UW News

July 24, 2003

Students aim to improve U-District

While Seattle city officials considered the lease lid, UW students worked to enhance the neighborhood surrounding their campus.

Landscape architecture students created new entrances for the University District Farmer’s Market last fall, and upgraded the University Playfield.

Meanwhile, the 30 UW juniors enrolled in Community and Environmental Planning 301 launched a comprehensive, yearlong community-improvement effort with U-District residents and business people. One of these student projects brought together homeless youth and local merchants — two segments often at odds — to jointly design and paint a colorful mural a block from campus. Other CEP students compiled a directory of University District service organizations, to spur better collaboration among them.

Another College of Architecture and Urban Planning initiative was the Storefront Studio. Sixteen graduate architecture students set up shop on The Ave during spring quarter to redesign storefronts with local landlords and shopkeepers, many of whom will receive modest government grants for the building materials.

The future architects started by taking an inventory of businesses on The Ave, and exploring the area’s zoning and political and commercial challenges. They then worked in teams with interested shopowners and landlords to come up with appropriate and economical enhancements. While few of the new facades are yet in place, the students have made a significant and lasting impression, said instructor Jim Nicholls.

The studio, in a former Tower Records shop across from University Book Store, became a popular stop for people interested in the neighborhood, including street musicians, dozens of merchants and nearby residents, and Mayor Greg Nickels.

Many property owners who were not formal studio clients nevertheless received advice from the architecture students that will be reflected in the area’s future. One landlord, for example, was persuaded to keep his three adjoining buildings visually separate, Nicholls said, in order to maintainThe Ave’s small-scale, non-mall-like atmosphere.

Several Storefront Studio open houses turned into public forums for discussing The Ave’s needs and potential. (The next open house is scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 9–10, to coincide with the city’s official rollout of the streetscape improvements).

While the Storefront Studio itself will close in September — the architecture students have designed modifications to the space with the intent of attracting commercial tenants — plans are afoot to keep architecture students working on U-District projects, and even to replicate the Storefront Studio in other areas such as White Center.

Students, with their open minds and future-oriented outlook, should continue to be key players in the UW’s dealings with its neighbors, Nicholls said.

“Students could be a conduit for really open dialogue between the interest groups,” Nicholls said. “The university’s proudest spokesman remains the student.”