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Seattle University


Real deal

Written by Mike Thee
May 27, 2010

Imagine taking your seat on the first day of class and learning that in 10 short weeks you and your classmates will have produced a bona fide urban planning document that will likely shape the redesign of an area park. Oh, and did we mention that you’ve never taken an urban planning course in your life? If that’s not enough to make your head spin, just a few minutes later, you and your classmates are asked to elect two project managers, two graphics coordinators and two editors—and you’re barely on a first-name basis with each other!

This is precisely what it’s like to take Marie Wong’s undergraduate-level Community Design Workshop class. The associate professor of urban planning has been teaching the workshop for 18 years, eight of which have been at Seattle University. She says each class rises to the challenge and manages to scale the ultra-steep learning curve. “No one drops this class,” she says. “The clients are always amazed at what comes out of SU.”

This year’s client is Point32, a real estate development company that’s been hired by the Bullitt Foundation to construct the Cascadia Center at 15th Ave. and E. Madison St. The six-story office building will be the nation’s first mid-rise building to achieve “living building” status, a new benchmark for sustainable development. Adjacent to the site is McGilvra Place Park, a 109-year-old park with a lot of history and just as much, shall we say, “potential.” In keeping with the positive impact the Cascade Center is intended to have on its environs, Point32 is exploring the idea of making improvements to the wedge-shaped park to heighten its use for the neighborhood.

That’s where SU comes in. Chris Rogers of Point32 approached SU for help at the suggestion of a student with whom he serves on the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce. Initially, he was put in touch with Gordon Miller, director of environmental studies. Miller then connected Rogers with Wong.

Since the start of the quarter Wong’s students have been conducting exhaustive research on the park’s history, how it is utilized today, what of its physical attributes might either constrain or provide opportunities for future design, and how it currently is being maintained and at what cost. The class will present their final report at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 8, at Wyckoff Auditorium. City of Seattle planners and officials, residents, and the campus community have been invited to attend.

The partnership makes a lot of sense to Rogers. “With Seattle U being in the neighborhood, the university is an obvious collaborator for us.” He adds that he has been impressed with SU’s students. “They strike me as being very curious and having a lot of energy and excitement about the project.”

For her part, Wong speaks in awe-struck tones about her students and how quickly they’ve learned to think, work and write like urban planners. “The whole experience is wonderful. I’m having the time of my life.”