KINGSTON, RI – February 23, 2022 – A landscape architecture design studio at the University of Rhode Island was recently honored by the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Planning Association for a redevelopment project in downtown Woonsocket on along the banks of the Blackstone River.
The project, “Reconnecting The Blackstone and the City”, won the association’s 2021 student prize. It was one of six projects honored statewide and the only student project to be awarded.
“It reminds people that there is this little department of landscape architecture that produces award-winning student work,” said landscape architecture professor William Green. “I was very happy for the class.”
The project grew out of Green’s Fall 2020 Sustainable Design Studio, LAR 444. The studio provides students with hands-on service learning experiences through public interaction and hands-on work.
According to Green, Woonsocket city planner Kevin Proft contacted him to ask if a project focused on downtown Woonsocket might be suitable for a design studio. Apparently Green’s 17 landscape architecture seniors and two graduate students in environmental science and management from the design studio were asked to create designs that reimagine key urban spaces and Woonsocket’s connections to the river. The waterway passes through the former industrial city, but has been contaminated over time from illegal dumping and other toxins.
Divided into five teams, each working on different areas of improvement, the students developed proposals for the city. Their presentations included changes to Woonsocket’s Thundermist Falls, River Island Art Park, Truman Drive and Main Street, and solar power generation. Their designs centered on renovated parks, pedestrian links, an improved cycle path and suggested infrastructure to facilitate river access and address water quality issues.
The students worked closely with Proft and the Woonsocket community to create their design plans. They made site visits, held presentations of their ideas to community members and stakeholders, and created illustrative models of their proposals. Green needs all of this to help prepare students for the field of landscape architecture after graduation.
“It’s a perfect way to teach what it’s like to be a professional at the same time that we’re working on real projects where our opinions, suggestions and design recommendations are going to be reviewed by people asking for advice. ‘help,’ says Green.
The biggest change between this semester’s studio and typical Green studio classes was the COVID-19 pandemic. Where students typically held in-person presentations within communities, students were expected to hold virtual sessions with stakeholders. Despite the technological challenges that arose, Green and many of his students sometimes found it easier to use digital models and interactive maps to indicate proposed improvements.
At the end of the project, Green recruited two students from the course to prepare a formal class proposal report. Lindsey Corse ’21 and Miranda Hulme ’21 spent the winter break and spring semester writing the report and creating its charts.
“Finally being able to work on a community outreach project made me realize how much I love working with communities and trying to help them have places to hang out and enjoy green spaces and parks,” Hulme said. , of Tewksbury, Mass. “It helped me decide to enter a public band for my career; now I work for a company that does public works.
Hulme now works at Beta Group Inc., a landscape architecture and civil engineering firm throughout New England.
Hulme and Corse were thrilled to hear of the report’s success at the recent APA Awards.
“I’m happy the project is getting a little exposure and the Woonsocket area is getting a little exposure as a result,” said Corse, of Cumberland. “I didn’t think we were going to win anything; I was just doing it to get involved. I don’t think any of us thought we were going to win anything.
Josh O’Neill, supervising planner of the Rhode Island State Planning Division and treasurer of the Rhode Island APA, is the chairman of its awards committee. Each fall, the association asks its members to submit projects they have worked on for awards in categories such as Great Plan, Great Transportation Plan, and Student Award.
“URI has been very good for years submitting great projects, working with communities, and this is just the most recent in a series of great projects that we’ve given awards for,” O’Neill said. . “We were very happy to recognize great work from students who brought great ideas to the table. »
Brian McMahon ’21, from Wells, Maine, said the project helped him leave the semester with a better understanding of the professional world of landscape architecture.
“We had never worked with a city as a client,” said McMahon, who works for Sebago Technics in South Portland, Maine, as a landscaper. “Learning to communicate and interact with the audience is a completely different process than presenting in front of your class. Granted, it was on Zoom, but it still had the same effect.
According to Green, his design studios completed more than 45 projects for local cities during his 30-year tenure at URI. Projects are provided to municipalities with suggested plans and redesigns for review. Although not necessarily implemented, student work often leads to projects for professional design offices.
Kate LeBlanc, a journalism and political science major at the University of Rhode Island and an intern in the Department of Communications and Marketing, wrote this press release.