Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lafayette Tech Clinic Presents Findings on Connecting Gathering Places in the West Ward

Lafayette Tech Clinic students (left to right): Hannah Klein, Christopher Vecchio, 
James Maloney, Justin Barry, Kelley Reslewic, and Martin Melendro

Posted by: Noël Jones

Tonight I attended a presentation given by Lafayette's students who have completed this year's Tech Clinic focusing on the West Ward of Easton. What is a tech clinic...technically? I wondered myself, so I

checked the hard copy of the final report that I picked up on the way in, and it said:

"The Technology Clinic is a program that engages small groups of students, usually 6 or 7, nominated by professors and assembled with two faculty facilitators of projects that span two semesters. The make-up of each team is deliberately interdisciplinary, with members selected from the four divisions of the college: sciences, social sciences, engineering, and humanities. Since Tech Clinic's founding in 1986, the course has offered its participants rewarding experiences through projects that emphasize problem-solving and consulting skills."

Lafayette teamed up a few years ago with the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership and the Wachovia Foundation to work on a series of projects for the West Ward neighborhood, including a few led by the Tech Clinic. The first year focused on urban ecology in the neighborhood and began a weatherization program, and the second focused on water--in particular, the capture of storm water for gardening purposes. This year's clinic focused on connecting gathering places in the neighborhood.

After walking the neighborhood, the students decided to focus on the area of Raspberry Park, a small park on Raspberry Street, which is in between 14th & 15th, and Spruce and Ferry Streets. They canvassed the neighbors there thoroughly and talked to both adults and children about the possibility of participating in a clean-up event at the park where they could help spruce it up and take in their ideas for improving the park in other ways. 

This interaction helped the students develop their overall concept which is the creation of "theme blocks"--blocks where residents who are interested in focusing on creating a park space around a particular theme such as gaming, dog walking or art, can do so. The theme blocks would be connected by a fitness trail utilizing the private fire alleys throughout the West Ward (these are the small alleys in the neighborhood that the city does not maintain--the ones that aren't paved and are covered with grass). A gaming block might feature concrete gaming tables where neighbors could meet to play chess, backgammon or dominoes. A dog block would be a central place for dog walkers to sit on benches and let their dogs play together off-leash in a small dog park.  An art block might have a park that features murals, sculptures or space for performances. And a fitness block could be the central location for those running the fitness trail. The trail might include chin-up bars and such along the way, and the fitness block might include a small park where there are more selections as to exercise apparatus for neighbors to work out on and rails and ramps for a small skate park. The importance of signage to connect the alleys along the fitness trail to the theme blocks was also discussed. 

I asked why the themes would be concentrated in compartmentalized blocks, rather than having a little bit of everything in each park, and Professors Malinconico and Bauer explained that the idea is that it would encourage neighbors to walk around the neighborhood more, rather than getting everything in one spot, which would encourage them to stay within one area.

Three areas were proposed were the Raspberry Park area, the St. Anthony's area, and the area of 9th & 10th Streets from Pine to Washington. Among other ideas was the idea of creating a farmers' market--and both residents and vendors responded very favorably to the idea when approached by the students.

Mayor Panto was in the audience, and one of the main topics of discussion became the need to slow traffic in the West Ward if it is ever to become truly pedestrian-friendly. The idea of turning the one-way streets back to two-way was discussed, as well as angled parking and "bump-outs" planted with greenery which would visually shrink the street and discourage speeding and there therefore encouraging more walking traffic, as well as bike traffic.

All in all, the students seemed very positive about their reflections on interactions with the neighborhood and its potential. They acknowledge that some residents weren't too keen on the changes they suggested, but said that on the whole, resident attitudes warmed toward their ideas the more personal contact they made with them. When the clean-up event finally happened at Raspberry Park, a resident wrote a letter to the editor of the Express-Times thanking the students and welcoming them back.

The mayor thanked the students and told them that these studies are very important, as they provide a free service to the city, and told them that the city keeps a copy of each of their Tech Clinic studies in the Planning Office, and looks through them every couple of months as a reference for various project grants the city can apply for.

What do you think of the idea of theme blocks, and a connecting fitness trail?


ikindle said...

Noel, good meeting you last night at the Tech Clinic presentation.

I like the idea of theme blocks and I think it might be a useful direction to head overall. I'm not sure if that's among the first steps however.

I would think targeting a small area of linked private alleys that connect prominent neighborhood areas should be targeted for an alley trail pilot. Engage residents who own the alleys and once they're on board have a few community days to spruce up the area and put in some identifiable features such as a walking surface (wood chip, gravel, or whatever is cheap, available, and looks good) and simple temporary signs. Then let the surrounding community know about it and see how it gets used.

That way when approaching a bigger project such as an exercise trail theme block, there's something to point to and say "Look how much easier it is to get from point a to point b with our alley trail" The exposure and positive feedback from local residents would probably help move on to a bigger project, such as a theme block. This could also help engage local businesses to support and perhaps fund future trail development.

noel jones said...

thanks, for posting, ikindle. good thoughts. i like your idea that a bit of mystique might intrigue adjacent neighbors little by little...

sday said...

I like the idea of themed blocks, honestly I would invite just about any proposed action towards beautifying the West Ward.

I wanted to speak to the farmers market idea... what about having a "gardeners market" instead? it could be a free market that takes place once a month-or so, for the food grown in the community gardens of Easton? This event could also serve as an opportunity for residents to learn how to get involved in the community and offer their input as to what they would like to see improved on their blocks in the future.

-just a thought.

noel jones said...

sday--great idea! that would encourage residents to garden more, eat better and make some income off of what they produce--i love it.

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