December 1, 1996
Over and over again, the ghostly voice in the film Field of Dreams intones the encouragement, "If you build it, they will come." Architect Grover Mouton knows it is not so simple. Getting people to the ballpark is characteristic of the challenges within the complex field of urban design. Working without set formulas, urban designers negotiate issues of transportation, safety, retail and community interests, future city growth and aesthetics in planning major public projects.
These are the issues that Mouton, an urban designer and adjunct associate professor of architecture, hopes to address through the Tulane Regional Urban Design Center, opened earlier this semester. The center received its first challenge in October, when it welcomed the 21st Meeting of the Mayors Institute on City Design.
Co-hosted by Mouton and Alex Krieger, Harvard University's director of urban studies, the institute invited eight mayors from across the country to present recent or future urban design projects from their cities. The institute's panel of experts, including architects, landscape architects, economists, engineers, city planners and historians, worked with the mayors to critique plans and develop quality design agendas, says Mouton.
Akron mayor Donald Plusquellic's plan concerned development around a recently completed triple-A baseball stadium built in the downtown area. "The stadium is so beautiful," says Mouton, who is using it as a model for a stadium project he is working on for Knoxville. "But what makes it so wonderful is that it fits right into the urban context of the city. It allows for a critical mass, and it creates additional economic opportunities within the bounds of the area."
The Mayors Institute, says Mouton, helped Plusquellic set his design agenda for the development of a complicated site adjacent to the ballpark. Through the institute and follow-up workshops, as well as other projects, the urban design center develops and educates mayors to become their cities' primary urban designers.
Tulane's center is particularly focusing on smaller cities with limited resources by providing them access to assistance from renowned urban designers. Smaller cities are a valuable asset in the American landscape, Mouton says, but have not typically been afforded this kind of attention, particularly in the South. In addition to exposing the mayors to large interdisciplinary teams of urban designers, Mouton encourages public workshops to allow the community to work with elected officials on projects.
According to Mouton, this process helps define and enhance the special aspects of a city, particularly smaller cities, where urban designers seek to maintain the quality of life and still allow for development. The center's workshops also merge academic work with practical design, with School of Architecture students involved in urban design in the region, Mouton says.
In a current project, Mouton is working with the mayor of Mandeville to examine the old town in order to plan how to maintain its quality of life, he says. In Gulfport, the center is working with the mayor to develop a master plan for developing the downtown area and harbor front, possibly to include a casino. Housed in the Office of Institutional Planning, Research and Innovation and partnered with the School of Architecture, the center, staffed only by Mouton and program director Brian Brockman, is off to an extraordinary start, Mouton says.
The October institute meeting was the first to be hosted outside of Harvard's School of Design since the institute's inception in 1986, and Mouton has plans for the center's own growth. Mouton plans to assemble an advisory committee to develop the institute and is already considering expanding it to include Latin America. But that is a whole new ball game.
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