Bettering the Building in the Bayou: Humphrey Planning Students Score High in National Competition
December 21, 2015—In metropolitan areas across the United States, trends in urban design include “mixed use” communities that combine living space with recreational areas, and offer safe, comfortable environments featuring native landscaping and community gathering spaces. When five University of Minnesota graduate students applied those same trends to an affordable housing community in southern Louisiana, the result earned them national recognition by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in its annual Innovation in Affordable Housing (IAH) Student Design and Planning Competition.
The team, mostly students in the Humphrey School of Public Affair’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning program, traveled to Washington, DC, in Spring 2015 to compete as a national finalist in the IAH competition. Officiated by HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research, the contest promotes actionable transformation of communities through interdisciplinary graduate student teamwork. The challenge for the 2015 competition was to design a senior-housing property for the Houma-Terrebonne Housing Authority.
Hilary Lovelace, Jody Rader, Erika Brown, Atticus Jaramillo, and Zachary Zweifler formed the interdisciplinary team that created a plan for Bayou Towers, an affordable housing complex in Houma, Louisiana. The primary goal for the team's design was to accommodate the intergenerational social dynamic present in the Houma community, where there are more young people living with their grandparents than in any other place in the United States. Named for a Creole word that represents something given gratuitously or in good measure, Lagniappe Gardens is the students’ answer to the community’s diverse needs.
“Lagniappe Gardens is an innovative redevelopment plan that maximizes community assets and is rooted in inclusivity and accessibility,” says Hillary Lovelace. “It is born from the spirit from local hospitality and generosity.”
Shaped by the emphasis on public engagement in the Humphrey School’s MURP program, these students actively sought community involvement in the formation of their redevelopment plan. Upon speaking with current residents of Bayou Towers on a tour of their home, the team learned that safety and independence were among their top concerns. In response to this community feedback, the UMN team designed their redevelopment plan to incorporate features that comprehensively alleviate security concerns while still maintaining a pleasant character. A secured lobby and retractable gates at parking entry points, coupled with indoor and outdoor gathering spaces open to residents and other community members create a safe and comfortable living space.
Additionally, the team incorporated sustainable landscape architecture with recreational features to promote intergenerational activity and health, designed concurrently for the welfare of people and the natural environment.
In part, the success of the team is attributable to how team members distributed the work associated with creating the plan. The design work of landscape architect Jody Rader integrated the priorities of the current residents of Bayou Towers, public functions as proposed by local organizations, and detailed knowledge of the native plant species and stormwater drainage needs into a beautiful residential complex.
Hilary Lovelace worked to find dedicated sources of funding to make the development financially feasible and coordinated everyone’s efforts as team leader. Zachary Zweifler, earning a dual Master of Business Administration and MURP degree, headed the development of the pro forma funding plan for the project.
Atticus Jaramillo and Erika Brown worked on the social leg of the project, focusing their efforts on developing programs that aligned with needs of both residents and the broader Houma community. Most programs focused on facilitating intergenerational interactions that benefited the mental and physical health of youth and seniors.
“The northern park area has been completely dedicated to active recreational activities. A soccer field sits alongside the existing basketball court, and newly installed pickleball courts, bocce courts and shuffleboard decks are also installed," explained Jody Rader, during the team’s final presentation.
Through careful consideration of the community members and their needs, UMN’s team produced one of the most comprehensive projects in this competition. Aside from the national recognition associated with being a finalist, the team gained valuable experience from the project-based interdisciplinary group work.