Seeing downtown differently

March 23rd, 2017

New Tech freshmen offer their blueprints

By Ashley Sloboda | The Journal Gazette

A group of New Tech Academy freshmen faced some tough questions Wednesday as they shared their visions for downtown redevelopment with local leaders at Grand Wayne Center.

The team – which included Elizabeth Lichtsinn, Simon Twiss and Xavier Logan – drafted a blueprint that incorporated a zoo, water park and a casino, among other attractions, and moved the History Center to a history walk in Headwaters Park.

Lori Graf, who once worked for ARCH, Fort Wayne’s organization for historic preservation, challenged the team’s idea. She summarized the building’s history and questioned why the students relocated the structure to a nonhistoric spot.

“You moved it to a park,” she said.

The students were commissioned by the deputy mayor’s office and city planners to give a youthful look at what Fort Wayne should look like with a focus on interconnecting a sense of community and urban development.

Inviting community members to provide feedback on the students’ design ideas and rationale during Wednesday’s gallery walk presentation helps add a real-world component to the project, teacher Sheyann Pace said.

New Tech Director Emily Oberlin said the project is a way for youth to build relationships with adults in the community.

“It’s a great way for young people to show who they are, how they think and what they appreciate in our city,” she said.

Students initially worked in small groups, but teams were later combined to better mimic the real world, where groups of 30 to 50 people have to work together, teacher Jeff Roberts said.

Combining everyone’s ideas and making a final, cohesive blueprint was difficult, teammates Nick Chapman, Myo Kyaw, Alicia Snyder and McKenzie Burkhalter said. Their ideas for downtown included a dog park, a grocery store and an arts school near Arts United Center.

Stephanie Webb, whose son Cameron participated in the event, said it was “refreshing” to see a younger perspective.

Jack Hammer, executive director for the Three Rivers Festival, agreed.

He brought along Graf – who also works for the festival – because she knows what can and can’t be changed and is able to provide feedback that the average person can’t, he said.