Topic: College of Architecture and Planning

January 7, 2016

Landscape architecture students canvassed Muncie's Whitely neighborhood to collect information for an improvement plan. Also, the data they collected will support a citywide effort to survey the built environment.

A Muncie neighborhood is taking sizeable steps towards revitalization, thanks in part to the hands-on work of a class of community-engaged landscape architecture students.

During the fall 2015 semester, 15 students of landscape architecture faculty members Pete Ellery and Robert Baas collaborated on a comprehensive improvement plan for residents of Whitely, a predominately African-American, low-income neighborhood on the city’s northeast side.

The students canvassed Whitely and collected geographic data—everything from the structural integrity of properties to whether they were occupied or blighted. Those facts will help inform decisions made as the neighborhood lays out its improvement plan.

Meanwhile, the data the students collected will support a second community project, the volunteer-led ScoutMuncie, which is a comprehensive survey of Muncie’s architecture.

The project uses mobile devices and apps developed by the Delaware County Office of Geographic Information to collect information. The students used the technology while working with Whitely, bolstering the ScoutMuncie efforts.

“Ball State’s been a critical partner for us on this project,” said Kyle Johnson, the county’s geographic information system coordinator.

“I’ve been able to test new GIS technologies and smartphone applications with the students, finding out what works and what doesn’t. Because of them, I could more easily and quickly test the applications at the same time they were gathering the GIS data we needed.”

Data informs planning decisions

The students collected data that city and county officials will use to inform planning decisions for grant applications, zoning, and disaster response. The data also is crucial for neighborhood improvement plans, such as the one the students created for Whitely.

Whitely leaders said they appreciate the students’ dedication and attention to detail.

“When they were out surveying, they were going door-to-door, not just driving around,” said Frank Scott, president of the Whitely Community Council, “and when we met to talk with them about our goals, they asked us so many questions.

“The students were inquisitive about the culture, people and attitudes of our neighborhood, making an effort to really get to know us. When the time came for their proposals, it felt like it was coming from our perspective, not theirs.”

Fourth-year landscape architecture student Kristen Alexa said the project was by far the most community-driven she’s ever worked on in her program.

“The residents wanted to thank us for the work we did and we were like, ‘No. Thank you,’ because we couldn’t have done our jobs as well as we did without their input.”

Colorful homes offer ‘design language’ for neighborhood

The students also studied successful neighborhoods—pride in ownership, walkability and accessibility to restaurants and attractions—and applied that research to their plan for Whitely.

“The students were inquisitive about the culture, people and attitudes of our neighborhood, making an effort to really get to know us.”

Frank Scott
Whitely Community Council

Topics addressed in the plan ranged from demolition of blighted properties to resident interest in the return of small businesses and eateries to Highland Street, a major Whitely thruway.

“They want a rib shop and soul food options,” said landscape architecture major Jim Zheng, “and a grocery store, too.”

Playing off the brightly painted homes of Centennial Place, a public housing project in the neighborhood, the students also proposed using the homes’ colors as a “design language” for future signage, sidewalks and building facades.

“It could go a long way toward giving Whitely a distinct identity,” Zheng explained.

‘They gave us the results’

Whitely community leader Mary Dollison said next steps include sharing the students’ plan with the greater neighborhood. Forums will be held in early 2016, and Whitely Community Council members will present the plan door-to-door.

“We want everybody to know how we’re using this information toward our goals of improving the neighborhood.”

Dollison said receiving the plan in booklet form is a step in the right direction for future collaborations between the community and the university.

“We’ve done projects in the past with Ball State, charrettes and such, but never saw what happened afterward,” she said. “This project was different. They gave us the results.”

As for ScoutMuncie, Johnson said about 40 percent of the survey work has been completed. It will take more time and volunteers to finish canvassing the rest of the city, and he hopes Ball State continues its partnership in the project—one that builds on the College of Architecture and Planning’s ongoing involvement in addressing Muncie’s planning and development needs.

“The ability to partner with these classes and departments not only helps us collect the much needed data,” he said, “but also exposes students to the newest technologies in mobile data collection that they can take and utilize in their professional careers.”

Explore landscape architecture

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