UMN class collaborates on streetcar project

After a mid-semester review next week, the undergraduate architecture class will moving into its second phase focused on collaboration.

by Helen Sabrowsky

A University of Minnesota undergraduate architecture course is offering design input on a streetcar that will connect St. Paul neighborhoods, destinations and employers along a 12-mile route.

The course is working with Ramsey County on the Riverview Corridor streetcar project, which is still in the early stages of development. A collaboration between the School of Architecture, Department of Landscape Architecture and Resilient Communities Project, the course enrollment is about 40 students.

The course will hold a mid-semester review next week. So far, students have used similar projects and feedback collected by Ramsey County to outline pertinent issues, said James Wheeler, a co-teacher of the course with the School of Architecture. 

Students analyzed different stops and communities to determine the streetcar’s benefits, as well as how design can be used to promote equity, community and cultural exchange, Wheeler said. 

The work shown at the review will inform the second half of the class, which will focus on design and planning. 

“This is really to say, ‘These are the issues we see from our analysis … and how can we leverage our design work in the second half to move some of the questions and issues forward,’” Wheeler said.

Groups of students are examining issues including pedestrian safety, location and how communities can physically connect to the streetcar, said Kristine Miller, a professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture who co-teaches the course with Wheeler.

She said students are especially good at proposing ideas about how the streetcar will relate to the entire neighborhood. 

“Sometimes students … can bring something that you might not think of from a pragmatic point of view, but from having a more … unexposed perspective can ask questions that wouldn’t come up in a typical conversation,” Wheeler said. “I think that’s a good opportunity to think beyond the constraints of typical development.” 

Wheeler said the course has previously worked with the Resilient Communities Project — which connects communities with University courses — and received positive student feedback. 

“We’ve worked for a number of years in this collaborative way as a means of getting students exposed to real world problems and hopefully have them come out more civically-minded,” Wheeler said. 

Over 200 students are currently working on projects with Ramsey and Scott Counties through the Resilient Communities Project, said Mike Greco, director of the Resilient Communities Project.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for students to get immersed in that world and take what they’re learning in the classroom and see how it matches up with real world issues,” Greco said. 

In addition to real-world experience, the course stresses interdisciplinary design collaboration and soft-skills, like communication, he said. 

“The nature of this work is such that even if it doesn’t get directly implemented into the plan, the county now has concepts and designs that it can use when it does public outreach. … Even if it’s [not] exactly what the county proposes to do going forward, it’s a starting point for discussion with the community,” Greco said.