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Public Art Workshop Reveals Ideas for Beautifying Ackert Walkway

Six teams of Washington University graduate students detailed their public art concepts for the community.

Neighborhood beautification was the name of the game at a given Saturday afternoon at in University City.

As part of an ongoing project to revitalize the Ackert Walkway, a sidewalk path that will lead from the Chuck Berry statue on Delmar Boulevard through Ackert Park and on to Vernon Avenue, six teams of Washington University graduate students from the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts presented ideas on how to make the walkway more pleasant and inviting.

The workshop attracted dozens of community members who packed the basement of Parkview Towers. Attendees were invited to provide commentary and criticism of the students' ideas once all six presentations finished.

The project is the collaborative effort of nine parties, together with the Parkview Planning Partners,  and the City of University City taking the lead. The city obtained a Sustainable Community Challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Washington University Director of Community Relations Cheryl Adelstein.

The city then looked to the university for the expertise of its instructors and students -- including Professor John Hoal's "Public Space in City Life" class, which presented the six concepts Saturday afternoon. The students have provided an estimated $150,000 of in-kind contributions in work hours.

"We don't get many opportunities in school to work on projects that have a chance of being realized," said Jake Brotter, a student presenter seeking dual Masters in Architecture and Construction Management.

Brotter's group, the fifth of six to present ideas Saturday afternoon, conceived of a "Punctuated Passage" to draw in visitors of the Delmar Loop with a series of attractions at various points along the Ackert Walkway. Proposed attractions include a climbing space, a sculpture garden, a picnic area and a handball court.

The "Ackert Brightway" group sought to create a sense of community and safety by adding lighted sculptures along the path and establishing a rainbow theme by painting buildings' fire escapes and window frames a certain color depending on location. The group also thought switching the locations of the Parkview community garden and parking lot would make for a more efficient use of space.

The students presenting "Informal Expressions" aim to invite impromptu public performances from dance groups, musicians and poets by establishing open spaces and adding benches and tables, while the "Ripple Effect" group conceived of a series of ripples in the landscaping from four points of interest to symbolize the ripple effect of neighborhood improvements leading toward a more cohesive community. 

Margina Demmer's "Softening the Edges" group recommended the removal of  eyesores such as dumpsters and chain-link fences, which could be placed elsewhere or eliminated in order to create a friendlier environment for pedestrians.

Rachel Simpson's "Green Ribbon" group attacked the same problem of unfriendliness from a slightly different perspective, suggesting the walkway would be improved by taking on a meandering ribbon shape rather than a straight line from Delmar to Vernon, which would keep more people in Ackert Park for a longer period of time.

The next step in the planning process is to hold a series of community meetings to narrow down the students' best ideas and incorporate suggestions from Parkview residents, Hoal said.

Although the meetings are not yet scheduled, Hoal hopes a comprehensive plan to revitalize the community will be completed within the next year.

In addition to contributing the students' time and effort, the university also pitched in a $50,000 cash donation. Other parties in the Parkview Planning Partners include the Parkview Gardens Assocation, the Great Rivers Greenway District, the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance, the St. Louis , Arcturis, the Gateway Foundation and Trailnet.

Curtis Stuart March 28, 2011 at 02:57 PM
I attended the Saturday presentations. Very impressive. I like the small amphitheatre - especially for the African drum circle. I also think the video screen is a great idea. I'm sure the U. City Broadcasting students would enjoy seeing their work in such a setting.
Earl Higgins April 01, 2011 at 02:12 PM
I wish I would have known about this Saturday meeting... too much going on I guess. I have always thought the Ackert Walkway could be made into a real treasure. Are there websites for any of the designs? I am especially interested in AMPLE picnic tables and picnicking area. People can carry out from local eateries and dine leisurely there with their kids, pets, etc. This would be a WONDERFUL use of a public space and would increase local business revenues!

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