By Shannon Boklaschuk
University of Saskatchewan (USask) students studying regional and urban planning (RUP) in the College of Arts and Science are excited about the potential impact their classwork could have on the city of Prince Albert and the people who live there.
The students are focused on creating designs for about one to two acres of space located in the north part of Prince Albert’s Central Avenue, which includes the banks of the North Saskatchewan River and the Prince Albert Historical Museum. The students’ plans will be presented for consideration by Prince Albert civic officials, citizens and other stakeholders at the end of the academic term.
Iliiza Karangwa, who is originally from Rwanda, is one of the 11 undergraduate students in the class, which is titled PLAN 446: Advanced Urban Design Studio. She and the other students have been researching Prince Albert and its history, as well as the City of Prince Albert’s Central Avenue Streetscape Development Master Plan and the Prince Albert Cultural Action Plan.
“We just really wanted to see what the area needs,” said Karangwa, noting there is a high-rise apartment and local businesses in the area.
“What could revamp that area and make it a destination instead of just somewhere to move through, move past?”
On Jan. 22, Karangwa and the other students in the class presented their initial proposals to a group of professional planners, architects and designers, including the director of planning and development services for the City of Prince Albert. Since the proposals are in the pre-design stage, there is still much work to do as the class unfolds.
“The goal was to get feedback and commentary from the different professionals that we had,” said fourth-year student Fabian Diaz, adding that presenting the proposals to the professionals “was a pretty cool opportunity.”
Karangwa said Prince Albert and the general area has historically been known as a meeting place, so the students want to emphasize that history while making it “a meeting place of today.”
“From what we looked into, it was a gathering place for the Indigenous (peoples) of the region around the North Sask. River. After that, there was, of course, settlers and now new immigrants, so our strategy is try to bring all that diversity into a public space that will kind of show that unity, that community cohesion,” added Diaz, who is originally from Chile but who has spent most of his life in Canada.
“So that’s a big part of the project, and that’s kind of a major theme we’re going to try to move through—touching on cultural components in the design,” he said.
The PLAN 446 class is being taught by Henry Lau, a Saskatoon-based architect who is a professional associate of the RUP program in the College of Arts and Science’s Department of Geography and Planning. Lau is also a USask alumnus, having earning his BFA in 1990 after moving to Saskatoon from Hong Kong.
It’s the ninth year Lau has taught the class, and he sees it as an opportunity to give back to his alma mater. While he is helping guide students as they prepare for their professional careers, he also draws inspiration from them.
“It’s a really special class this year. We have a really great mix of students—local students from all different cities—and we have a number of international students from overseas,” said Lau.
“I’m very blessed to be working with these young students. I know how lucky I am and I can’t even believe it.”
Lau said it’s the first time he has based his class on a design project outside of Saskatoon. He noted that work by his previous students has had a real-life impact on projects in Saskatoon. For example, his students provided their input into the design of the new Traffic Bridge—an important link for commuters, pedestrians and cyclists crossing the river between downtown and residential areas—as well as the traffic roundabout that was developed in the area.
Perhaps most notably, four years ago Lau brought a development company into his class, which resulted in the creation of a contemporary urban townhome project in the Stonebridge area of Saskatoon.
USask professor Dr. Ryan Walker (PhD), chair of the RUP program, said the applied learning in the class is invaluable to the students, who will soon move on to professional careers.
“It’s vital, fundamental,” he said. “Given the applied nature of planning as a community-building discipline, a major component of our curriculum is studio-based learning.”
Next up for the PLAN 446 students is a design charrette scheduled to take place in Prince Albert on Feb. 5. The university students will engage and work with Grade 12 students in Prince Albert, sharing their knowledge and experience on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and design proposals. The design charrette will then take place starting at 6:30 pm at Prince Albert City Hall, where the PLAN 446 students will meet with public stakeholders. They will then process and organize the public data and input for their collaborative design work in March.
On April 1 at 6:30 pm at Prince Albert City Hall, residents and other stakeholders will be invited to view the students’ designs, which will also be presented to Prince Albert civic leadership. Two project videos summarizing the process and the result of the urban design exploration will be uploaded for viewing on YouTube later in April.
Walker said the class is another tangible step in building the RUP program’s relationship with the City of Prince Albert and USask’s Prince Albert campus. It was kick-started after a discussion with College of Arts and Science Dean Peta Bonham-Smith, which led to student site visits and faculty discussions with officials in Prince Albert about worthwhile applied projects—including the one being undertaken now in PLAN 446.
“The studio-based approach to teaching and learning is very important. Students, we find, mature enormously through the process of being placed with a hypothetical client group,” he said.
“Pairing them with a client, and then having them do that applied work, helps them mature greatly as soon-to-be graduated professionals.”