IVINS – This summer, a team of graduate-level student interns from the Rhode Island School of Design visited Ivins City as part of Form Tomorrow’s Education in Action program, aiming to connect communities with budding professionals in mutually beneficial development projects. Architecture students Kuzina Cheng, Lu Bai, Jessica Shimazu and Ashley Kochiss were assigned to evaluate the city’s Sensitive Lands Ordinance, identify weaknesses and offer suggestions for improvement, plus offer input on a mapping project of the Virgin River.
The ordinance was written to protect sensitive lands within city limits, identified as areas with slopes greater than 8 percent, areas with rock outcroppings, wetlands, flood plains, ridgelines, habitat areas and geologic hazard areas. Though it has successfully served that purpose since its establishment in the mid-2000s, conflicts exist that threaten future development.
“Where our land use plan indicates that an area is appropriate for commercial or high density uses, our sensitive lands ordinance would essentially cancel out that planning decision because of limitations on disturbances to the land and grading restrictions,” City Engineer Chuck Gillette said. “It would be very difficult to economically develop a parcel for high density or commercial while meeting the restrictions on disturbance, grading and building height. The Sensitive Lands Committee has been concerned for some time about the problems with the ordinance and wants to find some solutions.”
The student team was asked to help the city visualize how commercial and high density residential development might look if it were to occur on properties with steeper slopes protected in the ordinance, while preserving as much of the sensitive lands as possible. The project included a hypothetical design parcel applying the requirements of the existing ordinance while identifying improvement possibilities, along with visualization in three-dimensional exhibits.
Additionally, they were assigned to build on the work of interns sponsored by Form Tomorrow last summer to learn about the Virgin River and its communities, then create a practical series of recommendations for mitigating growth along the essential natural feature.
The intern, Cheng, Bai, Shimazu and Kochiss, are four unique young women from very different backgrounds, united by their passion for learning.
Cheng was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, though her family hails from Hong Kong. She is working towards a bachelor’s degree in architecture at Rhode Island School of Design. She enjoys traveling and holds a strong interest in both the built and natural environments. Having spent her last two summers in New York City and studied abroad in Europe, she said Southern Utah has been a breath of fresh air and an exciting opportunity for which she is very thankful.
A native of Daqing, China, Bai holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial design from Tongji University in Shanghai and is currently working towards a master’s degree in architecture at the design school. She was inspired to study design after traveling throughout China. She is passionate about cultural and environmental issues; she said Southern Utah reminds her of western China’s diverse cultural and natural systems. Her goal is to think about the world in a different way each day.
Born and raised in Honolulu, Shimazu is a fifth-year architecture student at Rhode Island School of Design, where she has also taken classes in ceramics, jewelry, painting and other artistic fields. She is currently working on expanding her skill in graphic design and plays Japanese Taiko drums and bakes in her free time. Having visited Southern Utah prior to her internship, she said studying the area’s geological, ecological and urban systems has been exciting and hopes to apply what she has learned to equally benefit people, cities and nature.
A Colombian-American from Brooklyn, Kochiss studies architecture at the design school. She speaks four languages, has studied abroad in Spain and will shortly leave to backpack solo through Romania. Among her interests are travel, sustainable materials for a variety of environments and understanding culture and people.
The students arrived in Ivins from mid-June to early July to begin working on both projects, along with learning about the community itself. They attended a Habitat Conservation Advisory Committee meeting, a presentation on area geology by Ivins resident Marc Deshowitz, a meeting with Kayenta developer Terry Marten, a performance of “Starlight Express” at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts, the city’s Pioneer Day festivities on July 24, a brunch with local residents, a tour of the city to better understand local architectural styles and unique geographical features and a hike to the petroglyphs on Land Hill to appreciate Ivins’ cultural heritage and amazing views.
“The students are receiving real experience in understanding how city ordinances regulate a developer’s project,” Gillette said. “They are learning to appreciate cities’ efforts to encourage sensible development, so that a city can develop in a way that impacts to the enjoyment of our scenic area are minimized. They are being tested in their ability to review a problem and use critical thinking to come up with solutions.”
“We were able to learn a lot about Ivins through having the chance to talk to residents,” Cheng said. “We also had a lot of fun.”
On Aug. 15, the team made their final presentation to the Ivins City Council, along with Lisa Rutherford of the Sensitive Lands Committee and Form Tomorrow Program Coordinator Michael Porter. They delivered the evaluation promised, focusing on the allowed building height, density of residential and commercial construction areas and regulations for building on hillsides, among other flaws in the ordinance.
Cheng took the podium for the majority of their time, though all answered inquiries from the council. The presentation was received with robust applause from the city officials and community members in attendance.
“I am very impressed,” Mayor Chris Hart said to the students. “Having done some design work in my day, I was blown away by what you were able to accomplish in such a short period of time.”
“We appreciate the work you’ve done and are happy you could be a part of the community,” Councilman Steven Roberts said to them.
The suggestions will now be given to the planning commission for further analysis, amendment and possible future implementation. The results of the Virgin River project will be returned to Form Tomorrow.
For their efforts, the students received internship credits, hands-on experience and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of their future as design professionals working with communities to find solutions.
“Form Tomorrow has helped us become aware of what it takes to run a municipality and how, as individuals, we can take an interest in serving the greater community,” Cheng said. “Hopefully we were able to assist the Sensitive Lands Committee and city council in negotiating the current Sensitive Lands Ordinance and generating new perspectives.”
The students will stay in Ivins through August, then return to Rhode Island School of design for the fall semester.
The Education in Action program is part of Form Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization founded in 2007 by Peter Stempel, a professional architect and president of Stempel Form Architects in Virgin, Utah. Stempel served on the technical advisory committee during the creation of Vision Dixie and was inspired to support local communities.
Each year, Southern Utah communities apply to have a student team visit their city. Program coordinators chose Ivins because they felt that their project proposal provided the right balance of service and education, Stempel said.
“We are grateful for the work that (was) provided and value that it gives us at essentially no cost to the city,” Gillette said.
Over the past four summers, the Education in Action program has sponsored student teams who completed seven projects benefiting Hurricane, Leeds, Virgin, Springdale, Rockville, LaVerkin and the Zion Canyon Corridor Commission. Form Tomorrow works with graduate and undergraduate college students in a variety of disciplines that relate to community development and must attend a school with a professional internship program. More information can be found on the organization’s website.
“Each of the students (in our program) has very strong visual representation skills that are essential to the work they are doing. They’re also students who will benefit from understanding how to work with a municipality,” Stempel said. “We match students with opportunities based on the idea that the project benefits both the student and the community.”
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