Clemson City Planning Students Work to Improve Livability in Diverse Clemson Neighborhoods
Friday, October 4, 2019
By Paul Hyde
Graduate students in the Clemson City and Regional Planning Program recently presented City of Clemson officials a set of ideas aimed at enhancing the quality of life in targeted areas of the small city that abuts Clemson University. “Our role was to provide useful ideas for the community and the city,” said Jermaine Durham, a Clemson doctoral student who supervised the students’ efforts as a co-instructor along with fellow doctoral student Shaobo Li. “Our approach was that the City of Clemson was our client.”
The goal: to improve the safety, unity and appeal of two key areas: the Cadillac Heights neighborhood and the corridor along Walter T. Cox Boulevard.
Jermaine Durham, who supervised the planning students’ efforts, will soon complete his Ph.D. in planning, design and the built environment at Clemson University.
Image Credit: University of Georgia
Students learned that Cadillac Heights is a historically African-American community with deep historical roots; many homeowners have lived there for generations. However, the neighborhood is facing the pressures that come with growth, such as increased traffic. Also, the community is dotted with abandoned homes, blighted properties and vacant stores.
Residents told the students that they’d like to see the familial spirit of the community endure and thrive. Longtime residents of Cadillac Heights know and support each other, the students were told, but efforts are needed to beautify the neighborhood, slow down traffic and promote continued community unity.
Students pored over city documents and explored the neighborhood on foot, as well as held a big community meeting. They identified strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities facing the community, and developed a series of recommendations.
Presented in a public meeting, the students proposed traffic calming and economic development-related recommendations, including: greater use of stop signs and speed bumps for traffic control; and a targeted grocery store and pharmacy within walking distance of the neighborhood’s older residents. They also recommended assessing an impact fee on new development to reduce the potential for growth to put overwhelming pressure on the infrastructure of the community and city. A neighborhood association could be established to publicly advocate for the community. Entryway signs and a volunteer garden club, meanwhile, would identify and enhance the aesthetic appeal of the neighborhood.
Walter T. Cox Boulevard
Along Walter T. Cox Boulevard, a major artery dividing the university from the City of Clemson, the students found that pedestrians jaywalk across four lanes of traffic to get from the university side to the city side. The MCRP students thus recommended that more crosswalks be created, and signs be posted requiring cars to stop for pedestrians at those crosswalks.
Clemson graduate students meet with City of Clemson residents.
Image Credit: Professional Planning Studio
The students also noted that sidewalks are not always available on both sides of the boulevard and that elevation differences between the road and sidewalk might not be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Town and Gown Work to Plan a Better Future
Second-year graduate students with the MCRP Professional Planning Studio class have created neighborhood plans for Upstate communities for at least 10 years as a way of both creating real experiential education and improving the urban fabric. As James Spencer, associate dean of research and graduate studies in the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities, put it: “Seeing two of our doctoral students shepherd a community engagement project like this one should remind us that planning for our future is not just about drawing maps and calculating returns on investment. It is the process of exercising and encouraging our collective problem-solving skills. In many ways, it is the day-to-day practice of our democratic principles.”
City officials, meanwhile, had high praise for the students’ efforts.
“I have had the pleasure of working with a lot of students from a lot different departments on campus and I have to say that this recent group of planning graduate students were exceptionally bright and mature and focused,” said Todd Steadman, director of planning and codes for the City of Clemson. “They produced some meaningful work that will become an asset to the city as we move forward. And I like to think they learned something in the process."