Take a park in Lakewood in serious need of a makeover. Bring in neighbors with strong opinions on how the park should be improved. Then add 16 CU Denver College of Architecture and Planning students taking Advanced Landscape Architecture Design taught by assistant professor Lori Catalano. The result is an immersive learning and teaching experience that will change a neighborhood.
With aging playground equipment, poor lighting, limited landscaping and no master plan, Lasley Park is a 10-acre neighborhood asset with unfulfilled potential. To translate that potential into an improved reality, Catalano’s Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) students are working with the City of Lakewood through “Hometown Colorado,” a university-wide initiative that leverages faculty experience and student talent to help communities with high-priority projects.
“Hometown Colorado will take on any sort of project a city might want to do,” said Catalano. “We match the project with faculty from several disciplines who are engaged with the community and students taking an already existing course, so the curriculum includes real-world experience.”
Creating a master plan
For the past year, neighbors have been lobbying Lakewood for improvements to Lasley Park, but the city has not approved any measures because the park lacks a master plan. At a meeting in early February, two dozen neighbors talked to the students about changes they would like to see implemented in the park. In addition, 46 residents provided feedback through an online survey.
Armed with the residents’ ideas and their own site analysis, students went back to the classroom to design. On a Wednesday evening in early March, local residents and Lakewood officials gathered at Lasley Elementary School with high expectations as the students prepared to present their master plans for residents to review.
Allison Scheck, marketing and community relations manager for Lakewood, greeted everyone. “This is really an exciting project! We’re delighted to partner with students from CU Denver and the Hometown Colorado project.”
Catalano thanked the neighbors for their willingness to work with the students. She emphasized that residents didn’t have to choose a single master plan. “Some of the ideas you will see tonight are ‘big ideas,’” Catalano said. “We want to know which elements appeal to you and why. We’re really trying to get to the ‘Why?’”
Then neighbors turned their full attention to creatively named conceptual designs and sketches presented by six teams of students:
- “Lasley Lawn:” Keath Flint and Daniel Navarro-Gomez
- “Lasley Loop:” Matthew Roth, Josh Spinner, Haipeng Zhang
- “Organic Play:” Nina Pisano, Kacy Roeder, Jillian Troiani
- “The Hill at Lasley Park:” Zach Kesthely, Frank Pendrell, Makena Roeswood
- “Linking the Neighborhood:” Alaa Hasanain and Luis Navarrete
- “Living Room:” Derek Brandt, Aynslee Joyce and Sara Morse
Building the future
The students’ visions for the park included changes that would create pathways, plantings, parking, play spaces, new topography, fitness opportunities, lighting, community gathering places, picnic areas, boulder fields, sports fields, bridges and tunnels. In less than an hour, residents received consulting and designs worth thousands of dollars. And the students? They got experience that was priceless.
“This is the first project where I got to sit in meetings and hear feedback one-on-one,” said Nina Pisano, who worked on ‘Organic Play.’ “I’m learning it’s not about me, it’s about the community we serve.”
“It’s been a great learning experience,” added Luis Navarrete, who worked on ‘Linking the Neighborhood.’
“The students did very, very well,” Catalano said. “It’s one thing to come up with concepts, but these students learned a new way to communicate graphically and verbally to an audience, not just to other students or academics. Working with the community is teaching them new skills that add to their professional preparation.”
Lakewood officials will take the student ideas and neighborhood feedback into account as they create a master plan. By next year, residents around Lasley Park should have a newly improved place where they can relax and exercise year-round. And the MLA students may very well be using their Lasley Park experience as they start their professional careers.