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Street-design project to be focus of planning meetings in Macomb, Ill.

Liz deAvila, News Bureau intern


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A team of students and faculty members from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will be traveling to Macomb, Ill., Nov. 4-5 to participate in planning and design meetings that will focus on rethinking the use and design of Macomb’s West Jackson Street (Illinois Route 136).

The route runs through the center of the city and eventually will intersect with the planned Illinois Highway 336 bypass.

The meetings, which planners call a charrette – an intensive, multiple-day collaborative community planning activity – will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 4 and 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 5 at 1520 W. Jackson St., Macomb. The meetings are open to the public.

The charrette is one of many planning tools that will be used as part of a new collaborative project between U. of I. Extension, which is affiliated with the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and the department of urban and regional planning in the College of Fine and Applied Arts. The partnership was formed earlier this fall as a collaboration among Illinois communities and the U. of I.’s planning and design faculty and students to benefit communities without access to professional planners.

Kathleen Conlin, the dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, said the college was proud of the joint effort and its current venture in Macomb.

“Our faculty, in tandem with students and leaders, are experienced in leading efforts to improve conditions where we live,” Conlin said. “This is a terrific opportunity for demonstrating the impact of research and teaching on behalf of the state of Illinois.”

The new project, called “Community Matters,” has an initial timeline of three years, during which as many communities as possible will be selected to be part of the collaboration. The project architects hope to make the program a continuing one.

“We are delighted to be a part of this partnership,” said Dennis Campion, associate dean of Extension and Outreach. “Bringing together the expertise of local citizens, Extension and faculty to help solve problems is a marvelous example of the university engaged in collaboration with citizens in their own communities.”

The Extension Community Economic Development (CED) team will help selected communities investigate different areas of need, and later bring the collected information to the overall project design.

Pattsi Petrie, outreach and professional education coordinator for the department of urban and regional planning, suggested possible future projects “Community Matters” might engage in with a community.

“Different projects might be – besides highway enhancement – designing parks, bicycle pathways, improving downtown facade, and designing houses – and any other issues of economic development within the community,” Petrie said.

The work in Macomb is the pilot project of “Community Matters.” Petrie said the charrette, which will also extend the collaboration to include Western Illinois University students, will serve as an open forum for community members to “test” ideas for the West Jackson Street corridor.

Kathleen Brown, extension educator for CED, said the charrette is intended to stimulate design ideas for the corridor plan while including the voice of the community.

“This will be an important conversation,” Brown said. “We hope to find out what their (Macomb citizens’) preferred businesses will be, what type of cultural amenities could be added, what could be enhanced.”

Specifically, Macomb residents will be able to propose their visions for the corridor, which will intersect with the Illinois Highway 336 ring road at the west and allow entrance into the city.

University students will also facilitate the community discussion and contribute their skills and knowledge, while benefiting from the hands-on learning experience.

Petrie said the U. of I. students – enrolled in the team-taught course Urban Planning 494-P – have been gathering information on Macomb to better understand the community in preparation for the charrette. She stressed that student involvement always will be an important element of “Community Matters.”

“We always have to be sure there is an educational aspect,” Petrie said. “There is learning on both sides of the table. It’s win-win: We research, and the community profits from our expertise.”

Future communities will apply to “Community Matters” using an application still in the design phase. Petrie said the current plan is for communities to be chosen twice a year, with the first official round of selections scheduled for January 2006.

The second round is tentatively planned for August 2006, but is subject to change. Communities not selected for the first round are eligible to apply for the second.

A “Community Matters” team, consisting of an Extension representative, an affiliate of the department of urban and regional planning, and other project-specific individuals, will review the communities’ applications and information.

Along with the application, communities must submit all relevant studies, reports or plans done for or by the community during the past five years. Small, rural communities and metropolitan neighborhoods that have limited access to planning are encouraged to apply, Petrie said.

For more information about the program, contact Petrie at 217-244-7424 or 217-333-3890. In Macomb, contact Brown at 309-836-2084.