Life on the Edge: Beyond Urban Redevelopment: The Transformation of a Living Community through Understanding and Design
Eleven graduate students from nine universities across seven states and two countries came together Nov. 5-8, 2019 for RDG’s ninth annual Design Residency.
Residents were charged with solving a challenging design problem: reimagine and reinvigorate the eastern end of Des Moines’ Douglas Avenue Corridor, a section of the city with a highly diverse yet low income population, deteriorating infrastructure, lack of walkability and accessibility and numerous struggling businesses. In addition to its economic and structural challenges, the area is also experiencing side effects of climate change – most of the area has recently been remapped to reflect an annual flood risk five times greater than previously defined.
During their 3 1/2 days engaged in the Design Residency, the residents collaborated with each other and with RDG professionals to process and analyze large amounts of complex information and develop a vision and plan to address the Corridor’s challenges. To determine which aspects to consider in their design, the residents heard from a diverse panel of local, regional and national community leaders and visited the Corridor to explore and photograph the area’s features and to get a feel for its places and people.
On Friday, November 8, the 11 the residents publicly presented “Life on the Edge: Beyond Urban Redevelopment,” their re-imagining of these Corridor sites. After an introductory video, each resident provided insight around what they learned about the site and the subsequent design. Residents shared about the community and its diversity, the role of public health and the context of the site and then shared elements of the plan they had devised in their short time together.
The residents’ plan includes a new mixed-use development on the former Plaza Lanes site, a major public art installation, a return to nature in the southeast quadrant and a replacement of the Euclid Avenue Bridge. The plan also includes increased green infrastructure to enhance flood resilience and reduce runoff and pretreat existing runoff as well as traffic flow and accessibility enhancements to create a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly area. A variety of public spaces – event and market areas, a park, community gardens, trail access and a food forest – provide opportunities for community members to engage with one another and their locale, while a signature, high-design bridge becomes a regional destination.