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Design center to open doors to public Dec. 16 in Urbana

Melissa Mitchell, News Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Students and faculty in architecture, landscape architecture and urban and regional planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are taking their knowledge of good urban design to the streets – or more precisely, to 112 W. Main St. in downtown Urbana. That’s the new home of Civitas: the University of Illinois Community Design Center, an innovative town-gown enterprise that opens its doors to the public from 6-9 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 16).

The opening reception will feature a formal presentation, at 7:15 p.m., by urban and regional planning graduate students who completed a studio project that examined the future of Urbana’s Lincoln Square Mall. According to graduate student Genevieve Borich, one of the center’s two student directors, studio participants will discuss "the historical importance of the mall, the current situation of its role within the public sphere of the metro region, and the future of its role within the local economic and public spheres." A number of design possibilities explored by the students will be presented as well.

The program also will include remarks by Steve Schomberg, vice chancellor for public engagement and institutional relations, who will discuss university outreach efforts.

Administered by the department of regional planning in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, Civitas is funded by the university’s Office for Public Engagement. Urban and regional planning professor Emily Talen will provide academic support and direction for the center, while Borich and another graduate student, Zach Borders, will manage day-to-day operations weekdays from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. – and later on some days.

Borich said the center’s mission includes involving faculty and students from a variety of disciplines within the university in efforts "to assist local residents, neighborhood associations, planning departments, city council members, and nonprofit organizations on any projects pertaining to ‘urbanism.’ " The term "urbanism" is intentionally defined broadly, she said, in order to stimulate discussion and education – among students and community members – on a host of topics, from "smart growth, local identity and civic spaces to ideas of community and good urbanism."

Beginning in January, she said, Civitas plans to host a series of lectures, discussion sessions, films, poetry readings, theater performances and art exhibitions.

According to Borich, establishment of the off-campus center reflects a new trend that is taking place nationwide. That trend, she said, extends "academic-based assistance to local communities, utilizing resources from traditional urban design fields – such as planning – and nontraditional urban design fields – such as medicine, economics and psychology. As a bridge for academicians to work in real-world situations, these centers serve as a valuable asset for local residents and professionals."

For more information, contact Borich at 217-265-7507.