By Amy Reinholds
Work from a College of Architecture and Planning graduate course at the University of Colorado Denver that addresses post-disaster housing redevelopment engagement and visioning will be presented at a
Lyons Board of Trustees workshop on Tuesday, September 2, at 5:30 p.m. at Town Hall.
URPL 6800 (Housing Development) was a summer graduate course in June-August 2014 taught by Carrie Makarewicz and Andrew Rumbach, full-time CU Denver faculty with expertise in urban development and disaster recovery, respectively. Both Professors Makarewicz and Rumbach have been deeply engaged with Lyons since the September 2013 floods, in a number of capacities. The course included fourteen graduate students from architecture, planning, and landscape architecture.
At the August 19, Housing Recovery Task Force meeting, Rumbach and a graduate student from the class explained the coursework completed this summer, looking at housing recovery public engagement and visioning. They showed what they are preparing to present to the Board of Trustees on September 2, they asked for feedback, and they answered questions from the audience.
According to materials provided by Rumbach: The class content covered the entire housing development process, from site selection to planning and design. Students learned a great deal about Lyons, its history and development, and the impact of the flood on the Town’s housing stock. The class featured several guest speakers from the town, and students made two full-day field visits to Lyons. They also learned about housing development more generally, and about the challenges of post-disaster housing recovery in places as diverse as New Orleans, New York City, Grand Forks, and Soldier’s Grove
The class assignments were focused on housing recovery in Lyons, but it was unrealistic to follow the true housing development timeline for the town because the process will likely stretch for at least two years. Instead, the instructors presented the students with a hypothetical scenario: given everything we know about housing loss from the flood, and everything we know about the concern over building replacement housing, and given the parcels identified by the Board of Trustees (BOT) as potential development sites, they asked the students to produce two deliverables:
1) A public engagement plan that lays out a process for housing development in Lyons post-disaster and that is based on national best practices.
2) Two site alternatives that propose a housing development that meets the needs of both displaced residents and the stakeholders concerned over new housing.
Because of the limited timeframe for the class, it was unrealistic to follow the true housing development timeline in Lyons. Instead, we asked the students to present hypothetical designs that responded, as best they could, to both needs and concerns in the town regarding housing. These “plans” are not meant to be seen as proposals for the Town to consider. Instead, they were meant as an exercise to help the students learn about the later stages of housing development. As the instructors emphasized throughout the class, housing development relies on broad, inclusive, and intentional public engagement. This exercise was not intended to shortcut that process, and the students’ designs were in no way sanctioned by the Town. The site alternatives proposals the students developed are purely intended to teach them how to design housing given real-world conditions. As the public engagement plan clearly lays out, site design should only occur through a robust public engagement process, not through a classroom of students in Denver.
When making decisions about where to focus our class work, and what level of housing we asked the students to design towards, we followed the public decisions made by the BOT, including the decision made on May 5th 2014 to consider land in and around Bohn Park as potential sites for housing. We also relied heavily on publicly available information like the Housing Needs Assessment, which gives fairly specific information about the amount of housing that might be required and what level of affordability it would need to reach in order to be adequate for the needs of displaced residents. The choices to focus on the land identified by the BOT and to design replacement housing for 100 households were entirely made by the course instructors, and were not made at the behest of the Board of Trustees, the Housing Recovery Task Force, or anyone else. The Town has not, to the best of our knowledge, made any decisions about whether to rebuild housing, where to rebuild it, or how many units should be built.
The public engagement plan that was developed as part of the coursework identifies Lyons stakeholders and addresses the following goals:
- Educating residents on problems, alternatives, opportunities, and solutions.
- Limiting rumors by using a transparent process
- Encouraging and using creative ideas from community members
- Limiting negative impacts by hearing concerns and finding solutions.
- Building energy and excitement for bringing displaced residents back home.
- Ensuring that community residents feel that their voices have been heard.
More details about the coursework are available at http://www.lyonsrecovery.com/uploads/8/3/4/9/8349039/cu_denver_presentation_to_hrtf_aug_19_2014.pdf.