Monday, May 16, 2011

CEP Senior Project Night!

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to relive some of my academic glory days in the little hippie conservatory of ideas known as CEP, or Community, Environment, & Planning, the undergraduate urban planning program at UW.

As an academic major, I'm not aware of any program that even scratches the surface of what CEP can offer its students. It's a completely unique interdisciplinary program that allows you to customize your education around a series of core seminars that focus on, you guessed it - community, environment, and planning. But that's not all -:) it's also the only major I've ever heard of that is almost completely student-governed.

Everything from student admissions to graduation ceremonies and colloquia are 100% run by the students themselves. Nothing can really prepare you for your "admissions interview", a graded discussion with current CEP students, but that's just part of the magic of it all. At the end of the day, it's your Individual Study Plan (ISP) that's your ticket to admission. In it you articulate your vision not just for coursework, but for study abroad, volunteer opportunities, community engagement, and the course of life you envision for yourself. You are a citizen first, a student second. It's basically the academic vision of gemeinschaft. As far as I know, the only academic programs that come close are at Evergreen State and UC-Santa Cruz - but right here in the middle of the best school in the Northwest - count me as a proud alumnus!

One of the best descriptions I've heard of the program is that it's like a major in direct, participatory democracy. Every Friday we would have what we CEPsters call "governance," a several hour-long forum on the structure and content of the major, share student news, career connections, and community events, collaborate with subcommittees (and you thought I was kidding), and host guest speakers. Granted, many of us CEPsters are of the granola crowd - or perhaps the Critical Mass crowd - so we weren't exactly talking about Robert's Rules of Order, here...let's just say our dialogues sometimes got out of hand. You can only debate your own graduation requirements for so long without getting truly tedious. There were many cases, however, when the ability to truly take charge of your education in a program like CEP was without equal.

Our professors liked to say that their often hands-off approach to the direction of their seminars (as opposed to a "sage on the stage" approach), was a method of incubating organic student discussions. Often times what this meant was that the professors may only be speaking up to 10% of the class time, the rest is all student input. With a very engaged group who has done the readings, this approach can work marvelously. Otherwise, it's a recipe for disaster.

The crowning jewel of the CEP education is the Senior Project. Together with the several project-based classes and required internship, this is where the pedal meets the metal. In my experience, a program like CEP is either a very good fit for you or a very bad one, with very little in between. You either need a lot of direction in charting your uncertain academic course, or you simply need the time, space, and resources to make your plans a reality.

Senior Project Night is the final showcase for the graduating seniors' projects that many have spent thousands of hours working on. My own Senior Project is, in fact, the origin of this very blog. It's the catalytic experience that awakened so many of my interests in green fleets, electric cars, bikes, transportation planning, and so much more. So much time is spent on these projects, in such a tight-knit environment (there are 80 students in the program) that your project teams often become like family. I'm a firm believer that if you want to envision the trajectory of a CEPster, you need look no further than their Senior Project. So one year out from my own departure from the CEP universe, I was thrilled to be able to see this year's round of projects.

Here's a few of my favorites of this year's projects!

Roosevelt: A Living District
Cristina Haworth and Jenn Robinson-Jahns

With current forms of urbanism placing undue burden on environmental systems worldwide and eroding traditional community bonds, there is an urgent need for new methods and theories of citybuilding, methods that not only promote the development of functioning, healthy, and liveable cities, but also help create cities that exist in harmony with the surrounding environment and serve as ecologically restorative forces.  This project explores the concepts of the International Living Building Institute’s Living Buildingsand Living Cities design contests, using a literature review and case study framework to apply the ideas to a site slated for redevelopment within the Roosevelt neighborhood of Seattle, Washington and envisioning it as a Living City in 2035.  A contextualizing paper identifies a few of the components critical to the establishment of a Living City, including the concept of a Living Building and existing examples; the expansion of the concept to the neighborhood and city scales; and initial applications of the Living Cities concept. This work also introduces a few of the key components to Living Buildings and Living Cities: technology that can provide a decentralized and sophisticated power grid, eco-districts that create economies of scale, and systems for the on-site treatment and recycling of waste. We then use site analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the Roosevelt neighborhood, including renovation and re-use opportunities, potential opportunities to use natural systems processes such as solar or water circulation patterns, and connections to the surrounding community.  Within this context, we visually apply the concepts introduced to the Roosevelt site in order to envision it as a thriving Living City and provide a hypothetical representation of what is possible for the future of the area within this framework.  It is our hope that this work will serve as a catalyst for conversation within the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association and challenge its members to think about urban systems and what may be possible within the urban framework in a new way.

Best Practices of the BIM Modeler
Justin Jameson
A BIM is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. As such it serves as a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its lifecycle from inception onward. (National Institute of Building Sciences 2011)
One of the challenges in a design group is creating unambiguous construction documents. In order to avoid such ambiguity, designers may establish a methodology for local best practices. Unfortunately in some cases best practices are established by routine and are often not documented. With the advances in technology the best practices procedures of the past are quickly becoming obsolete, while the procedures of the best practices of the future are becoming much more complex. Therefore the need for documentation of the best practice procedures becomes imperative. In this project I confront these problems in the case of a local design group. Specifically, the challenge was to document the local standard Building Information Modeling (BIM) practice and submit a Quality Management System (QMS) report. Utilizing the information gathered from the QMS report, I created a manual of standard practice which is now available as reference for all employees. I completed this project using multiple methods in multiple phases. Phase 1: building the information foundation; I conducted online research exploring what Building Information Modeling (BIM) is. I also reviewed other districts’ best practice manuals for traditional drafting. Phase 2: analyze and compile; throughout the review process I analyzed the information which I considered to be current best practices. Analysis consisted of referencing how the suggested practice complied with the National CAD Standard and the A/E/C CAD standard. Phase 3: the committee; to ensure that the QMS report was accurate and useful to the design group I organized a multidisciplinary committee of practicing professionals. The committee reviewed my initial information, then provided input about the BIM process. Phase X: refining the process; the final phase of the project is intended to repeat. In this phase the committee will periodically review the document; as procedures become more defined the document will be updated and become more defined as well. The outcome of the project is a documented best practice manual for BIM users.

Bridging the Gap: Increasing social sustainability through a community-university farm partnership
          Michelle Venetucci Harvey
The UW Student Farm membership base has grown exponentially over the past three years, and involved students have quickly exceeded the capacity of the current farm space. Furthermore, the UW Farm’s presence on the University of Washington campus has become firmly entrenched in the University identity over the past two years, and student farmers want to extend their connection to the larger community of Seattle and address issues of food justice. In order to accomplish our goals of expansion and social sustainability, I participated in a farm expansion process for the past two years. After identifying an expansion space at the Center for Urban Horticulture, we decided to partner with the existing Seattle Youth Garden Works (SYGW) farm in order to create a community connection and share resources. I became the liaison to SYGW and helped build a partnership through meetings, communication, and collaborative writing sessions for organizational documents. After doing background research on nonprofit partnership models and youth empowerment theory, I wrote an organizational document for future UW Farmers and participated in SYGW youth recruiting and a mentorship program in order to gain some perspective of the SYGW program itself. I also participated in the discussion and creation of a legitimate governance structure for the UW Farm, which will increase the farm's legitimacy and ability to work with partner organizations. Ideally, this project and partnership will help both the UW Farm and SYGW become more financially and socially sustainable through shared resources and workforces. The established governance structure as well as partnership document will help maintain institutional memory for this expansion project and transition leadership to future UW Farmers.  

Congratulations and best of luck to this year's CEP Seniors! You guys rock my world!

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