Thursday, May 7, 2009

Theoretical Answers for Real Problems from Tech A&E Students

Associate Professor Karen Till addresses the gathering. The cardboard mockup and drawing are of Katie Wallace's The Can Factory, a project the students worked on^

A group of Virginia Tech students and teachers in urban planning, architecture and engineering made interesting theoretical presentations on six different projects they're working on in the Roanoke Valley this a.m. at the Claude Moore educational complex downtown. Let's emphasize that these were theoretical solutions to some dicey problems, but the practical aspects--how to pay for it, how to accomplish it--are all left for another day.

I loved the kids' work. It is imaginative, considerate of the environment, uses the latest technology and construction philosophy and, in one case, even considers using a building as a billboard that would help pay for its renovation (never mind that the law would likely prohibit that).

The projects covered a broad area ranging from brownfield rehabilitation to renovation of historic or traditionally African-American neighborhoods. It looked at railroad and bridge crossings as part of the "urban effect" and examined property values in the historic Old Southwest neighborhood. In most cases, though, there were gaping holes caused by a lack of information on how these projects might be accomplished.

In the case of Old Southwest, there was a good bit of comparative information of property values in Roanoke, but there was a glaring omission: what happens to all that data when the renovated Cotton Mill complex opens next month? This complex, in conjunction with several other projects that are dramatically changing the area, could well add a dynamic that is far more important than anything that has happened there in the 25 years of the "historic" designation because it's running off the hookers and pushers and residents expect values (and safety) to soar.

The brownfields presentation was great if you don't have to do it. Cleaning up the urban messes in some of these properties--caused by toxic chemicals, petroleum spills and a host of other permanent pollutants--is what a physician would call a "primary disease" that has to be cured before anything else can happen. That part was skipped.

It is good to have these young people working on problems like this--real problems in real places. It is not good to withhold vital information and problems from them. When they're working for the companies that have to do this work, they'll be required to solve these very problems, so why not give it a test run here? Real-world problems need real answers, not theory.

No comments:

Post a Comment