CMU Students Use Wilkinsburg For Urban Lab

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The area around Hamnett Place will be seeing some improvements next year, thanks to an innovative university program that has chosen Wilkinsburg to be it focus. 

Carnegie Mellon University’s Urban Laboratory is “a year long participatory design process aimed at strengthening a positive vision of the future for Wilkinsburg.”

Architect and CMU professor John Folan is the coordinator of the Urban Lab project, which has done work in other Pittsburgh neighborhoods, most recently in Hazelwood, the Brighton Road Corridor on the North Side and the Herron Avenue Corridor, Uptown. 

The lab, a project of a team of 12 CMU urban design students, works with residents to identify and prioritize needs, and involves the community in a project that leaves behind a tangible benefit. 

The first meeting, on September 17, focused on establishing understanding and setting goals for the community at large. The 31 residents who attended broke into three focus groups to come up with a list of issues and objectives of critical importance in strengthening a positive vision of the future. 

At the October 14 public meeting, students presented the findings of the September focus group, and again broke into three groups for further discussion. One of the prevalent requests was for some kind of community gathering place, such as a town hall, or an open performance space. Also discussed were ideas as varied as turning a vacant property into a greenhouse and seed farm for home gardens; revamping the Whitney Avenue tunnel, improving lighting and adding murals or other public art. 

At the next public meeting, which will be Saturday, December 6, the group, with input from resoidents and other interested parties, will select a project that they will work on for the next two semesters, hopefully completing it by the end of August 2009. The group will work with the Institute for Ecological Innovation, an organization that promotes sustainable planning strategies. 

Folan stresses the practical application of the lab’s findings.

“A lot of Wilkinsburg residents are suffering from ‘plan fatigue,'” he says. “They’ve heard a lot of ideas, but their outcomes are not readily apparent. We are going to come up with an idea, one concrete thing, and we will leave something behind.”

You can keep tabs on the Urban Lab project, including minutes of the discussion meetings, a detalied list of issues and objectives and opportunities for input at http://www.wilkinsburgdesign.blogspot.com.


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