Wednesday, July 26, 2017 This Week's Paper

Students envision new McKinley neighborhood

For the second year in a row, University of Idaho students have bold ideas for renovating a Tacoma neighborhood.

As part of a project for a fourth-year design studio class, Professor Anne Marshall's students constructed a model for the potential redevelopment of the McKinley neighborhood in east Tacoma.

Marshall's students envisioned a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly center along McKinley Avenue between Wright Avenue to the north and East Division to the south. Their proposals included a grocery store, movie theater, additional housing units and open space. Students also included a light rail extension or streetcar that would connect to downtown transit.

Marshall chose the McKinley neighborhood after considering other possibilities.

"What was interesting in McKinley (was that) people actually came out and said hello," Marshall said. "It's a walkable neighborhood with wide sidewalks and there seem to be a few people there who are really interested in developing the neighborhood in a positive way. I think it's the spirit of some of the residents and business owners."

Last year, Marshall's class developed proposals for the Lincoln International District and the Brewery District.

Students visited the district in person in early September. They toured the neighborhood and talked to local stakeholders. They met with representatives of the city of Tacoma and neighborhood groups, and discussed issues particular to the McKinley district.

"I tried to provide an opportunity for students to meet people directly," Marshall said. "I wanted to give the students opportunities to work with a public client. This was the first time they were designing something at the urban scale."

There were several considerations students took into account while developing proposals for the area. To minimize crime and make people feel safe in the area, students made buildings more transparent at the ground level. They also sought to encourage uses that could continue into the evening, such as retail opportunities and restaurants, which would discourage illegal activity. Students also implemented additional lighting into their designs and sought ways to minimize hidden areas.

Another consideration students took into account was the historic nature of many of the buildings in the district. During their field trip, students took note of structures that were important to the community. They worked with existing structures, looking for ways to complement or update them.

In order to preserve single-family housing on adjacent blocks to the project, students staggered their building stories - at street level, a building could be four or five stories, but it would taper off to two or three on the backside of the block. This would diminish looming barriers that cast big shadows on residences.

Finally, the students considered ways to make development more sustainable. Many of the buildings have a "green roof," or some sort of roof garden, which helps moderate the building's temperature and recycles rain water. It also provides an outdoor space for residents.

"One of my own personal goals is to design not just sustainable buildings but sustainable neighborhoods in terms of public transit connections, walkability, and an environment that discourages crime and encourages positive social interaction between people who live in or use the neighborhood," Marshall said.

Each student received one block to design, and each student presented his or her proposal before city representatives and community members at a meeting last month.

"Most of the feedback was very positive," Marshall said. "People seemed to really appreciate that the students had done that work and that we made the effort to come back to Tacoma."

Many people expressed appreciation that students had preserved the most important existing buildings, Marshall added. Many also applauded the students' proposal for a food co-op at 34th Avenue and McKinley, because there aren't any grocery stores in the area.

The city of Tacoma will receive a copy of the students' proposal, which will be posted on a Tacoma culture website.

The McKinley neighborhood is one of four that the city is looking to turn into a mixed-use center. If anyone should consider the students' proposal, Marshall said the development should be in phases.

"We don't imagine that all of this design would be done in the next few years, but rather over the course of the next 20-25 years," she said.

Next summer, Marshall will begin looking for a new urban location in the Northwest for students to study, and noted that she might consider another Tacoma neighborhood.

"It appears that there's plenty of work to be done in Tacoma," Marshall said. "It seems to me from my experience that there are a lot of enlightened people in Tacoma who are looking for positive development. In the future I can see Tacoma as a model for how cities could develop."