The UMKC Volker campus boasts a beautiful and eclectic collection of buildings integrated within an urban setting in Kansas City, Missouri. Recent efforts to improve the student experience on the Volker campus are evident, but there’s always room for improvement — as a group of UMKC students recently concluded.
UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton gave the charge to the UMKC Trustees who partnered with the UMKC Urban Planning + Design students to conduct an assessment of the urban design of UMKC’s Volker campus during the spring 2016 UPD Studio 312 class. The students examined the human experience on campus, walk and bike circulation, campus monuments and campus gateways. Students and the university promoted an Instagram photo and hashtag campaign #UMKCSpaces to collect images of great spaces on campus, which were geocoded and mapped.
In the final report presented to the UMKC Trustees in late 2016, “A Vision for UMKC: Exploring a Healthier, More Vibrant Campus,” the students concluded: “For all of the progress that has been made, there are still many opportunities to improve the UMKC campus environment – to become more integrated into the urban fabric of Kansas City, create more distinctive public spaces and increase the capacity for instruction, research and student life on campus.”
The Studio class identified five planning and urban design opportunities that show how the campus might better meet the needs of students.
Students believe Troost Avenue is ripe with opportunities for partnerships with the development community for mixed-use commercial and residential projects that help bridge connections to neighbors and increase housing, dining and employment options for UMKC students. They concluded that UMKC has the capacity to redefine and reinforce the corridor.
Put Campus on a Road Diet
In coordination with the city, the students believe UMKC should examine how streets help to circulate people to, through and within campus. They said a renewed focus on pedestrian and bicyclist safety and comfort will allow the university to bring more students to campus and create streets that are as vibrant and memorable as the main UMKC Quadrangle.
Reduce Surface Parking
Given the recent investments in structured parking throughout campus, the abundance of transit options, changing patterns in automobile ownership and travel behavior, and the inherent value of scarce urban land on the Volker campus, the students recommended that surface parking should be reduced and repurposed.
Enhance Gateways using Monuments and Art
The students found the UMKC Volker campus has an impressive amount of regional cultural amenities within walking distance and a history that has resulted in a significant number of cultural assets. They recommended the campus celebrate this heritage and explore opportunities to make a statement to the rest of the city through monuments and artwork that indicate “you have arrived” on the UMKC campus.
Redevelop Cherry Hall Site
Recent investments in the UMKC Student Union, Bloch Executive Hall, Durwood Stadium and Cherry Street Parking Garage all occurred near 51st and Cherry. There is significant foot traffic at this corner and stunning views to the north of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The students believe new structures near this intersection should embrace the views and pedestrian activity.
Abigail Newsham, from St. Louis, Missouri, participated in the Studio class.
“My individual project was concerned with improving the public realm of campus by improving bike-ability, walk-ability and safety,” Newsham said. “My plan made land-use suggestions, which would increase the value of limited space while improving public space through urban design.”
“Something that really stuck with me was the public perception of UMKC as a ‘commuter campus,’ ” Newsham said. “We are a very unique campus, and this project made me appreciate that. Each of our projects played to UMKC’s distinct environment.”
Consistency in signage also was a big assessment for the students. “I think that consistent signage would create clarity for visitors and prospective students when they tour the campus,” Newsham said.
The field of Urban Planning + Design addresses how people collectively improve cities and the built environment.
“Students gain from this type of project in multiple ways,” said Michael Frisch, A.I.C.P., Ph.D., associate professor. “This project gave them a chance to practice community engagement and planning analysis techniques that they will use once they graduate. Furthermore, our students are passionate about our campus. It is rare for an urban-serving public university to have such a spacious campus.”
Newsham will graduate in the spring of 2017. The project and working with the Trustees was valuable to her.
“I learned quite a bit about working with well-informed ‘clients’ and how important their knowledge is for these types of projects,” Newsham said. “Although we students created the vision and plans, our ideas were aided by the knowledge of our long-term stakeholders, namely the Trustees and professors.”
Urban planning is a multi-disciplinary field. Its practitioners are constantly working with stakeholders to advocate for and guide development around the world. “To me, planning is very inspiring, and I hope to lead a career that is impactful and meaningful,” Newsham said.
Participants in the Studio project also have an award to add to their resumes.The Missouri Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA Missouri) cited the project as the 2016 Outstanding Student Project. The APA Missouri award recognizes outstanding work conducted in the field of planning throughout the state of Missouri.
“This award was a humbling recognition of the hard work and collaboration of our Studio, which was guided by Dr. Frisch, Ted Seligson and Josh Boehm,” Newsham said. “We were lucky as students to have had the opportunity to work with a distinguished group of stakeholders. They took the time to advise our work along the way, and our final project wouldn’t have been the same without them and our professors.”
Newsham hopes their work will act as one of many suggestions that will help guide some important developmental decisions by the Trustees. University leadership will review the proposals and the feedback from the board, said Troy Lillebo, Assistant Vice Chancellor of External Relations and liaison to UMKC Trustees. Recommendations are consistent with the current campus master plan and will be used to inform the next update to the master plan.