Jim Kreiner can drop his daughters off at preschool, buy groceries and get to work without getting into his car.
The director of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore on Southland Drive lives nearby. His daughter’s preschool is on a side street not far from the busy commercial corridor. Good Foods Co-Op is within steps of ReStore. It’s one of Southland Drive’s many positives — it has a diverse mix of thriving locally owned businesses that are within a short walk or drive of some of the city’s older and more desirable neighborhoods.
Bike lanes were added recently, and new sidewalks are planned for next year. A new Southland sign near Nicholasville Road and Southland Drive will be completed soon.
“What we don’t have is a public or green space for people to gather and to meet,” Kreiner said.
That will change in coming months.
On Wednesday, University of Kentucky students will unveil their proposed designs for a pop-up space that will be a place for people to gather and meet. The designs presented Wednesday are a culmination of a semester-long project — “Retrofitting the Retro” — that looked at some of the challenges facing Southland Drive.
Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Blue Grass Community Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Donor Advised Fund, that pop-up space could be completed by this summer, said Brandi Peacher, the city’s design officer.
Peacher used her connections at UK to suggest Southland Drive as a possible design project. Suburban corridors such as Southland were built in the 1950s when cars and lots of parking were the priority. That means a lot of asphalt, little green space, no sidewalks and a lack of public spaces for people to gather.
“It has the limiting characteristics of a suburban strip mall,” Peacher said. “You have large parking lots but not many sidewalks and very little pedestrian connectivity.”
Students from UK’s interior design program, historic preservation, landscape architecture program, and the Tracy Farmer Institute For Sustainability and the Environment participated in various parts of the “Retrofitting the Retro” project.
The project has been done in multiple phases. The students collected tons of data, including pedestrian counts, bike counts, parking use analysis, physical environment assessment, and perceptions on public space and walkability of the corridor. They have also held community meetings to gather input.
In October, students unveiled projects that looked at possible solutions for various design problems on Southland Drive.
The final project is using the research the students gathered to try to come up with a pop-up space that could help create more areas for people to gather. Those design proposals will be unveiled Wednesday at Good Foods.
A panel, which includes Southland business owners, will then select a winner. Peacher said the plan is to find a landowner who would be willing to host the winning design. Plans call for the design to take up only three parking spaces.
Emily Hozza, a UK junior interior design student, is one of more than 30 students who are expected to submit proposals. The Bethlehem, Pa., native said her proposed design combines both green space and seating options.
The project has allowed Hozza and her fellow students to learn about how space works and how people work in certain types of spaces, Hozza said.
“This is a real client,” Hozza said. “It was rewarding when we would go to these community meetings and we would listen to the needs of the community, and it would match up with what our research had already identified as a problem.”
Real people with real problems helped give context to abstract concepts, UK professors said.
“When students are involved in community-based projects they are much more interested and engaged,” said Rebekah Radtke, an assistant professor at UK’s College of Design. Radtke and Patrick Lee Lucas, the director of the School of Interiors at UK’s College of Design, have helped oversee the “Retrofitting the Retro” project.
Lucas said they hope the city and the university can team together again to work on other design issues. They already have. The new sign on Southland Drive is being built by UK landscape architecture students. It’s a separate project from “Retrofitting the Retro,” but the idea came together because of the already-established relationship among the city, UK and Southland Drive, Peacher said.
“Our goal with sharing the students’ work is to spark ideas within the neighborhood, and we are hopeful that some of them may be a springboard for community action,” Peacher said. “We also hope that some of these ideas can be used in other suburban areas.”
If you go
Design Proposals for pop-up space for Southland Drive
When: 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Good Foods Co-Op, 455 Southland Drive