February 16, 2007

Students Design Urban Village

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Students in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning students designed what may become a new urban village in southwest Ithaca. The village, which will provide more low and moderate income housing, is proposed to occupy the 60 acres of city owned land behind Wal-Mart and Lowe’s on Route 13. The students worked on seven models for this project in CRP 381: Prinicpals of Spatial Design and Aesthetics, instructed by Prof. Roger Trancik, city and regional planning.

According to Trancik, the City of Ithaca has been looking to develop this land and create more affordable housing for the last couple of years. Trancik decided that it would be interesting to take on this project in a course in order to provide students with a real project to work on, to mix theory with practice. City officials such as Thys Van Cort, director of planning and development, Maria Coles (D-1st Ward) and Lisa Nicholas, redevelopment project manager, participated in helping the students create their designs for this project. Students were also given opportunities to walk around the site.

“I thought it was a real win-win situation where the students got to work on a real project and the city benefited from it,” Trancik said.

The 20 students were split into seven groups and given six weeks to complete their design. According to the proposal, “particular consideration was given to affordability, walkability, solar orientation and ‘green’ design,” when developing the models. These models include proposals such as Penelope Village, in which the goal to “optimize site orientation for passive solar design,” and Tutelo Village, which “celebrates pedestrians and open space.” The completed projects were presented and discussed on Dec. 11, 2006 in the City Hall Council Chambers, where the models are still on display.

According to Nicholas, although the City will not use the models for the actual site, the models have started conversation on how it will develop the land. The course was an exercise on urban designing, but the models have shown the City different possibilities. The city is now looking to hire professional developers.

“The selection committee has looked at the models and has used them to start talking about the site and to start thinking about how to develop it,” Nicholas said.

Currently, the 60 acres in the southwest of the city are used as a clean fill disposition area. According to Trancik, the final decision on how and when to develop the area will depend on private developments. The city, which owns the land, will likely finance at least some of the site infrastructure needed for development, but the rest will rely on investments. With 60 acres of available flat land to develop, “There is a lot of excitement downtown. People are talking about this,” Trancik said. But, he also added, “You must be patient with city planning and urban design.”

Overall, both city officials and Trancik were pleased with the students’ designs.
“I think they [students] did a very good job,” Nicholas said. “I think they had very creative solutions. They came out with unique models. It was exciting to see them go through the process.”

“It was a great group of students,” Trancik said. “The city was impressed by the accomplishment of this group.”