Students Receive Top Award for Urban Planning Project

Written by Laura Paskin
September 5, 2014

Students in the Community Design Workshop class received the 2014 Joint Planning Award, Student Category, from the Washington Chapter of the American Planning Association (WA-APA) and the Planning Association of Washington. Their award for "Ghost Signs of Seattle" will be presented at the WA-APA meeting in October.

Under the direction of Professor Marie Wong, students in the class were organized as an urban planning studio. The City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods was the client. The students provided information to guide the city as it considers policy development to address the architectural and urban artifacts known as ghost signs.

“In the 19th and early 20th centuries, businesses advertised products and services by painting large signs on the exterior walls of buildings,” Wong said. “Decades later, many signs had faded, been painted over, or were hidden by new construction, thus the name ghost signs.”

Ghost signs provide important historical information about the commerce, business development, and evolution of urban life in the city. These signs are concentrated on buildings throughout Seattle’s Pioneer Square, Chinatown-International District, Capital Hill, and Pike Place Market neighborhoods.

By the end of the 10-week class, the students had conducted a physical inventory of the signs and established criteria for evaluating their conditions. They researched preservation policies in American, Canadian, and British cities and restoration practices. They could be found scouring the neighborhoods, photographing, videotaping, and ranking the conditions of the signs. In addition, they had delved into archives to find out as much as they could about the signs, the commercial enterprises they represented, and the artists who painted them.

The term ended with a 397-page report and a formal presentation to the Department of Neighborhoods, members of the Alliance for Pioneer Square,Chinatown-International District, local architects, developers, and sign painters, and others.

“The Community Design Workshop is organized as an urban planning studio,” Wong said. “In most universities, this type of workshop would be housed in an architecture or urban planning program only for students in those disciplines. Here it’s known as service learning and is open to students of all majors.”

Wong, who holds a doctorate in urban design and planning and has more than 30 years of practical experience, teaches the Community Design Workshop every spring. She holds faculty appointments in the Institute of Public Service and the Asian Studies Program.

Video about “Ghost Signs of Seattle” here.

The College of Arts and Sciences, the largest college in Seattle University, offers 41 undergraduate major degrees, 37 minors, and 6 master's degrees. The Institute of Public Service offers undergraduate degrees in Public Affairs and Nonprofit Leadership and two graduate degrees: Master of Public Administration and Master of Nonprofit Leadership.