Assistant Professor Carrie Makarewicz's Planning Project Studio-a class that focuses on teaching second-year Master of Urban and Regional Planning students how to design plans for real-world clients- worked in Denver's River North (RiNo) Art District, a quickly developing neighborhood northeast of downtown that has long been home to the residences and studios of working artists.
Though an area originally utilized for industrial purposes, the creation of the arts district in 2005, coupled with its designation as a Colorado Creative District by the State of Colorado, has quickly made RiNo an area of fast-paced commercial, business and residential urban growth.
In the studio, students' objective was to create a quality-of-life plan for RiNo and its surrounding neighborhoods, including developing design and zoning strategies, financing tools, developer incentives, accessibility improvements, employment diversification and the identification of essential missing uses.
To meet these ends, students worked with two clients, including Create Denver-a division of the City and County of Denver's Arts and Venues, which focuses on supporting Denver's creative economy- as well as the non-profit organization RiNo Art District, which serves to keep RiNo a sustainable arts district for artists and creative businesses.
Create Denver was seeking a plan from the students that promotes the City of Denver's Imagine2020 cultural strategic plan, including using the arts as method for social change. Similarly, RiNo Art District sought assistance in adapting to the new, higher density residential development through a plan that provides a high quality of life for the residents and workers in the area while sustaining the area as a vibrant arts district.
"This studio is of particular interest and importance to our students because it touches on so many issues," Makarewicz says. "It gives them the ability to think about how to be creative with planning designs and tools, given RiNo's desire to try cutting-edge and innovative ideas."
The studio was conducted in conjunction with an environmental and market research project the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) is managing for RiNo Art District, which is exploring the business, commercial, residential and artistic landscapes of the area. CAP professors are frequently engaged in community-based research, and the introduction of this studio was an additional opportunity for the college to align with the University of Colorado Denver's goals of providing an energetic, collaborative and creative learning environment where community application is encouraged.
Through the planning studio process, students receive hands-on learning experience in infrastructure plans, financing sources and challenges, integrating the area's long-time industrial uses with new residents and commercial activity, understanding access to and uses within RiNo's future park, river clean-up, and ensuring the arts are an accessible commodity to all of Denver's residents.
Makarewicz also notes RiNo's proximity to Globeville and Elyria Swansea, historic Denver neighborhoods that are struggling with chronic issues such as health and lack of proximity to resources such as grocery stores and parks.
"Students want to explore how to make RiNo more accessible to these neighborhoods," Makarewicz says. "This is also in line with their clients' desire to both increase accessibility for all people, which will lend itself to the district's enrichment, as well as ensure it remains a sustainable area to live and work for artists."