRS really helped prepare me for job searching and networking,” Heath said. “It was refreshing connecting to other people like me. Being a part of this group in college more than prepared me for corporate environments and gave me the confidence to try various paths during my career.” 

During her freshman year, Heath was accepted into UK’s LA program. Although challenging, Heath shares how she found her “superpower” in this program: 

“Your superpower is that every student will do things differently, allowing you to explore your creativity to the fullest. When designing or planning spaces for people, there must be room for everyone, and it must be for everybody. The program pushes you to think outside of just the technical specifications, but how to apply it in real-life in ways are functional and beautiful.” 

Urban design/planner projects 

Since graduating from the University of Kentucky, Simone Heath has dedicated her career to designing and planning urban projects in Atlanta. Photo provided by Simone Heath.
Since graduating from the University of Kentucky, Simone Heath has dedicated her career to designing and planning urban projects in Atlanta. Photo provided by Simone Heath.

Since graduating in 2012, Heath has dedicated her career to designing and planning projects in urban pockets of Atlanta. 

Some of her early career work included developing a master plan for the Smyrna Spring Road LCI, connecting the city of Smyrna’s Market Village to the new Atlanta Braves Stadium for a small architecture and planning firm. 

While with this firm, Heath worked on several master planning efforts that were part of the Livable Cities Initiative (LCI).  This initiative provides funding to Georgia municipalities for studies and master plans building roadways, redevelopment and updates for municipal planning efforts like zoning, economic development and transportation plans. 

Heath’s mid-career efforts included working on public space projects with the Department of City Planning, Atlanta City Studio, and providing leadership in designing Atlanta’s public realm, including streets, parks, squares and civic buildings. Heath worked closely on two projects – English Avenue and Congregate, both designed for improving the quality of life for the public. 

Some of Heath’s most recent work includes serving on the HUD/Thriving Communities Salt Lake City team project, which is still under progress, providing a technical assistance plan to help Salt Lake City provide better affordable housing to their residents. 

Profession is about people 

Heath believes that landscape architecture, design and planning is all about people and involves a balance of good quantitative and qualitative skills. 

“We all share public spaces as residents, making the quality of life more enjoyable or less desirable,” Heath said. “Our public spaces work best when they incorporate multiple functional and aesthetic components such as high-quality materials, flexible furnishings, canopy trees, good architecture, public art, pedestrian lighting and more. Good design should be everywhere and for everyone.” 

Heath’s positive experiences at UK launched her educational and professional journey in landscape architecture. She also obtained her master’s degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology in City and Regional Planning, Urban Design which included an international master of Town and Country Engineering at Tongji University in Shanghai, China. 

Heath currently serves on UK’s Department of Landscape Architecture’s community advisory board. To support and learn more about Martin-Gatton CAFE’s landscape architecture program and department, visit https://ukla.ca.uky.edu.  

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The Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is an Equal Opportunity Organization with respect to education and employment and authorization to provide research, education information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, physical or mental disability or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity.


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