CSUN urban studies class creates neighborhood plan

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A plan for an entrance to the Reseda Corridor. The gateway, which is meant to create a connection between the businesses on Reseda Boulevard and CSUN, was one of the ideas from the Spring 2011 community and neighborhood plan class. Image Courtesy of URBS 420

The urban studies and planning 420 class of more than 30 students have worked this semester to create a comprehensive neighborhood plan for CSUN and its surrounding areas.

Dev Vrat, the lecturer for the URBS 420 class, hopes student’s can include the final plan in their portfolios as they search for internships and jobs, and expects to submit the class results to physical plant management and the neighborhood council.

“Our project is unique because no one (else) is doing it,” said Redel Peter Avila, 24, urban studies and planning major and project manager of the plan.

The students have controlled the direction of the class since the beginning. The class collectively chose the area to make a plan for and coordinated the majority of professionals that came in to give the real world situation about CSUN and it’s surrounding area.

With such a large group of students participating as stakeholders and planners, class meetings have at times bordered on complete breakdown.

“It’s always chaos,” said Ankur Patel, 25, transportation graduate student, who played the role of a transit advocate and lead editor.

One of the most frustrating challenges, Avila said, was creating a survey and making it available for public response on the Urban Planning Students Association, Northridge. It took one month to produce the survey and 3 weeks to complete.

Though the class has been an exercise in versatility and endurance, the URBS 420 class is near completion of their plan.

Vrat has crafted the class to be as reflective of a real world environment. There is a neighborhood council meeting that guide the neighborhood plan, staff leads that make reports to the class, and a mock public that present their concerns to the neighborhood council. Vrat also teaches general plan and California Environmental Quality Act classes, which have similar properties to the neighborhood plan class.

“I’m teaching people how to plan, but not planning itself,” Vrat said.

Professionals have come into the class to give the real world and current perspective.

Steve Patel, a member of the Northridge west neighborhood council, talked about the areas surrounding CSUN and represented the citizen and businesses perspective, while Colin Donahue, associate vice president of Facilities Development and Operations, represented the campus position and its priorities. There has also been coordination with Brittney McCarthy, director of government and community relations for CSUN Vision 2030, the vision plan for the university, Vrat said.

The class has been a catalyst for ideas of what the campus can become.

Some of the items have been predictable, like the interest in bicycle lanes and more pedestrian friendly, Vrat said, but some surprises included the class interest in increasing edible landscaping on campus, such as fruit trees. It also reinforced issues like a need for gateways, as well as the disconnect between the campus and the businesses nearby, Vrat said.

Larry Shoemaker, an urban studies and planning major, has been keeping track of the ideas coming out of the class and crafted some into the Urban Planning Students Association, Northridge agenda.

The plan to create a crosswalk at the north corner of Etiwanda Avenue and Norhoff Street that UPSAN is advocating for came from the URBS 420 class.

“While this plan will end, we will take the best and move forward,” Shoemaker said.