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For Good

DAAP students lead hands-on effort to fix vacant lots



Students from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning have spent the past two years working with the City of Cincinnati, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful and Building Value to propose sustainable ideas to neighborhoods about what can be done with vacant lots.
 
“It’s a major land use issue, it’s a planning issue, it’s an economic issue, it’s a social issue, it’s a cultural issue,” says Virginia Russell, facilitator of the Vacant Lots: Occupied project at DAAP.
 
Keep Cincinnati Beautiful approached Russell, director of DAAP's horticulture program, to come up with a plant-based response as opposed to “turf and mowing.”
 
So Russell recruited Ryan Geismar, adjunct professor and landscape architect with Human Nature Inc., to get students together for a charrette — an intensive class that met for an entire weekend — and periodically reconvened throughout the course to meet with community stakeholders to discuss ideas.
 
“It was an academic way to get students of architecture, planning and horticulture together to imagine what those lots could be,” Russell says. “Because they can’t all be community gardens, they can’t all be pop up micro pubs, they can’t all be this one cool thing.”
 
In the first iteration of the class, DAAP students created the pattern book Vacant Lots: Occupied, which is meant to serve as a resource for neighborhoods when determining what they can or should do with their newly deconstructed properties.
 
“Keep Cincinnati Beautiful is working with citizens groups to say, ‘Here’s the pattern book. This is what we recommend that you do,’” Russell says. “So you’re thinking about doing a community garden? Here are some things you need to think about before you do that move. You want to do a pop up cinema? Here are the patterns you need to view.”
 
The project is a win-win for all parties involved, and the students are certainly benefitting. The horticulture capstone class received 2014 Honor Awards — the highest honors — for their work from both the Ohio Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects and the Cincinnati Design Awards.
 
“Any time the students get to work directly with the people who benefit from their work, it’s all good,” Russell says. “The students really enjoy the work, and we had two students who were born and raised in Price Hill [the neighborhood served in this fall’s capstone course], so that was really helpful. But we’ve had students from all over the world working on these projects — three students from France in the fall class — and they just had this image of what they see on the news, the bombed out neighborhoods like Detroit and things like that, so they learned a lot about the truth of the vacant lot problem.” 

Do Good:

•    Support the work Keep Cincinnati Beautiful does by donating.

•    Do your part in keeping Cincinnati beautiful by volunteering.

•    Connect with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful on Facebook.
 

Read more articles by Brittany York.

Brittany York is a freelance writer, adjunct English composition instructor and server at Orchids at Palm Court. She loves travel and photography. Keep up with Brittany on Instagram @brittbrittbrittbrittany.
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