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Students gain real-world experience through park project
Students in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s landscape architecture program are helping develop a revitalization plan for a historic park in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Assisting as one of the partners working with the Council Bluffs Parks and Recreation department, the UNL students spent the first half of the spring semester visiting the city’s Fairmount Park, conducting research and developing a master park plan with site design alternatives. The work is being done as part of the College of Architecture’s third- and fourth-year studio program.
“The class is functioning and presenting their park information as a team with focus area sub-groups,” said Kim Wilson, director and professor of the landscape architecture program. “It is organized like a professional firm to simulate real-world scenarios.”
The students recently presented an outline of the park’s issues and opportunities and presented a redevelopment approach that could be used. Community feedback gathered after the presentation was encouraging.
“The work presented by the UNL students was terrific,” said Larry Foster, director of Council Bluffs Parks and Recreation. “Staff, residents and media were all equally impressed with the depth and obvious level of detail presented in their drawings. A ‘plus’ was the students’ ability to present and discuss their work.”
Wilson said service-learning projects like this one are invaluable to the learning process because they are much more hands-on and in-depth than some academic exercises. They also allow students to apply concepts learned in the classroom to practical situations.
“They provide the student with opportunities to learn life skills like tolerance and cultural understanding as well as civic responsibility,” said Wilson.
The educational lessons vary by student academic year. Fourth-year students are gaining leadership experiences, while third-year students are learning how to address a situation where the problem has not been scripted.
“It’s enhancing their problem-solving and critical thinking skills,” Wilson said.
For the project’s next stage, the student team will develop site plan alternatives for different components of the park and also options to address various budget scenarios.
Melissa Petersen, landscape architecture student, said their new concepts will improve the overall circulation, especially pedestrian connections within the park and to surrounding neighborhoods. The designs include improving the existing trails and expanding the trail network.
Overall, the students are excited to be working on a real-world project.
“For most of us, this is our first time working on a project from which ideas or site design elements might actually be implemented,” Petersen said. “It’s exciting knowing that the community is already behind some of our ideas. It is a good first taste of our future careers where we’ll be responsible to actual clients and a step toward the real-life practice of landscape architecture.”
Fairmount Park was once considered the greatest park in Council Bluffs and a regional destination. It featured a greenhouse, ice-skating, sledding, a petting zoo and a bell tower.
For more information on Council Bluffs’ Fairmount Park project, click here.