Urban planners aid neighborhood

BY CLARK CAHILL | APRIL 09, 2009 7:30 AM

UI graduate student T.J. Patton was unsure how residents of the Miller-Orchard neighborhood would react to his group’s idea of making a five-year comprehensive plan to improve the area.

But after his group’s first meeting with neighborhood residents last November, his worries were put to rest.

“We didn’t know if we were going to present and just hear silence,” Patton said. “But everyone from the neighborhood who has decided to participate has come to every meeting and been very involved with giving us feedback.”

Patton, along with Milton Thurmond, Nate Kabat, and Doug Ongie — UI urban and regional planning graduate students — presented a 35-page draft Wednesday summarizing the main goals the neighborhood needs to focus on to improve the area, which is near Kinnick Stadium.

The document consists of four main strategies: promoting neighborhood identity through beautification; rehabilitating housing, encouraging homeownership, and preserving a diverse housing stock; creating a safer neighborhood for residents, pedestrians, and visitors; and advocating for investment in the commercial district.

Each strategy contains a list of goals that are intended to help the neighborhood realize each strategy. For example, to promote neighborhood identity through beautification, the document lists five goals — develop a community garden, beautify neighborhood entrances, acquire neighborhood art, beautify Benton Street, and hold an annual community event. Each goal is followed by a list of steps the neighborhood could take to reach the goals.

Miller-Orchard residents said they were happy with the group’s suggestions.

“What we were looking for was something to make us proactive instead of reactive,” neighborhood resident Paula Swygard said. “It really gives us a good guideline.”

The document also contains two pages concerning the possibility of moving the neighborhood school, Roosevelt Elementary, 611 Greenwood Drive.

Miller-Orchard residents believe Roosevelt is an invaluable neighborhood asset that needs to be saved, according to the document.

If the Iowa City School Board decides to move the school, residents would like a say in how the grounds might be developed. Residents have offered the parcel become public space, a community center, or a meeting place.

Graduate students in urban and regional planning are required to do a year of field work to receive their master’s degrees. The field work takes the place of a research thesis, Patton said.

After the students decided what project to participate in, their first step was to research the neighborhood’s history. They then sent out a survey to residents to find out the main concerns for the future of development and preservation.

The group has met with Miller-Orchard residents every three to four weeks since its first meeting to review progress.

“I think it is thrilling to have four guys so committed and energetic,” resident Anne Bendixen said. “It is a great example of the expertise the university can provide to the community.”

The group plans to have a final draft of the document by April 17 that the members will submit to the faculty for graduation approval. They also plan to show the document to the Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission on May 7.

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