Design students unveil vision for La Grange

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By Janell Oliver

Usually when a small town like La Grange asks professionals for an urban design and planning assessment, the cost is between $150,000 to $200,000.

Linda Goin, executive director of Discover Downtown La Grange, said the city is lucky to obtain the expertise from the University of Cincinnati students for only $10,000.

And, taxpayers aren’t footing the bill.

Instead, the City of La Grange, Discover Downtown La Grange and business owners are funding the project.

Fifteen students and five professors from the DAAP school at the University of Cincinnati presented a physical design and economic development analysis of La Grange on Saturday, and hosted an  afternoon charrette including workshops with community participants.

Michael Romanos, professor at the University of Cincinnati and head of the department, said that the students, after listening to the participants and their concerns, will base their next quarter projects on trying to provide more solutions.

In fact, the morning presentation focused on winter research conducted by previous students who attended a charrette with La Grange residents earlier this year.

“Based on the concerns of the last charrette,” said Romanos. “Our students have developed over 15 options to increase the La Grange economy based on design planning. Of course, it’s not up to us to prioritize them. That’s up to the community.”

Goin said that the research conducted during the spring quarters – including 20 reports on economic development and 10 reports on physical planning and design – will be available to La Grange residents in three to five weeks.

Research will be compiled into a book and DVD.

But what sparked the students’ interest in La Grange?

Romanos said it was an accident.

 “I was taking a group of students to New Harmony, Ind., to visit a utopian community and we stopped in La Grange because I wanted to show them how charming the downtown area is because of the train line.

“The students were taking photographs and the next thing I knew, I was being approached by Linda Goin.”

Goin said she saw the students taking photos while she was having coffee in Karen’s Book Barn.

After finding out they were part of the DAAP program, she asked to be introduced to their professor.

“Usually, as part of the curriculum, we adopt a small community for student projects. As it happened, we had just completed a project and were searching for a new town,” Romanos said.

The morning presentation included an analysis of La Grange’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Romanos expounded on the importance of a niche creation with target audiences and historic preservation proposals to keep La Grange unique.

Other economic development ideas included business incubation and mentoring programs between start-ups and established businesses.

The afternoon charrettes included six tables among which La Grange residents were free to move about.

Each table, manned by a DAAP faculty member and students, addressed an important element of design and economic

Two of the topics had become specialized projects by the students already: the possibility of a developing an entertainment district and  improving the gateway corridor – the  stretch of Ky. 53 that leads to downtown La Grange from Interstate 71.

The other four topics focused on green concepts – environmental and rural character, destinations, urban connections and county connections – to place emphasis on walking paths, neighborhood connectivity and sustainability programs.        

Romanos said that the DAAP program plans on devoting several more quarters to students researching La Grange, specifically.

“We could have stopped in March but the interest from people keeps growing which makes it more exciting,” Romanos said. “We have interest from students, interest from the mayor of La Grange, interest from our dean. Everyone wants to know about our work in La Grange and that makes us want to continue working on it. The enthusiasm is intoxicating.”


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