10-31-14

Fall 2014 Conneaut Charrette: The Student Perspective

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This fall’s Community Design Charrette course, led by the CUDC’s David Jurca and Kristen Zieber, responded to the challenges and opportunities presented by the City of Conneaut, Ohio. What is a “charrette”? A charrette is fast-paced, collaborative work session in which a group of designers drafts a solution to a design problem. Charrettes serve as a way of quickly generating a design solution while integrating the aptitudes and interests of a diverse group of people.

The course primarily focused on the design issues related to the Conneaut community’s lakefront geography. Students worked in teams alongside CUDC staff and a few alumni to develop urban design proposals created in partnership with a range of community stakeholders. The engagement process was thorough, but accelerated, taking place over the course of a three-day weekend.

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Conneaut is located on the far eastern edge of Ohio, touching the Pennsylvania border. This Lake Erie oriented site offers opportunities for connecting ecotourism, diverse residential options, small town identity, and watershed health issues into a coherent vision plan. Students incorporated the research assembled in the Community Process & Development course into their hands-on community design work during the charrette.

In order to effectively and efficiently engage the range of issues presented by the project, students divided into four teams. Each team focused different, but overlapping, geographic areas. Second year graduate students led each team, with support from CUDC staff and alumni participating during the charrette weekend.

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We asked each team leader to write about their experience at the charrette and to further explain the projects they tackled.

Lakefont
-Colin Fishbaugh, MArch/ MUD Student
The charrette in Conneaut, Ohio was the first one I participated in. I was partnered with fellow students Carolyn Emmer, Brittany Ballish, and Said Abiakl, as well as CUDC staff member Matt Provolt and alumni Antonia Marinucci and Steve Manka. Our area of design focused on the Lakefront and Harbor of Conneaut, an underutilized area within the city as well as a desired focus point expressed by members of the community. This opportunity allowed us to enhance the existing identity of the Harbor as well as introduce new and radical ideas to the harbor.

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Slide2Our proposal for the lakefront/harbor started by developing the existing program of the harbor to act as areas of reactivation by bringing a fresh identity to the existing structures. We then proposed a new mixed-use harbor village which included new lakefront town-homes and a retail district within existing structures adjacent to the harbor. Finally, we proposed a new recreation path connecting the harbor to the neighboring parks to the west. Along this path we proposed a pedestrian bridge to connect the harbor to the dunes as well as a kayak launch site.

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This charrette allowed us to rely on our design instincts with community input to create a shared vision for the community to begin the transformation of their city. It was a very fast paced weekend of hard work, but proved to be beneficial to the community and taught us about community involvement in the design process.

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Downtown
-Samuel Friesma – MUD Student
The downtown team focused on integrating and interpreting Conneaut’s dreams and visions into the context of their historic town center. The overall goal of our focus area was to establish a core identity to the town itself that was influenced by, but not dictated by, Lake Erie. We tried to understand Conneaut in terms of its existing conditions and also through its temporal layering over time.  We had to ask a lot of questions to inform our work and process. How does a city survive drastic seasonal economic fluctuations? What does it mean for a city to be part of a network of lake towns or port towns? Since the Downtown is not located directly on the lake shore, what characteristics set it apart and distinguish its identity from that of the shore, port, and harbor? We searched for meaningful existing structures and processes and tried to link those with projective ideas to link Conneaut’s rich history to its potential future.

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Our proposal focused on several areas. First we needed to improve circulation to and through downtown by streetscape and signage improvements. Secondly, we established a Civic Commons, which encompassed two city blocks that are home to Conneaut’s most identifiable public buildings and institutions, including City Hall, Conneaut Public Library, an old historic Carnegie Library structure, a war memorial, and several well-preserved historic commercial buildings. We proposed to improve the streetscape of the two blocks and link these structures through nodes of pocket parks and plazas, and to create a Civic Plaza for markets, fairs, and general public gatherings. Thirdly, due to downtown’s location, which is directly located by the river, not the lake, we proposed a new Fisherman’s Village. This new village would be centered around river fishing and river activities, providing a nice balance to the city’s primary focus on lake activities. The village would include housing, lodging, and retail space, all with a focus on river activities and lifestyle.

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Our hope is that this new energy and investment into small areas of downtown would prove to stimulate some of the physical growth and economic stability that the town seeks.

Route 7
-Matt Dureiko, MArch/MUD Student
As part of the Route 7 Corridor team, we developed a concept that would define Route 7 as the main connection from I-90 to the lakefront. We began by defining key assets along the route, and proposed ways for the city to exploit them. Through continuity and simple interventions, we believe we offered the city a feasible solution for their issue of bringing people into the city and through to the lakefront.

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This was the first charrette that I have been a part of. My biggest take away is that I now perceive our role as designers to be the ones that bring a city’s aspirations to fruition and not simply imposing our ideas on them. It was rewarding to hear the feedback from the city (both good and bad) on our proposals. Our usual feedback is from architects and urban designers, which is typically directed towards “good design and practice” instead of how our proposal could impact a city and how citizens relate to our work.

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Connections Framework
-Max Wagner, MArch/ MUD Student
I helped to lead the “connections” team of our charrette group. We focused mostly on Conneaut’s existing connections throughout the town as well as connections that, if created, could draw visitors to the area. Many routes along the lake and through downtown exist with great potential in allowing visitors to circulate through the town while taking in the views. We saw Conneaut as an excellent stop for lake travelers to dock and walk around town or along Lake Erie.

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The Conneaut charrette was my first time working with the public at such a large scale as a designerit was both humbling and exhilarating. The citizens of Conneaut expressed such genuine pride in their hometown that the project was more meaningful to us than our typical studio designs and class work.

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The overall experience left me with a greater sense of pride in my work and a renewed love for urban design. One day I hope to do more work with people who believe in their city as much as the residents of Conneaut believe in theirs!

View the final public meeting presentation slides:

Conneaut Charrette from ksuCUDC

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