Students Help  Communities Design for the Future

Model of a parking lot.
The students recommended a framework to reduce the amount of parking and to increase landscape space to provide more shade, reduce energy costs, improve water quality, and beautify the city.

A group of School of Design and Construction students are working to make small-town Washington a little more inviting and environmentally friendly.

Seniors in landscape architecture earlier this year worked with city of Wenatchee planning staff on ideas to improve the city’s landscape code.

Landscape codes are used by cities to soften and beautify new developments, but in many communities with limited resources, the codes are often made up of a mish-mash of changes over the years with duplicative language that make them confusing to enforce, says Steve Austin, associate professor in the School of Design and Construction.

Headshot of Steve Austin

“These issues are very common across communities,” he said. “Wenatchee is to be commended for asking the students to look at improvements.”

As part of their senior design project, the students created teams to look at Wenatchee’s code, studying best management practices that might be incorporated.

“A key understanding for the students was approaching this project in terms of systems thinking – that each part of the ordinance can address multiple issues – known as “multi-solving,” Austin said.

The students’ recommendations provide a framework for the city to create more regenerative, climate-friendly, and user-friendly landscaping requirements, he said. They removed complex and repetitive language and provided graphics that could help developers better understand requirements. They also presented ideas for landscaping codes to improve ecological function, create pollinator habitat and clean stormwater. To address the challenges of climate change, the students provided landscaping suggestions for addressing heat and recommended plants for new climate conditions.

So, for instance, the students recommended that the city eliminate or reduce required parking while increasing parking lot landscaping requirements. In addition to beautifying the city, the proposed changes would reduce the urban heat island effects and provide additional stormwater treatment. They also suggested developing a landscape planting list for developers that includes plants that are pollinators, can filter stormwater, or that reduce wildfire hazards.

While the students didn’t look at a cost analysis for the proposed changes, the simplified regulations, reduced arbitrariness, and streamlined review process could reduce costs for developers as well as the city, Austin said.

City planning staff will review the proposed recommendations and consider them for adoption.