Student group hosts housing brainstorm

Greenlight and Sparc discussed ideas for greener St. Paul housing.

Raghav Mehta

Students from the University of Minnesota College of Design bridged the gap between the academic and professional worlds Saturday in Rapson Hall to host a design brainstorming session for a future housing project in St. Paul. Greenlight, a student group based out of the College of Design, united University students and professional architects from around the state to brainstorm ideas for a sustainable and affordable housing development in St. PaulâÄôs North End neighborhood. The development would be located on a three-acre plot of land purchased in 2005 by the nonprofit community development organization Sparc. Sparc focuses on improving commercial and residential developments by working closely with neighborhoods and small businesses in St. PaulâÄôs North End, Hamline Midway and South Como neighborhoods. âÄúItâÄôs a great chance to have people from all disciplines give input,âÄù said Sparc Executive Director Matthew Ides. One group proposed a method dubbed âÄúagro-dwellingâÄù in which residents would tend to a garden for food to eat or sell. Other ideas included solar-paneled parking shades and community greenhouses. The solar panels would offer parking shade and act as an energy source by distributing regenerated electricity throughout the building. Sparc will look into some of the proposals more deeply in the near future, even while the development is five to 10 years from fruition. Greenlight partners with a local development each year for a brainstorming session, which they call a charette. âÄú[Sparc] had worked with firms in the past that are very strong in sustainability,âÄù said Greenlight officer and second-year graduate student Amber Sausen. âÄúThey said we want this to be fully sustainable socially, economically and environmentally.âÄù Sparc underwrites loans and provides financing [for small businesses] and helps residents with home improvement projects,âÄù said Allison Sharkey, SparcâÄôs business development program manager. Sparc recently built two buildings in St. PaulâÄôs North End that consist of 56 housing units, along with a floor for commercial space. The project was supported by 13 different sources ranging from bank loans to federal tax credits. According to Sharkey, Sparc is also planning to organize neighborhood workshops with nearby residents in the area for outside input. Minneapolis architect Daniel Green said events like the design charette âÄúhave fewer boundaries,âÄù which allows for more innovation and creative ideas to be presented. Members from local initiatives such as Engineers Without Borders and MinnesotaâÄôs chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (MASLA) were also present at the charette. Craig Hutchison, a graduate of the College of Design, said, âÄú[Residents] would not only get living space, but they would also be able to have a side source of income.âÄù