Livy Snyder holds framed barcode

Eco-art, homelessness and housing costs: Student symposium projects target city

May 1, 2019

Livy Snyder has spent countless days in the metal car of a light rail train headed toward the heart of the Mile High City.

But unlike many of her fellow passengers, who closed their eyes, checked their phones or stared out a window at flashing scenes of a concrete metropolis, the CU Denver student found herself fixated on one thing: the prime real estate on the light rail walls.

Why not fill that blank space greeting the millions of riders who use the RTD Light Rail system every year with something that calms their minds and feeds their souls, the art student thought.

On April 26, Snyder joined over 350 of her peers in showcasing their work as part of the 22nd annual Research and Creative Activities Symposium (RaCAS). The university-wide event sets a foundation for tomorrow’s scholars. And, as often happens in urban research universities, many of the innovative exhibits could also benefit the city.

With 367 students participating, this year’s RaCAS included 192 posters/exhibits displayed for the first time in the bright and spacious Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center gymnasium.

Learning what it takes to present public art on a train

“It’s a great start for me in pursuing my career as a curator,” said Snyder, a dual Painting/Drawing and Art History major set to graduate on May 18. The project had her “diving into the deep end,” looking at funding, logistics, and what it actually takes to present public artwork as an exhibition, she said.

While researching her idea – met with optimism by her Denver art community connections – Snyder soon realized that it was too expensive. So she pondered more realistic approaches.

“The one that felt the most compelling was using QR codes,” she said. Snyder linked barcodes with a gallery of art videos, framing the codes in plastic and placing them on stickers that could be displayed inside and outside of the light rail trains.

In Snyder’s light rail ride of the future, passengers with smartphones can scan the code with the camera, press a button to the video link and watch a video showcase of artist films of the state’s natural wonders.

Visual Arts student Livy Snyder gives her presentation to College of Arts & Media Associate Dean for Research & Innovations Laurie Baefsky.

Making Denver a ‘Happy City’ with accessible art

By choosing local artists’ videos on surrounding landscapes of the Mile High City, her idea could have multiple advantages, said Snyder, who read the book “Happy City” on urban design’s effect on people’s well-being as part of her research.

Instilling an appreciation of art, culture and the environment while creating a sense of belonging for the state’s residents are just some of the goals of her project, which she hopes to continue pursuing.

“There is so much construction going on around us in Denver. I feel like we really need to establish a sense of community and culture through the landscapes that define the Mile High City.”

Many other RaCAS projects focused on Denver. Here are snapshots of two:

Three RaCAS students pose in front of window with city in  background
Psychology students (left to right) Sara Maddox, Kaitlin Chacon and Odette Tisseglo focused their project on the issue of homelessness in the city.

Empathy and homelessness: Does it effect change?

Students: Kaitlin Chacon; Sara Maddox; Odette Tisseglo, psychology

The problem:

A persistent nationwide issue, homelessness prevails in every city, including Denver, where over 250 people are chronically affected. After finding statistics linking the population to 14,000 days in jail and 500 emergency department visits per year, among other things, the psychology trio studied whether a sense of empathy for the homeless played a role in citizen advocacy for supportive programs.

The finding:

According to the students’ anonymous survey of 67 CU Denver students, a strong sense of empathy toward homeless people did not correlate with strong support for programs and policies, as they had initially suspected. “So we don’t think empathy is a good indicator for spurring political action,” Maddox said.

The solution:

Yet many studies, including some focused on a Denver-based program called Housing First, find such homeless housing projects can make a difference. “They reached their 35-percent reduction in jail beds,” Maddox said, using one Housing First program result as an example. More education about such studies and further studies on indicators of support could help ease the homeless problem, the students concluded.

Student shows poster project to student
Presenter Ian Arriaga Mackenzie explains his housing project focused on Denver to another student.

High housing costs: What factors feed the problem?

Student: Ian Arriaga Mackenzie, mathematics

The problem:

Denver’s booming metropolis has come with a big bump in the cost of housing. Arriaga Mackenzie looked at contributors to the issue in 73 of the city’s neighborhoods.

“As you can see from this heat map, unaffordable housing is a significant problem here in Denver in every single neighborhood that I examined,” he said, defining “unaffordable” as a home that’s rent or mortgage takes 30 percent or more of a person’s income. “And some of this data is from 2010, so it’s gotten worse.”

The finding:

Arriaga Mackenzie, who found college students and the elderly at higher risk for living in housing beyond their means, pinpointed three positive predictors that pushed down housing rates in a neighborhood: 1) high-density housing (50 or more units); 2) commutes over 30 minutes; 3) medium home value.

The solution:

By increasing subsidized public transportation, allowing people to move farther out of their neighborhoods or find better jobs, cities could decrease rates of unaffordable housing, said Arriaga Mackenzie, a Denver native who remembers when a $1,400 apartment of today went for $400. “Also, rent control (considered in the state Legislature this session) and financial education could be examined to try to control our spiraling costs here in Denver,” he said.

Project topics ran the gamut at this year’s RaCAS event. Engineering students Matt Heck, left, and Andrew Smith are working with the National Blind Hockey League on creating a puck that emits sounds that vary, aiding players with their game.