Five LARP Graduate Students Win Jury Prize in Edmund N. Bacon Urban Design Competition

Keith Benoit
Keith Benoit
Kinjal Desai
Kinjal Desai
Tianyi Guan
Tianyi Guan
Christopher Ramage
Christopher Ramage
Peter Wackernagel
Peter Wackernagel

Five Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning (LARP) students were recently awarded the Jury Prize in the 2020 Edmund N. Bacon Urban Design Awards Student Competition.

The interdisciplinary team of graduate students; Keith Benoit, Kinjal Manish Desai, Tianyi Guan, Christopher Ramage and Peter Wackernagel; was one of four winning teams out of 2,500 registered teams from all over the world.

The award was announced on Monday, Jan. 6, following the Ed Bacon Student Competition. Named in memory of Philadelphia’s iconic 20th century city planner, Edmund N. Bacon, the competition typicall focuses on urban planning for challenged neighborhoods in Philadelphia. This year the focus area was Chelten Avenue in the Germantown neighborhood in northwest Philadelphia.

Their project, “The Quilt: Make No Little Plans,” intends to strengthening Germantown’s economy and culture through a patchwork of small interventions. This neighborhood is like a quilt, a heterogeneous and sometimes chaotic assemblage of people, places and uses, given form by a rectilinear grid. In the spirit of this understanding--that posits that diversity is an essential characteristic of neighborhoods--“Make Little Plans” takes a grassroots approach to its design solutions for Chelten Avenue. “Make Little Plans” uses a series of community-driven micro-interventions to animate Chelten Avenue’s streetlife. These interventions focus on the essential pieces of a successful neighborhood commercial corridor, including local culture, small business, green space, recreation and transportation. This strategy builds on the strengths of the Germantown neighborhood, which includes a tight-knit community, diversity, and a wealth of artistic expression.

Often, large interventions stimulate local real estate markets and residents are displaced as prices rise faster than they can adapt to new economic conditions. Instead of big solutions, this proposal recommends a toolbox of small-scale design interventions that work with the existing urban infrastructure and utilizes the human infrastructure of residents and social organizations for both inspiration and implementation. A gradual, community-led process allows for the layering of these interventions over time and ensures that the benefits of these interventions are received by the residents themselves.

The quilt of Chelten Avenue is made of people, businesses, streets, sidewalks and other public spaces. The broad goal of this proposal is to increase the synergistic dynamic of this living mixture through the creative use and reuse of wasted spaces. By improving on its existing qualities and increasing the agency of those who frequent Chelten Avenue, this proposal ensures Chelten Avenue’s future success as a vital commercial corridor.

The project was part of  Frank Sleegers class “Urban Design Workshop.” This seminar class is held every other year and is dedicated to innovation and creativity theory and praxis of urban design. In past years the workshop focused on contributing to Ed Bacon student design competitions and participated in four events – three of them were awarded.

Keith Benoit is a graduate student in regional planning student with a bachelor’s of business administration from the Isenberg School of Management. He previously worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a wildland firefighter and was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. He is dedicated to fighting climate change through improving multi-modal transportation, strengthening local economies, and creating more housing closer to destinations.

"As a planner, this competition was a great opportunity to get out of reading dense planning documents and put ideas to paper. I would recommend all planner take some Landscape Architecture studios.I look forward to seeing what the next UMass team creates," Benoit said.

Kinjal Desai is a graduate student in landscape architecture with a bachelor's degree in architecture. While pursuing her bachelor’s study, she observed the importance of understanding the context and environment surrounding the architecture. She is now working towards adopting a holistic approach for design by amalgamating strategies and ideas from both realms, architecture and landscape architecture.

“While designing a strategic planning at an urban scale, it is very important to learn about the user, for example ‘the community’. I strongly believe that the success of a design project is decided by its impact on the user community. The competition focused on some of the elements of urban planning and community engagement and I learned how a series of small scale interventions are important to create a large scale impact on the focused area,” Desai explained.

Tianyi Guan is a graduate student in landscape architecture, with a bachelor's degree in landscape agriculture. Before participating in this urban design competition, she was interested in how to add green space to the crowded city and how to update the city with landscape design like brownfields and vacant spaces. This design competition helped her to better understood the key to design in areas of urban renewal. She also gained experience of how to integrate community culture into design and that potentially attract community residents for a better use. For her, urban designers are obliged to add elements and strengths of culture, technology and innovation into their projects.

Christopher Ramage is a graduate landscape architecture student with a bachelor’s in plant science and a professional background in research and horticulture. He is passionate about plant communities and approaches projects through the lens of an ecological systems framework.

“For me this experience really drove home how important the design idea and the design narrative are to effectively communicating ideas and capturing people’s imagination. As a future designer, this is a crucial lesson to hold onto moving forward. It doesn’t matter how good of a design you come up with, if you cannot get the client or the community to buy in the design will never become reality. Communication is critical to effect real world change,” said Ramage.

Before studying design, Peter Wackernagel became interested in landscape through a number of venues, including bicycle touring, organic farming and a summer spent working in the Emerald Necklace park system. He decided to enter the program because landscape architecture offers a positive, creative response to the challenges of the built environment. As an activist, Wackernagel has always considered himself a part of struggles for equity and justice, and he follows the discussions in landscape architecture and urban design that relate to these issues. One well-known theory states that small projects do not start cycles of gentrification because they don't stimulate the real estate market. In the Ed Bacon competition, Wackernagel's team applied this concept with their "Make Small Plans" entry.

“Congratulations to our students for taking on this challenging Urban Design competition,” says Frank Sleegers, professor of landscape architecture and urban design. “We were going back and forth a lot and banged our heads to come up with an appropriate design and planning strategy. Our team was convinced that many little interventions would count more than one big plan. The award reflects the excellence with which our students pursue their studies here at LARP, and the long tradition of our Department providing top-tier education in creative design research and community engagement.”

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