When Garrison Taylor graduated with a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Georgia earlier this month, she left with an amazing portfolio and the knowledge that her vision has made a positive economic impact on communities across Georgia.

As a graduate assistant with the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Taylor helped create designs for projects that have received more than $3 million in grants to improve small towns and rural communities. In April, she was named the inaugural UGA Graduate Student Employee of the Year, an award determined by a 10-member committee of faculty, staff and students from across campus.

“Garrison continually impressed peers, supervisors and partners across the state with her creative problem-solving and unwavering dedication to our communities. Her work exemplifies the university’s public service mission, and she’s already made a lasting impact,” said Danny Bivins, who leads the Institute of Government’s design studio.

He said Taylor quickly became an integral team member after serving as a Georgia Downtown Renaissance Fellow in 2022. The fellowship, offered in partnership with the Georgia Municipal Association, provides cities with professional-caliber design assistance from UGA students. The experience led to a part-time position handling a variety of design work for communities. 

Taylor, who also has a bachelor’s degree in art from UGA, created designs for projects in small towns in rural, often underserved, communities across the state. She attributes years of working in the service industry with providing a foundation for collaborating with city managers and elected officials.

“You’re listening and learning what they love about their hometown, then creating a narrative. We give them a document that tells a story about how the town sees itself and the things they want,” she explained.

In Cornelia, that included a site plan for an event space at a former car dealership and streetscaping to improve downtown parking and the visitor experience for the north Georgia city.

Jessie Owensby, community development director, said the plan was a much-needed resource for engaging the community and driving economic growth.

“It’s a great tool for showing people what’s possible here. It was a delight working with Garrison—she really rose to challenge and provided workable ideas,” she said.

In Stewart County, her ideas for a new park and improved streetscaping in Lumpkin were the basis for a successful grant proposal that received more than $2 million from the governor’s office. Taylor also created designs for a 14.5-acre creekfront park and canoe launch in Ringgold that received an $811,500 grant through the 2023-2024 Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program (GOSP), forever preserving a tranquil stretch of wooded, creekfront property for community use.

Restorative landscapes are Taylor’s passion and the focus of her thesis at the UGA College of Environment and Design. Also known as healing gardens, such public spaces are popular in health care facilities, often as memorials. Taylor suggests that university and college campuses could benefit from such spaces.

David Spooner, associate professor at the College of Environment and Design, said Taylor’s research addresses a current need in the field.

“The framework she created is a first step toward recognizing the power and potential of campus landscapes to improve students’ mental health and well-being,” he said.

Reflecting on her experience at the Institute of Government, Taylor credits faculty and staff with instilling how to use practical applications in the public sphere.

“I’ve learned a lot about how the world works and how to do more with less,” she said. “Most small local governments don’t have many resources, so being able to partner with them to create visual communication tools is important for their success.”

Learn more about how the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government transforms communities.