Boulder, Colorado

elevation 5400 feet

your guide: Eric Dobbs

Give students real design problems

Monday 08 December 2008 at 00:25

In the Fall of 1989, I was a student in a class taught by Spence Havelick: Natural Science and Technology in Environmental Design. Our final project was an in-class design competition targeting two major transportation issues on campus: the intersection of Broadway and College Avenue, and congested parking all over campus.

The intersection demanded a separation between the pedestrian students traveling on College from the automobile traffic on Broadway. (It was almost a miracle that there had not been any fatalities at that intersection given that many people dodging that many cars to get to and from class.) Various overpasses and tunnels were presented with varying qualities. The parking solutions ranged from a couple large parking garages, to an expanded bus program, and bike paths. As a student, it was especially interesting to be working on a real problem instead of something fictional.

That would be mostly standard issue for a school of architecture and planning. What makes this story interesting is that Havelick was also serving on City Council at the time. Some years later, both problems were addressed. There is now a fairly attractive tunnel underneath Broadway at College . It is really the most natural way to cross Broadway on foot between campus and The Hill. And the City of Boulder supports several local bus routes in partnership with the Regional Transportation District making it pretty convenient to get around Boulder by bus. All the buses in the metro area now include bike racks on the front, so you can also mix your bike and bus commute. Many of the routes in the city are branded, with specially painted buses running the various routes. The HOP is specifically targeted at students and runs in a circle with frequent service between campus, The Hill, Pearl Street Mall, and 29th Street Mall. There's also the BOUND, SKIP, JUMP, LONG JUMP, DASH, BOLT, and STAMPEDE. Moreover, the CU student ID card also doubles as a bus pass throughout the Denver Metro Area.

I have no doubt that our student work helped the professionals who eventually implemented these architectural and planning interventions. It has long been an inspiration for me as I have daydreamed about more effective education. How can student projects be devised around real problems in their own communities as a way of making the work relevant instead of some kind of superficial exercise? Can students measure and design and solve real problems? How powerful would it be for young kids to witness their own impact on the community?