This year’s Sustainable City Year Program shifts to Springfield, Oregon, where students are learning hands-on collaboration, design, and other skills. One of their first projects was rethinking a big box retail area, one of fifteen projects included in the year-long partnership with Springfield.
Now in its third year, the Sustainable Cities Initiative’s Sustainable City Year Program (SCYP) is working with the City of Springfield, Oregon. SCYP has already solidified a reputation for collaboration, but one fall-term project raised the bar: architecture and planning students across four courses collaborated with faculty, the City of Springfield, local business owners, and a private developer to revitalize the Mohawk Boulevard area. The undertaking is just one of nearly two dozen projects in the year-long partnership.
Students in Associate Professor Nico Larco’s architecture studio worked closely with Springfield real estate developer Steven Yett to design proposals for Yett’s 11-acre property in the Mohawk area. The site is the home of the former Springfield Waremart store, but now sits largely vacant. Students worked in five groups to propose concepts to turn an abandoned big box retail site into something more vibrant and sustainable.
The students learned about the realities of working with a real estate developer and the financial and logistical concerns that go along with it. Architecture graduate student Jamie Corsaro said the studio “had a more realistic feel compared to other studios. In most studios, there’s always a theoretical component but not always a financial one. With a developer to give you feedback, you start to think about what is realistic and what is going to make an economic difference on the site.”
Architecture students proposed a variety of uses for the site, including housing, medical offices, call centers, bowling alleys, and breweries. All of the plans included adding new roads on the site to improve access for pedestrians and cyclists and to provide more frontages for retail establishments.
Yett enjoyed working with the students on their proposals and found the process very useful. "The students did excellent work,” said Yett. “They came up with interesting ideas, and I'm always a proponent of getting as many eyes on a project as possible."
Community and regional planning (CRP) students worked alongside the architecture students on the same site. All of the CRP students were in their first term at the UO taking classes that focused on the project. Students looked at the issues facing the Mohawk area from several different perspectives, from an historical overview for their Human Settlements class to demographic trends in their Planning Analysis class. While the architecture students focused primarily on the Waremart site, planning students looked at the neighborhood context and addressed other issues such as neighbor impacts, traffic, and adjacent developments.
“By interacting with the City, a developer, and local businesses, the planning students get a sense of how these kinds of projects involve multiple players, perspectives and concerns,” says department head Rich Margerum. “Part of their role as professionals is often to work for one of those organizations, and if they work for the City they often have to be a mediator or facilitator of the process.”
After a phase of data collection and analysis, most of the CRP student teams proposed increasing connectivity across major arterial roads in the area, increasing walkability, and weaving the Waremart site back into the neighborhood.
Planning and architecture students were able to work more closely than they typically do. All the students mixed for site visits and a design charrette. There was a lot of informal interaction; students from one program would attend the classes of students from other programs. Planning instructor and retired city planner Allen Lowe was brought to the project to facilitate interaction among the students and help with the design process.
Students are currently compiling all of the graphics, models, and reports into a cohesive document for the City of Springfield. City councilors and the mayor got a glimpse of their work at a February 13 city council work session.
When finished, the students’ report will be a comprehensive analysis for the future of the Waremart site and surrounding neighborhood, something that would not have been possible without the dynamic partnership of SCI, the City of Springfield, Steven Yett, and students across disciplines.
Story by Dave Amos