ARLINGTON (CBS 11 NEWS) – In a corner of Arlington City Hall, University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) grad students have designs on improving the city — and their careers.

What once functioned as a large conference room, with two glass walls facing into the city hall lobby, has been transformed into The Urban Design Center. It partners students specializing in design, landscaping and urban planning with the City of Arlington. Their colorful drawings for urban beautification projects line the walls of the room, from ceiling to desktop.

There are projects for shopping centers, neighborhoods and city property. “We are basically using the information I’m learning in the class here,” explained Zoha Niazi, who is working on her PhD in Planning.

The design work is free. Their customers are businesses and organizations wanting to improve their property, but have very tight budgets. For example, an apartment complex with low-income families and no place for their children to play.

“The people who owned this came to us and said, ‘Is there a way we can make it better for our residents but do it in an affordable way?’,” said Jim Parajon, Arlington Planning Director.

Thanks to the designers’ work, the apartment now has a fenced-in area for the kids to kick soccer balls without breaking windows or chasing balls into traffic. There are places to sit and soon landscaping and play space will be installed.

“We get immense benefits because something like this, it just improved the value of that property not just from a pure economics standpoint, but from a human capacity standpoint. We just made a nice environment for the kids,” Parajon said.

Niazi said, “We are trying to communicate with the neighborhood and they are coming to us. And its a really great opportunity for us and for the neighborhood.”

Many grateful businesses make donations to the center. But the payoff for the students is priceless. “When you go to an interview right out of grad school and you can demonstrate a dozen projects, you’re going to be real competitive,” Parajon said.

“Whatever you see on the computer or on the paper printed, its coming to life,” Niazi beamed. “It’s amazing!”

The center is so successful, it has drawing the attention of national organizations eager to study how the program is designed.

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