Farming the Gold of Design Residency 2015

Our 2015 Design Residency topic focused on “Urban Alchemy.” We wanted to identify how cities can combine existing and proposed urban elements and spin them into social, economic, and environmental gold. We engaged ten of the top collegiate students from across the Midwest in our design residency process, and challenged them to address a loosely-bounded district in downtown Des Moines near the riverfront that included 24-acres of proposed “re-invigoration” projects. Examples include the proposed new Events Center Hotel, the incoming Hy-Vee grocery store, a possible new downtown cinema, and the restoration and repurposing of the old Randolph Hotel – just to name a few.


Students spent Tuesday night and Wednesday absorbing info from a list of remarkable community leaders participating in small panel discussions. Topics included downtown development, public health and human services, climate change, Des Moines as a Sports Town, and (via video conferencing) case studies of Nashville and San Diego. Davis Sanders and Des Moines Assistant City Manager Matt Anderson kicked off the discussions on Tuesday night with an overview of the new hotel and environs. David Dahlquist and Greg Jameson were among the presenters that pumped up the students with enthusiasm and information for imagining … or re-imagining what could be.


The conclusion of the 3-day “highly collaborative” event resulted in the Residents conception of a live-play-learn-and-earn linear district along Des Moines’ Fifth Avenue, from Interstate 235 in the north past MLK to the south. Dubbed Farms on Fifth, this corridor would use nearly all of Fifth Avenue’s right-of-way for a green space filled with small farms, trails, food and entertainment hubs, and urban gardens – including activated rooftops and living building facades. The main goals driving the green intervention are to embrace the city’s agrarian roots, produce food to meet the needs of Polk County’s 50,000 hungry, and create a signature attraction for Des Moines, all while providing housing (in largely unused parking garages), day care, learning venues, and active recreation.  A true visionary look at “what could be” for the community and environment of Des Moines, allowing us to create downtown districts that are vibrant healthy and resilient.


Our Vision and Concept Video.

More about our Design Residency program can be found here.

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