Mar 10, 2006    #047
Contact: Michelle Hopkins

UMKC students in urban planning and design tackle Westport intersection problem that continues to befuddle even the professionals

Cameron Washington, a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, dreams of one day designing more attractive urban neighborhoods. But for now, he focuses all of his attention on a problem in Kansas City’s “circulatory system”: the accident-riddled intersection of Westport Rd., Southwest Trafficway and 43rd St. in Westport, a critical juncture between the Plaza and downtown. This challenge was put to Washington and seven other advanced urban planning and design students after three real-life proposed solutions were studied by city officials, business leaders and neighborhood groups and all were rejected.

“The city (in the rejected proposals) was trying to achieve passing as much traffic as possible through that area so the designs were pretty basic. But the residents did not approve,” said Washington, the son of Phyllis and Cleo Washington. “My vision arrived from trying to make the intersection as pedestrian-friendly as possible.”

This lesson — urban design solutions have to not only look good on paper but satisfy numerous competing interests and honor the historical significance of the area — comes quickly to Washington and his classmates. UMKC’s two-year environmental studies program is intensive preparation for the students who will complete their accredited program following an additional three years of study in Kansas State University’s architecture program.

For the Westport intersection re-design project, students examined the city’s proposals and extensive surveys giving the views of local residents and business owners. They also studied a host of intersections in Kansas City and other cities, went on-site to take measurements and make observations, and talked with city planners.

The on-site inspection made an impression on Robert Dove, a junior and son of Cindy and Dale Dove of Belton. “At first glance, the intersection is a wreck. When passing through it, you notice very quickly how dangerous it is. Pedestrian traffic is almost non-existent.”

Dove’s further research into other intersections led him to propose the creation of a roundabout tying five converging streets together. Daniel Meeker of St. Joseph, the son of Kathy and Darrell Meeker, proposed moving the 43rd St. and Southwest Trafficway intersection north and controlling the movement of vehicles with traffic lights and timing. Trevor McCrary, son of Lori and Allen McCrary, and also from St. Joseph, proposed several changes in configuration with considerable focus on creating new outdoor spaces with “a Plaza feel.”

Students presented their “solutions” to a panel of experts who listened intently to the wide swath of ideas: raising roads, lowering roads, fewer traffic lights or more lights, changing the direction of traffic flow. They were impressed when students went the extra mile in their research to gain insight into the region’s special history and strove to avoid proposals that would rankle business interests or passionate Westport residents.

One of the critiquing jurists, Stephen Hardy, who holds a master’s degree in urban planning from Harvard University, noted: “There were aspects of every student’s project that could be useful to a design solution. The projects that made a simple and elegant recommendation I found to be the most compelling. No good recommendation can be made without an understanding of the history and culture of the area. A couple of students embraced the rich history of Westport and their designs benefited from that effort.”

Hardy was joined by Mark Shapiro, a partner at Berkebile Nelson Immenschuh McDowell Architects, and Richard Wetzel, director of business development at McCownGordon Construction LLC, both Kansas City firms. “It’s a very challenging intersection,” said Wetzel, “and the students were not bashful in making dramatic proposals.” As students advance in their profession, he said, they will learn that subtle nuances, rather than splashy statements, can have more appeal. “The beauty of the students’ proposals lies in their ability to tackle the issue head-on, and not let political ‘realities’ stand in their way,” Wetzel added.

UMKC’s architecture, urban planning and design classes are conducted in classrooms and studios in Epperson House, a design masterpiece itself inspired by English country houses built in the Tudor-Gothic period of the 15th century. Epperson House has substantial local acclaim each Halloween because of its “haunted house” visage.

The architecture and urban planning and design program at UMKC offers students frequent opportunities to work with leading architecture professionals and address real-life problems, such as the Westport intersection. For more information about the program, please call (816) 235-1725.


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