In the crisp, white interior of the newly renovated Farmers & Merchants Bank on Linden Street, Geneva’s top stakeholders recently viewed a presentation of colorful design sketches of Geneva’s future created by Hobart and William Smith students.
The architecture and environmental studies students, who are members of Adjunct Professor of Art and Architecture Cari Varner’s “Sustainable Community Development Methods & Tools” class, worked tirelessly throughout the spring semester to develop innovative and sustainable design plans for downtown Geneva.
“It seemed natural to partner with the community and to extend the Colleges’ service learning programs, to find another way to give back to the community,” explains Varner, who worked with members of the Art and Architecture and Environmental Studies departments to develop the course’s curriculum.
“The course is unique in that it lets students apply the skills they learn,” explains Varner. “I wanted to give students the opportunity to use the skill sets they developed in class and to provide services to the community. There are a lot of places in the region that need community development but don’t have the resources.”
Classes included traditional instruction and lectures, during which they learned how committees assess sustainable design and how best management practices are constructed. However, students also interacted directly with community members and planners on a weekly basis.
For their final projects, the students worked with a steering committee comprised of local business owners and planners. Headed by Director of the Office of Neighborhood Initiatives Sage Gerling, the committee was comprised of John Hicks, executive director of the Business Improvement District, Dave Linger, vice chair of the Business Improvement District, Bob Stivers, chair of the Business Improvement District, Steve Davoli, owner of Century 21 Steve Davoli Real Estate, and John Brennan, building inspector for the City of Geneva.
The committee helped to identify sites in downtown Geneva that would benefit from the attention of the class. These areas included parts of Castle, Exchange, Franklin and Linden streets, and the business development space that connects the lakefront to Routes 5 and 20 by tunnel.
Groups, containing two architecture students and two environmental studies students, were assigned to the areas and given a mentor from the committee who met with the students and provided information for their development plans.
“Working with the city council and the city manager was amazing – it was incredible to see how involved and excited the people of Geneva are in regards to their community,” says Jamal Combs ’13. “Seeing that got me even more motivated to help out, to introduce Geneva to sustainability practices that are feasible.”
“The students really got to know Geneva in a holistic sense,” says Varner. This included studying streets, buildings, demographics, and local businesses. After listening to the thoughts and concerns of residents and property owners, the students created reports detailing issues and opportunities for the sites, following three tenets when considering a space: environment, economy and social equity.
When the students presented their final sustainability projects for the class at the end of the semester, the plans took into consideration standing structures, traffic patterns, residents and the needs of the community, while looking to increase the sustainability and aesthetic appeal of the area. Plans encompassed both long term and short-term solutions.
“Through conversations with community members, the term sustainability took on new meaning,” Daniel Budmen ’15 remarked during his group’s presentation. “It came to incorporate economy, the environment, and social activity.”
Vivid drawings showed a green Geneva, with tree-lined streets and café seating outside of the city’s eating establishments. Short-term suggestions included building awnings and hanging plants to increase aesthetic appeal and benches on sidewalks and bicycle racks to encourage pedestrian traffic.
The groups’ long-term suggestions imagined a thriving and sustainable Geneva with parklets occupying unused parking spaces and wall gardens and green roofs lining buildings to lower heating costs and increase the city’s beauty. Others sketched amphitheaters for outside performances and gatherings and rain gardens to collect storm water.
“After presenting, members of the steering committee approached me to ask how we could continue the relationships we formed, and how we could work together to move forward with funding projects,” says Varner. “This speaks to the strength of what the students were proposing – the city really wants to see this happening, to make what we discovered useable.”
“I feel like we really heard the voices of the city,” says Joelle Mauch ’15. “They had a lot to say, and they really just wanted to bring people together, to make downtown a space for everyone.”