Deborah Ryan

Associate Professor, Architecture and Urban Design
Center City Building


Deb Ryan has a 25-year history of assisting communities and their leaders with challenges relating to development, urban open space, downtown revitalization and civic engagement in the community planning process. As an Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at UNC Charlotte, she was the founding and former Director of the Charlotte Community Design Studio, Director of the Urban Open Space Leadership Institute (OSL) and Director of the Mayor’s Institute on City Design: South. Formerly, she taught at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and led the urban design efforts at the Freelon Group. A recognized expert on civic engagement and the use of the Web 2.0 in the community planning process, Deb has lectured across the country on the subject, led webinars for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Community Foundation of Buffalo, and been a featured guest on Smart City Radio. She is the founder and managing principal of both Ryan-Harris, LLC and Wikiplanning.

In those various roles, Deb has worked with elected leaders from over 25 municipalities helping them to formulate strategies to guide growth in their communities and preserve open space in their region. Throughout her academic career, Deb has maintained an active landscape architecture, urban design and planning practice working on project teams with the Wahler Design Group, Freelon, LandDesign, ColeJenest and Stone, Civitas, Warren and Associates, HR&A, dRa and now Ryan-Harris, LLC. She has completed the design of numerous parks, playgrounds and plazas; strategic and small area plans; and, mixed-use and residential master plans. Recent work includes the master plans for both the Second and Third Wards in Charlotte; a Cultural Facilities Master in Greensboro, North Carolina; a Strategic Master Plan, Small Area Plans, and Waterfront Park in Mt. Holly North Carolina; The Strategic Vision Plan, Land Use Plan, and Small Area Plans for Bessemer City, North Carolina; and, the civic engagement campaigns for a portion of the Carolina Thread Trail in North Carolina, a portion of the proposed Light Rail in Charlotte, and the San Jose 2040 Plan in San Jose, California.

Deb’s community work includes serving as the Chair of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Art Commission, a member of the Arts and Science Council and a member of the University City Partners Board of Directors. She has also given countless hours to local planning commissions and communities, participating in design charettes and advisory panels.

A Marine Corps brat, Deb grew up in Jacksonville, North Carolina, attended North Carolina State University where she received a Bachelor of Environmental Design in Landscape Architecture, and then began work as a coastal and community planner in Brunswick County, North Carolina. She left that position to attend Harvard University where upon graduation with a Masters in Landscape Architecture, she worked in California for resort developers Landmark Land and the Pebble Beach Company.

Deb’s work has been published in Landscape Architecture, Children’s Environments Quarterly, Time Magazine, the New York Times, Charlotte Woman, the Charlotte Business Journal and on numerous Internet sites. She is the editor of What’s Right About Our Region: Authentic Urbanism in the Carolinas. Deb has won five design awards from the American Society of Landscape Architects and an international prize for campus planning. In 2006, she was the UNC Charlotte nominee for the O. Max Gardner Award, the honor given to the one member of the 16 campus UNC faculty who has made the greatest contribution to mankind. In 2008, she was named a Woman of Distinction for her outstanding achievements and contributions to the community in the area of the Environment by the Hornet’s Nest Girl Scout Council of America.