Students in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program who aim to pursue a career as a professional planner take the Planning Capstone, a six-credit, project-oriented, one-semester course that results in a substantial deliverable upon completion. Annelies van Vonno (MURP ’20) focused her capstone project on sustainable and community-oriented creative placemaking to reduce auto travel and improve pedestrian and bicycle access and safety near the Meow Wolf Denver site.
Students, individually or in groups, identify a client and project topic for approval the semester before they begin their Planning Capstone. Van Vonno’s capstone project was titled, “Finding Meow Wolf: Improving Access and Mobility through Community-Led Creative Placemaking in West Denver.”
“My capstone report included 14 recommendations for how to improve pedestrian and bicycle accessibility to the Meow Wolf site,” said van Vonno. “The recommendations were grouped into five categories – navigation improvements, targeted intersection and streetscaping improvements, public art and beautification, bicycle and micro-mobility accommodations, and safety and maintenance.”
Networking the Planning Capstone
There are occasions when capstone projects expand beyond the classroom and take shape in our communities. Associate Professor and Department of Urban and Regional Planning Chair Carrie Makarewicz served as van Vonno’s capstone advisor and helped put her in touch with contacts at Meow Wolf.
“During my capstone project, I reached out to many community organizations as part of my research. I met with the West Colfax Business Improvement District (WCBID), the Denver Streets Partnership, Denver’s Community Planning & Development Department and Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, Sun Valley Eco Trust District, members of Meow Wolf’s Community Advisory Committee, as well as residents, developers, and disability advocates,” said van Vonno.
While working on her capstone project, van Vonno interviewed Rebecca White, director of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) Division of Transportation Development, as part of the research and outreach portion of her project. At the time van Vonno was an intern in CDOT’s Multimodal Planning branch within the Division of Transportation Management. Since graduating, van Vonno joined CDOT’s Multimodal Planning Branch full-time.
In early 2021, WCBID approached CDOT about a special project to improve walkability and safety under the Colfax Viaduct. White assigned van Vonno to the project because of her capstone project and her known interest in how the arts and transportation intersect.
“Since then, I’ve worked closely with the WCBID and Denver Streets Partnership along with the Sun Valley Community Coalition and Westside Stadium Community Coalition to bring this project to life,” continued van Vonno. “I’ve been involved in the project meetings, sat on the artist selection committee, helped coordinate with CDOT’s permitting office, and volunteered at several of the volunteer days to paint the mural and install the wayfinding signage.”
Taking the Planning Capstone to the Next Level
The Sun Valley neighborhood that surrounds Meow Wolf is in a unique location with its proximity to Downtown Denver, Empower Field at Mile High, the South Platte River, and the Colfax Viaduct.
“These corridors (I-25, Colfax, Federal, and 6th, as well as 8th Ave that also runs through Sun Valley) are all on Denver Regional Council of Government’s High Injury Network, which identifies corridors with the highest density of fatal and serious injury crashes in the DRCOG region,” said van Vonno. “While my capstone project provided recommendations on how to improve pedestrian and bicycle access to Meow Wolf and focuses on the areas underneath the Colfax Viaduct, my hope is that once implemented, these recommendations will provide a safe and pleasant route for people in Sun Valley to travel to and from Downtown, as well as give people in other parts of the metro area a reason to visit Sun Valley and explore what this unique neighborhood has to offer.”
Finding Meow Wolf Continues
On May 14, 2022, the WCBID and the Denver Streets Partnership collaborated on the Sun Valley Rising Community Night Market Project, a community night market that unveiled murals under the Colfax Viaduct and introduced new wayfinding signage. Currently, Meow Wolf is in its early stages of designing a Walnut Street Art Walk, which will bring high visibility to the new neighborhood arts trail.
“For years, the Sun Valley community has dreamed of repurposing the space under the viaduct for community use, which is currently only used for Denver Bronco’s game-day parking. Activating this space with murals, wayfinding, and a community market brings color, life, and vitality to this neglected area,” said van Vonno. “The murals and the market bring new people into a neighborhood they may not typically visit and gives residents and entrepreneurs a place to showcase their talents. So far, the community feedback has been very positive. I’m hoping that Meow Wolf’s Walnut Street Art Walk project will also help to create a safe and beautiful experience of walking under the viaduct as well as provide opportunities for local community-based artists.”
The next Sun Valley Rising Community Night Market will take place on August 20, 2022 under the Colfax Viaduct. Learn more by visiting https://sunvalleyrising.com/.