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September 15, 2020 | Spotlight

Institute fellowship helps communities address revitalization challenges

Georgia cities can get economical, professional solutions to revitalization challenges through the Downtown Renaissance Fellowship the Institute of Government coordinates in partnership with the Georgia Municipal Association and its Georgia Cities Foundation.

Writer: Roger Nielsen

The City of Richmond Hill is promoting a unified “look” and the City of Dahlonega is envisioning visitor-friendly parking solutions through a community development collaborative with the University of Georgia.

The UGA collaborative, called the Downtown Renaissance Fellowship, allows cities throughout Georgia to get technical and design assistance for revitalization initiatives identified by municipal leaders. UGA masters-level landscape architecture students apply their expertise to specific projects during the 12-week summer fellowship, which is coordinated by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and supported by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) and its Georgia Cities Foundation.

This year, Renaissance Fellows worked with the City of Dahlonega to illustrate parking solutions in different locations downtown and with the City of Richmond Hill on a catalog of recommended streetscaping and architectural elements to encourage a more cohesive appearance in the community.

In Dahlonega, Renaissance Fellow Andie Culbertson worked with Shannon Ferguson, executive director of Dahlonega Main Street and Downtown Development Authority, to conceptualize locations and designs for mixed-use parking decks near the city square.

“City officials for the past year have been carefully exploring parking deck options, and this exercise provides them with further alternatives and design ideas,” Ferguson said.

In Richmond Hill, Renaissance Fellow Emily Whisenant worked with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Special Projects Manager Becky Armbrister to create an illustrated catalog of streetscaping and architectural elements to promote a consistent appearance in the city center.

“The DDA board was looking for a document to use as inspiration. One of their goals was to make the downtown more identifiable,” Armbrister said.

The Downtown Renaissance Fellowship was established in 2013 by the Institute and GMA to offer cities professional-caliber design assistance from landscape architecture students with the UGA College of Environment & Design (CED). GMA, through its Georgia Cities Foundation, covers half the cost of the fellowship and participating cities provide the remaining financial support.

Since its inception, CED students have worked with 22 Georgia cities on projects ranging from corridor improvements to walking and biking trail design, according to Institute faculty member Danny Bivins, whose unit manages the program.

“We work with a community that has a strong idea of where they want to go, and we help them create a vision to get there. They’re getting an unbelievable opportunity to encourage downtown development at a very reduced price,” Bivins said.

Clark Stancil, an Institute creative design specialist and a 2014 Renaissance Fellow, now coordinates the program.

“This gives the fellows real-world experience and helps provide an impetus for communities throughout the state to address specific challenges,” Stancil said.