Architecture Students Offer Design Ideas for Downtown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With students scurrying about and poring over street diagrams, proposing ideas for buildings and consulting with professors in the room next door, some presented their ideas to the Economic Action Group Friday morning.

The charrette – a three-day collaborative design session involving graduate students and professors from the architecture colleges at Ball State, Kent State and Lawrence Technological universities – focuses on developing an area that encompasses Youngstown State University, downtown and the Mahoning River riverfront.

“This connection needs to be realized in different ways. So from different points of view, all of us are trying to put some reality on that concept,” said David Jurca, associate director of the Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, which has worked with the action group over the past several months.

Students from the three universities were divided into three groups and assigned to particular areas to come up with ideas. The three regions are the Hazel and Phelps streets corridors, the former Wean United site and the connections to the riverfront.

“We won’t do anything that’s final like construction documents. It’s more like inspiration for design,” said Kristen Zeiber, an urban designer at the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative. “They’re cutting diagrams of the streets to provide alternatives, some plans for the former Wean [United] site and some before-and-after renderings. It’s not final, but it’s a visionary product.”

Each group presented some of its ideas to the action group to offer insights on what they were working on and receive feedback from the area’s stakeholders. The students will make their final presentation Oct. 29 at the D.D. and Velma Davis Center at Fellows Riverside Gardens.

For the Hazel and Phelps corridors, Justin Ferguson, director of the College of Architecture and Planning Indianapolis Center for Ball State, explained the idea of creating promenades along each street to attract pedestrians.

“We want to bring people off of Market Street and Wick Avenue and bring them to Hazel and Phelps to move them north-south,” he said. “We can create more public spaces and green spaces for each district. Each area would have its own specific park unique to it as you follow the promenade down to the river. Phelps would be more pedestrian while Hazel is more for transit.”

The former Wean United site, being developed into an outdoor amphitheater and green space, could be bolstered by the addition of a boardwalk along the sharp ridge on the southern bank of the Mahoning River. Opposite the site, a mixed-use development could be added to establish a better connection to downtown.

“It will be flexible enough to accommodate whatever Youngstown wants it to be,” said Ellen Forthofer, a student at Ball State. “It could be an innovation district, an entertainment district or a music district. We don’t want to marry you to what that space could be.”

The riverfront group was on a tour of the site during the meeting, Zeiber noted, but explained their ideas for the riverfront would “introduce mystery without being alienating.

“The fact that the waterfront is a bit of a mystery is appealing. It’s inviting and can bring moments of discovery,” she explained. “There are ways to open up views and mediate that issue of wildness.”

After the presentations, Zeiber turned to the action group for suggestions on what could be improved and what should be taken into account when creating the designs.

First Ward Councilwoman Annie Gillam presented the idea of adding retail space downtown, as well as providing “wayfinding” for guests of the university from YSU to the riverfront. It could be similar, she added, to the yellow brick trail in Boston used to mark Paul Revere’s midnight ride to tourists.

Jillian Smith, an economic development intern at the Youngstown Business Incubator, proposed a 3-D printed park downtown to highlight the growing additive manufacturing culture throughout the city.

Other ideas included a canoe launch on the Mahoning River, public art, an entertainment sector similar to Carson Street in Pittsburgh, repurposing abandoned railroad bridges and using urban farming.

Between Thursday night’s initial focus group and the Economic Action Group – and other meetings over the weekend – Zeiber says the students have received favorable comments from Youngstown residents.

“It’s reassuring that some of the specific ideas students have come up with are resonating with people. The feedback has helped guide us and give us a focus,” she said. “It helps us as architects draw up the buildings that would best suit certain needs. When we draw up the shape and size of a building, it’s informed by the market realities we’re hearing about.”

While it also helps the city come up with new ideas for future developments, Jurca said it’s also a “phenomenal resource” for students. A decade ago, while he was a graduate student at Kent State, the collaborative’s associate director participated in a charrette for the Oak Hill Renaissance Center.

“Frankly, it was transformative for me. The experience of working with people on the ground – with neighbors, with residents, with people that will experience my design work – was a paradigm shift,” Jurca said. “It wasn’t some abstract drawing or model that my instructor would critique. It was about people living it day-to-day.”

The Mahoning Valley Young Professionals presented the results of a survey it conducted in late August and early September. The respondents said the three most important things when it comes to living in Youngstown are civic vitality, education resources and community development, Bob McGovern and Ellie Platt reported.

McGovern added that while the 122 respondents said Youngstown does well in most areas, it could improve on transportation and its inclusiveness/diversity.

Full results of the survey will be released next week.

Pictured: Aaron Young, executive director of Mill Creek MetroParks, looks over city plans with Katelyn Milius from Kent State University and Taylor Firestine from Ball State University.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.