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Spring 2012
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Student group connects young designers to local communities

By Hannah Stamler ’12

Six Mile Creek in its current state

Six Mile Creek in its current state (above), and a rendering of renovations as envisioned by Design Connect students (below)

rendering of renovations as envisioned by Design Connect students

From recreational trails to shopping malls, aspiring designers and planners are making their marks on local communities through a novel student-run organization.

DesignConnect brings together graduate and undergraduate students who work in interdisciplinary teams and collaborate with communities in Upstate New York on pressing projects.

Gary Ferguson, director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, has asked the students to help create a concept and visuals that will energize the community into backing the Six Mile Creek Walk project.

“It’s going to be a fantastic, and very important, transportation link and recreational amenity for our community, and that’s why I thought it would be a great project for the students to help us get started,” Ferguson said.

The Collegetown Neighborhood Council has also enlisted student help to bring a grocery store to College Avenue.

In the Town of DeWitt, on the outskirts of Syracuse, DesignConnect students are helping restore a staple of the local economy to its former glory. The troubled ShoppingTown Mall is getting a makeover, and DesignConnect members are contributing their ideas about how best to redesign the space and rejuvenate the mall, including using sustainable and mixed-use materials.

Closer to Ithaca, Village and Town of Spencer officials are looking to the students for guidance on how to approach a new joint comprehensive plan, a project that could involve tackling tricky zoning issues and gas drilling.

DesignConnect has also been called upon to help assess the historical significance of buildings in the main business district of Elmira Heights. There, they may draft architectural guidelines and a redevelopment plan, as well as design new streetscapes.

“We are really excited about the projects this semester,” said DesignConnect co-chair Gilad Meron ’11. “The deliverables we produce are going to really have a big impact.”

Formed in the spring of 2008 and established as an independent student organization in 2010, DesignConnect gives students the “opportunity for real world experience, while also serving communities in need,” said Alyson Fletcher, a member of the group’s administrative board and a graduate student pursuing a dual degree in Regional Planning and Landscape Architecture.

Members primarily hail from the departments of Landscape Architecture, City and Regional Planning, and Architecture, but students from all interests are welcome, and Meron would like to see more novel collaborations evolve this semester.

“It provides a good opportunity to experience public participation and politics in a way you might not experience even in ‘real world’ class projects,” Fletcher added.