Kathryn Wittner believes one of the best ways to learn is “by doing.”
With that in mind, the landscape architecture professor in the West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design set out to develop a student-led program to conceptually redevelop the Point Park area of downtown Parkersburg, W.Va.
Through a grant from the Ross Foundation, Wittner was able to implement the program toward the end of the fall semester, giving her students the opportunity to explore the area and brainstorm design ideas before the winter break.
“It is fantastic that landscape architecture students get to work with community members throughout the state developing listening skills, observation skills, learning about real-world problems and searching for solutions,” she said.
Students are not the only ones to benefit, however.
“In return, communities get energy, enthusiasm, multiple fresh ideas and possible design solutions to work with,” Wittner explained. “Most communities understand these are students, not yet professionals, and that the ideas and solutions offered provide a starting point, often generating enough information and material to seek additional funding for projects that might otherwise not have gotten off of the ground.”
With a keen interest in revitalization of downtown areas in West Virginia communities, Wittner saw the Parkersburg area as a great place to jump-start the new initiative.
“The Ohio and Little Kanawha rivers have played a vital role in the development and growth of Parkersburg, but the floodwall that now protects the city also cuts it off from those rivers,” she said. “Finding ways to reconnect Point Park to the adjacent downtown and help the extremely popular area function more efficiently will be critical to the revitalization of the entire area.”
As members of Landscape Architecture Design 2 class (LARC 350), the students gathered information about the area during an on-site visit by incorporating the use of geographic information systems, aerial photography, historical research, and visual observations of the project site.
Surrounded by a wealth of information, the students are now in the process of developing preliminary designs that will pave the way for the final conceptual master plan.
“Each step in the process is annotated with writing to support the students’ recommendations,” Wittner said. “Students need the opportunity to practice writing skills and more clearly define what their design ideas are by putting those thoughts to paper.”
She also believes the writing often “speaks” to an unseen audience since students are not always there to explain their ideas.
“This allows the community members to process what they read and formulate questions and comments that can be addressed in further communications and meetings,” she said.
Students will wrap up the project and present their work to the City of Parkersburg and the Ross Foundation in March 2013.
The Ross Foundation is a family foundation based in Parkersburg with a primary focus in supporting causes within local communities throughout West Virginia with emphasis in the five counties of Wood, Ritchie, Doddridge, Pleasants and Jackson.
The grant was made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $750 million comprehensive campaign being conducted by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2015.
CONTACT: Lindsay Willey, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design
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