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    Campus & Community

    Change by design

    By Amy Crossette
    Published: July 29, 2011

    Can good design better a community in just five weeks?

    This summer, a couple dozen students from the School of Architecture, under the leadership of Barbara Brown Wilson, director of the Center for Sustainable Development, and Bryan Bell, a visiting professor and director of Design Corps, set out to answer that question.

    As part of the first-ever, five-week Public Interest Design course, student teams met with East Austin residents, nonprofits and members of the City of Austin’s offices of Sustainability and Public Works, to identify four unique design projects that could benefit East Austin communities.

    The projects varied in size and scope, but their purposes were unified — to have a positive impact on the residents with which they worked and to provide designs that could be modified and utilized by various members of the larger community.

    At the culmination of the five-week course, the public was invited to an “alley blitz” party where they could view the four projects and watch the last-minute frenzy accompanying their completion.

    Project 1: Greening the alleyways

    Eight cities across the country have “alley greening” programs to reclaim forgotten spaces that constitute up to 20 percent of a city’s footprint. Austin is aspiring to join their ranks. A team of eight students created attractive address markers and artistic pavement markings to give an alley identity, while also creating spatial organization and abating traffic and crime. While these particular interventions were guided by resident preference, the students also worked with the city’s offices of Public Works and Sustainability to create a toolkit that presents a range of options to inspire other neighborhood groups to begin similar interventions in their alley.

    Project 2: Mobile farm stand

    Working with 5 Mile Farms owner Randy Jewart, ten students designed and built a large mobile farm stand as well as a smaller farm stand that can be transported by bike, in an effort to help raise awareness of the sustainable micro-farm concept and to provide convenient ways to transport and display fresh produce to neighborhoods lacking in hyper-local produce. 5 Mile Farms is an urban farming initiative that transforms underutilized yard space in various Austin neighborhoods into productive gardens. The farm encourages and empowers visitors to become part of Austin’s local food movement.

    Project 3: Storage shed with attached chicken coop

    Outdoor storage has been identified as a key necessity for Austin residents by individual homeowners and low-income housing corporations alike. Working with residents of a duplex managed by the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, a six-person team designed a “core unit” shed out of repurposed pallets to store tools, ladders and lawn equipment. The structure also supports a chicken coop, but the students developed additional designs for rainwater collection, shaded seating and clotheslines for other potential clients. The shed design is simple and meant to accommodate a variety of design variances for future models.

    Project 4: Landscaped modular fence and sitting area

    Restoring community character and improving public and private spaces within the Guadalupe neighborhood is imperative to the preservation of this historic community. The homeowners were interested in opening up their backyards and creating a warm, welcoming space where neighbors can gather that also honored the historical legacy of their neighborhood. A team of five students created a landscaped modular fence and sitting area made with materials repurposed from homes being renovated or torn down in the neighborhood.

    • Quote 2
      Simone said on March 21, 2012 at 8:30 p.m.
      If I had a backyard I would definitely get some chickens.
    • Quote 2
      Stephen Goldsmith said on Dec. 5, 2011 at 11:01 p.m.
      Once again, Barbara Brown Wilson is engaging committed students as agents of change. Incredible work and as meaningful as it is hopeful. At a time when cynicism abounds, this work is bright light in so much darkness. Onward!
    • Quote 2
      Mike Wallace said on Nov. 23, 2011 at 7:09 a.m.
      When UT's mission is What Starts Here Changes the World, these are the types of programs that begat that level of change. Giving students real-life practical experience in design that not only develops their skills, but benefits the community. Those students will take this experience wherever they go in the world. I hope there is more ideas like this on the horizon. Well Done!
    • Quote 2
      Karen said on Nov. 4, 2011 at 12:29 p.m.
      I totally agree with the 'scoop the poop' idea put forward by Gayle Smith. How about it? Dog owners actually taking responsibility.
    • Quote 2
      Mark said on Aug. 28, 2011 at 6:29 p.m.
      I love hearing about these kinds of local successes and it doesn't surprise me that this would happen in Austin. But I wonder how we can make this sort of thing happen at the state and federal levels where the influence of big business bends and shapes policy to a greater degree? Government works at the city level in Austin. Can we still make it happen on a national level?
    • Quote 2
      Gayle Smith said on Aug. 9, 2011 at 8:57 a.m.
      I LOVE the alley idea. I'd suggest some of the "scoop the poop" information in alley ways, too. It's shocking how many people think you've got to pick up after your dog on the streets or people's lawns, but think it's perfectly ok to leave the waste behind in alleys. I look forward to the information in a couple of weeks.
    • Quote 2
      Todd Plunk said on Aug. 5, 2011 at 9:53 p.m.
      I want a shed/chicken coop in my backyard too! Great ideas, Hook 'Em!
    • Quote 2
      Rae Arnaud said on Aug. 4, 2011 at 1:22 p.m.
      Inspiring ideas! Very nice to have commented and added a link, Ms. Wilson. I wish we had more programs such as this where we could go into the community and actually apply our learning directly. As a student, I think far too often, there is a long distance between what we are learning here at UT and the direct applications. It would be exciting if these sorts of initiatives were extended to other undergraduate programs in the university.
    • Quote 2
      Gloria Lee said on Aug. 4, 2011 at 11:12 a.m.
      Love this! Congratulations Barbara!
    • Quote 2
      Paula Gerstenblatt said on Aug. 4, 2011 at 10:40 a.m.
      Well done Barbara! Great work.
    • Quote 2
      Mike Pecen said on Aug. 4, 2011 at 9:50 a.m.
      Great work, Barbara! It's been a long time since we took "American Space and Place" together. Glad to see you're making a strong impact.
    • Quote 2
      Ricky said on Aug. 3, 2011 at 1:41 p.m.
      Awesome article, those are some interesting ideas and those are the best kind. I love the positive news on this site. It is so great to see some of the good things that go on in the world. I just wish things, like this was much more global. I used to live in Indianapolis and I have seen how some alleys look and I praise them for their efforts. Thanks for the great article, Ricky.
    • Quote 2
      Barbara Brown Wilson said on Aug. 3, 2011 at 12:03 p.m.
      Prentiss (and Dorothy), I'm so glad that you all think the ideas are good ones. We are working on a report right now that will chronicle the work that went into both projects and hopefully provide a good road map for anyone wanting to replicate these projects elsewhere. It will be posted on the program website: in about two weeks, so please check back in!!
    • Quote 2
      Prentiss Riddle said on July 29, 2011 at 5:09 p.m.
      I can't be the first person to ask this question: how can I get these guys to replicate their storage shed/chicken coop in my yard?
    • Quote 2
      Dorothy Lanasa said on July 29, 2011 at 4:05 p.m.
      This is a great idea to make alleys more attractive. I might suggest that you take a look at Richmond Va's use of garbage recepticals and how they took your basic idea and added another function to rodent proof their garbage recepticals. Perhaps, you do not have that problem there, but Baltimore and the last time I was in N. Y. there was a rodent problem. When I lived in Richmond I have never seen a rodent in that city in the 1990's. I wish Baltimore would use that as a model.
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