Downtown Revitalization Projects being reviewed during class

Ryan Sandwick (center) and interns Harrison Knifley, Jordan Hackworth,
and Rachel Crosslin discuss their ideas for Harlan.

How a community views itself can often be revealed through its built environment.

“One thing I heard a lot in Harlan was, it doesn’t cost anything to sweep your front porch,” said Ryan Sandwick, extension program manager in the Department of Landscape Architecture and the Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky.

That told him a lot about Harlan’s mindset, where he and his student interns would develop economical ways to draw people into the downtown area as part of an Appalachian Regional Commission Downtown Revitalization grant. Projects like this one not only give communities ideas for revitalizing their downtowns, but they serve as real-world classrooms for the students.

The projects fit in nicely with the outreach and education missions of the university.

“The hope was that the students would learn from each other,” Sandwick said. “We organized monthly open houses at the Harlan County Extension office to engage the community in why design and planning are important in downtown revitalization. And that allowed us to learn their values and priorities as a community as well.”

The students, who came from landscape architecture, historic preservation, architecture, and graphic design backgrounds, designed community areas that included a colorful alley gathering spot and a public amphitheater that could be built by volunteers in a short time frame with little money.

“We’re trying to take this incremental approach to a longer-term goal and make everything as achievable as possible, given the financial realities of the region,” Sandwick said.

Nearly four hours NNW of Harlan, the town of Warsaw lies along the Ohio River. In 2016, associate professor Jayoung Koo heard from Sherri Broderick, Gallatin County’s family and consumer sciences extension agent and a member of Live Well Gallatin County. The group had a small grant to try to make the area a little healthier. According to fellow Live Well Gallatin County member Dianne Coleman, like many small, rural communities, there were few free opportunities for physical activity.

“As a result, we had high levels of chronic disease,” said Coleman, a community health strategist for Three Rivers District Health Department. “One of our strategies was to provide walking trails in the community. It was great to have a connection with Sherri and, through her, Dr. Koo and her students, to see how walkable Warsaw is.”

Koo and three landscape architecture students, assisted by Broderick and local volunteers, conducted a walkability study of the city’s sidewalks, looking at such things as pavement conditions, shade, road buffers, and connectivity. Then they turned their attention to the city park, a small plot of land bordering the river. They came up with a design for a .33-mile winding route around the park's perimeter.

“My student interns gained experience working with a real client, while Sherri functioned as a great liaison between her group and us,” Koo said.

Broderick and Coleman applied for and received a $15,000 grant, with the city and a local business, Nucor Steel Gallatin, providing matches.

“We ended up with a very nice pot of money to expand the limited sidewalk we already had in the park,” said Carolyn Caldwell, Warsaw city clerk and treasurer. Today, the park boasts new signage, a concrete walking trail, and a new playground. Joggers, walkers, and children have access to a scenic spot where they can engage in physical activities.

“Extension serves as the link between communities and the university, and enabled us to get help for a project that will benefit a lot of people,” Broderick said.

-- Carol Lea Spence