UPCOMING EVENT: Urban Lab Open House

By: Colin Day
Urban Lab Coordinator

The UniverCity Urban Lab- an organization based in Fort Collins that advocates for high-quality urban design and a livable city through community involvement and collaboration- is seeking input and guidance from the public as they shape the guidelines for a design competition to be launched early in 2015.

Come out and help us develop our Mason Street competition. Centered on the Mason Street transportation corridor, the competition will invite professional designers, students and others from around the world to propose improvements to the Mason Street Downtown Corridor, excluding the railroad right-of-way, which will enhance vehicle safety and the pedestrian environment. The goal of the competition is to inspire design possibilities that create a unique and memorable experience for those who visit the area.

The Urban Lab wishes to solicit feedback from the public on the proposed format of the competition as well as the specific requirements that competitors should prioritize. Possible topics include pedestrian and vehicular safety, sidewalk enhancement and public art.

Please provide feedback at our second annual open house event scheduled for Friday, December 5th at the former John Atencio Jewelry space at 1 Old Town Square in Fort Collins, from 5pm until 9pm, during the First Friday Art Walk. A feedback message board will also be available online at urbanlab.colostate.edu.  All interested community members are encouraged to attend and become involved in this important initiative.

About Urban Lab

The UniverCity Urban Lab is a catalyst organization dedicated to transforming the urban environment by convening private, public and academic partnerships to cultivate innovative change. Based in Fort Collins, the Urban Lab is a cooperative venture between Colorado State University, City of Fort Collins, Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority, professional designers, real estate developers, businesses and private citizens that was established in the summer of 2013.

Other current Urban Lab initiatives include the installation of the first ‘living wall’ in Fort Collins, scheduled for the spring of 2015, and the development of design and implementation guidelines for the Nature in the City Program, both in cooperation with the City of Fort Collins. The Urban Lab also contributes to the research agenda of Colorado State University, with a variety of funding streams from within the University to conduct research on a wide range of topics regarding the urban built environment.

Contact

To learn more about the Urban Lab and the Mason Street competition, contact:
Colin Day, Urban Lab Coordinator
Institute for the Built Environment
Colorado State University
970.491.5041
colin.day@colostate.edu

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The Urban Lab and a Living Wall

By: Colin Day
Sustainable Building Associate
In 2014, the City of Fort Collins launched and initiative called “Nature in the City” with the goal of ensuring every citizen has access to nature close to where they live and work. The focus of the project is to determine how the built environment contributes to how nature is perceived within the City. One of the deliverables of the project is a set of design guidelines that will support the successful implementation of various techniques that enhance access to nature in urban environments. While most of these approaches are well understood and tested, some have not been attempted in the arid West. One such approach is a living wall.
The Nature in the City initiative has contracted the Urban Lab to coordinate the design and installation of the first living wall in the Rocky Mountain region. The project will be a high profile case study on the feasibility and creation of green walls in arid climates. The wall will be designed to demonstrate what plants work best in a vertical setting and how habitat can be enhanced on site through use of green wall systems. Beyond these immediate project goals, the potential to better understand the variety of benefits that green walls are known to deliver will be the subject of ongoing research and observation.
Green walls are well documented for providing a w
ide variety of benefits: they improve both indoor and outdoor air quality, they provide buildings with insulation from heat and cold while protecting the building envelope from water and sunlight. They help to lower summer temperatures in cities by reducing the urban heat island effect. The vegetation green walls add to the urban environment provides habitat for urban species. Social psychologists have shown that by viewing and interacting with vegetation, stress and mental fatigue decrease as feelings of neighborhood security and overall health increases.
The confirmed site for the Nature in the City and Urban Lab’s living wall is at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. Students from the Colorado State University Dept. of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture have worked with the City of Fort Collins and The Institute for the Built Environment to produce compositional and planting designs for panels that will established in the CSU greenhouses. The Urban Lab has connected the CSU USGBC student chapter with the project. This student group will install the panels on site, thereby furthering the project’s educational impact. The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery was selected as the ideal site to locate the project for a variety of reasons. Because of the existing public-private partnership between the City and the Museum, maintenance issues will be streamlined through the City Parks Dept., the project proximity to the Mason Corridor aligns with the Urban Lab’s mission to enhance smart development between the University and Downtown Fort Collins on this mixed-use corridor, and the well established reputation of the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery as a venue for educational displays that are equally accessible to children and adults. The living wall will serve as an exhibit at the Museum, and will be sited adjacent to the new endowment garden, to be designed by local firm Earthborn Landscape Design. The location will have high visibility and public access, while the plant selection will include species that support pollinators, have a variety of seasonal interest and are tactile and aromatic.
If successful, the first living wall in the region will contribute to a better understanding of the feasibility of using these types of systems in our urban environments. The benefits that are connected with living walls are well worth exploring as a part of a suite of techniques that increase biodiversity, resource savings and overall well-being in cities. With any luck, you might see more vertical greenery in your city in the coming years.