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Students suggest renovations to Toledo’s UpTown District

The UpTown District of Toledo has the potential to become a family-friendly environment, and UT students who participated in a Community Planning Workshop class have suggestions to make it happen.

Dr. Bhuiyan M. Alam, left, and students in his Community Planning Workshop, from left, Rebekka Apardian, John Puente, Lance Dasher, James Marok, Qiong Zhang and Ryne Sundvold, along with Lucas Davis, who is not shown, gave a presentation in April on how to improve Toledo’s UpTown District.

The seven students in the workshop during spring semester created a project titled “UpTown District Land-Use and Walkability Analysis,” which they presented to the Toledo Design Center and UpTown District board in April.

The students found that although the area had a lot of potential because of its close proximity to downtown, it wasn’t living up to it. They suggest improvements to sidewalks, roads, and better uses for vacant lots.

During the project, some students looked at the use of the land, whether areas were well-used, vacant, residential, business or more. Others focused on the “walkability” of the streets. One of the students, James Marok, made a video displaying photographs of the problem areas.

“We divided up what skills and knowledge people had in geography and urban planning, and what they wanted to do with this course,” said Ryne Sundvold, a graduate student, who worked on the project. His focus was the “walkability” of the streets, since he is an avid cyclist.

Students walked, biked and drove throughout the district, recording problem areas in a survey that reported the existence and condition of sidewalks, along with other factors such as whether a street had one-way or two-way traffic.

The students discovered none of the main streets through UpTown had sidewalks from one end to the other, which causes problems for Toledoans who walk or bike from one place to the next. Many of the sidewalks also lacked ramps or had damaged ramps, which did not meet the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“One of the goals the group had for the UpTown District was to create ‘complete streets,’ a national movement for streets to be accessible for walkers and bicyclists from one end to the other, using sidewalks and bike lanes,” said Dr. Bhuiyan M. Alam, UT assistant professor in the Geography and Planning Department, who taught the course. “People who like to walk and who like to bike, they’re paying taxes for the roads, too.”

Their analysis led the group to recommend Jefferson Street as the best candidate to be transformed into a “complete street” because it is already in decent shape and construction would not deter traffic as much as it would on other streets.

The group also suggested turning vacant parking lots into community gardens or farmers’ markets, which would encourage community participation.

They also had the idea of putting a grocery store or two in one of the unused lots, so that residents in the area would not have to drive so far for food and other provisions. Such accommodations also would attract young families and senior citizens to the area.

Qiong Zhang, a student who focused mainly on the land classification aspect of the project, said she enjoyed the experience so much she plans to pursue a career in urban planning. Zhang, who is from China, is double majoring in public administration and geography, and is interning with the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority.

Sundvold was offered an internship with the Toledo Design Center and plans to continue working on this project until next spring. A few other students in this class have been working as summer interns in urban at local organizations.

“It gives you the feeling that you actually have a purpose in your community,” Sundvold said of the course.

Other students who participated in this project were Rebekka Apardian, Lance Dasher, Lucas Davis and John Puente from the Department of Geography and Planning.

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