AIA In The Community
AIA Southwest Wisconsin Allied Drive Initiative
Allied Drive, Dunn's Marsh Community Design Project, Madison, Wisconsin
The Allied Drive community in Madison is a troubled neighborhood. Developed in the 1940s as a utopian apartment complex to house students and young families, the neighborhood began deteriorating in the 1960s.
The community’s location at the apex of two major highways is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it affords easy access to the city, but on the other hand, the highways serve as physical barriers isolating the neighborhood. Hemmed in on a third side by a large city park, the layout of the street grid does not promote easy access to the surrounding area.
The city began attempts to revitalize Allied Drive in the 1980s by creating the Allied-Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood Plan. Multiple false starts and communication failures resulted in mistrust and hostility between the neighborhood association and the City of Madison Planning Department. In 2005, it became apparent that the neighborhood was requiring an inordinate amount of city resources for police protection, social services, and deteriorating housing. The city earmarked $100,000 to study possibilities for the area. The Director of Planning asked for help from AIA Southwest Wisconsin, who turned the request into a new program of public outreach.
The first and most important goal of the initiative was to repair the relationship between the city and the neighborhood. Because the project was a volunteer effort on the part of AIA Southwest Wisconsin, it was clear to neighborhood residents that there were no hidden agendas.
The program began by building volunteer architect teams and briefing them on the history of Allied Drive. During weekly training sessions in the neighborhood, the city presented background information and answered architects’ and neighbors’ questions. Tours were conducted of the 8-acre site. Architects gathered information and measured buildings for potential rehabilitation. They interviewed neighborhoods and city staff, and hired two consultants – a financing specialist to ensure affordable solutions, and a public relations firm to facilitate neighborhood outreach.
During a four-day planning session, more than 30 architects, intern architects, city staff and related professionals worked with community residents to identify their needs and document their ideas. From this initial work, five major issues emerged: unemployment and low incomes; safety; housing conditions; affordability of housing; and the fear that the neighborhood would be cleared out, rebuilt, and gentrified while displacing current residents. To help reassure residents that this was not the intent of revitalization, the project slogan became “Move Up, Not Out.” Three alternative development schemes were developed.
Following is the agenda for the four-day event:
Day 1: Community Design Input Sessions
Neighborhood residents provided input to architects and consultants on major themes of housing, economic development, transportation, security, quality of life and community character. In the evening, there was a presentation summarizing the community’s ideas and concerns.
Day 2: Focus Group Design Sessions
Based on neighborhood input, alternative solutions were developed by groups of architects who reported to residents and other key stakeholders throughout the day.
Day 3: Focus Group Design Sessions, continued
The teams of architects continued to meet and refine alternative solutions, reporting to the group at mid-day and in the evening.
Day 4: Design Work Sessions
The architects met to integrate focus groups’ solutions, resulting in three possible plans based on resident and key stakeholder input over the previous three days. They created presentation materials and reported the outcome of the process to the entire group, including the Mayor, Alder and Director of Planning. They answered questions and outlined the project’s next steps.
The architects continued to refine their presentations and are preparing a written report to the community.
The excitement at the end of the planning event has resulted in continued involvement in the neighborhood association by many of the participating architects and professionals. They are presenting the three schemes at city-wide meetings, planning a high school design competition using a site within the neighborhood, and contacting the University of Wisconsin Urban Planning school to generate student projects at surrounding properties. Several of the steering committee architects are involved on City of Madison Boards, Commissions and Committees that are now reviewing ordinances to make the project a reality.
As the city works through the revitalization process, there are four goals: build the neighborhood, change the dynamics of the community, ensure adequate investment, and provide a comprehensive strategy for affordability. By using the AIA’s Community Design Process, some of the goals are already being realized. There is a now a clear path for the Neighborhood Taskforce to follow as it continues the revitalization program and works to attract partners such as WHEDA, Fannie Mae, non-profits and developers.
The original utopian Allied Drive community is long gone, but a new one is emerging. Taking advantage of the intense design and communication boost provided by AIA Southwest Wisconsin’s efforts, the area is poised to celebrate its past and design its future.
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