Creative Teamwork: Smithies Design ‘Parklets’ for Downtown Northampton

Flora Weil '17 (left) and Sarah Duckett '17, two of the nine Smithies who designed "parklets" for the City of Northampton. Photo by Isabella Casini '17.

Designs created by Smithies for new green spaces in downtown Northampton will be on display this week at a local gallery.


Smith students outside the A.P.E. Gallery where their designs for city “parklets” are on display.

The “parklet” designs by Smith landscape studies and engineering students will be on view in the A.P.E. Gallery at 126 Main Street from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. through Saturday, Dec. 10, as part of the City of Northampton’s Plan Health: Designing Healthy Communities project.

Parklets are extensions to sidewalks that are usually constructed in city parking lanes and are part of a broader effort to reclaim city streets to make them safer and more attractive to pedestrians.

Smith’s participation in the city project was a joint effort of the college’s Engineering Design Clinic and Landscape Studies Program with support from Smith’s Design Thinking Initiative. Nine students from two courses—Broad-Scale Design and Planning Studio and the Engineering Design Clinic—worked this semester on the design and siting of small, temporary parks and parklets for Northampton’s Office of Planning and Sustainability. Some of those designs may eventually be chosen for implementation by the city.

The project was also a collaboration between two Smith faculty members: Susannah Howe, senior lecturer in engineering, and Reid Bertone-Johnson, lecturer in landscape studies.

An urban green space design with flexible furniture and plantings on display at A.P.E. Gallery. Photo by Isabella Casini ’17.

Students who worked on the parklet designs said they appreciated the chance to participate in a collaborative effort with the city.

“Being able to work with the community is important and useful in developing our skills as designers,” said landscape studies student Olivia Daddi ’17. “The opportunity has challenged us to keep up with the pace of a real-time project and also with the demands of real-life necessary changes and adjustments.”

“I’ve enjoyed learning more about Northampton–the different streets and landmarks,” said Sydney Burt ’18, another student enrolled in the landscape studies course. “Parklets are going to become an increasingly important part of the urban landscape, so this has also been a great way to start learning about them and experimenting with their potential.”

A “Bridging Divides” curriculum enhancement grant from the Design Thinking Initiative supported Howe and Bertone-Johnson in developing their courses in tandem so that students could work on a common design project.

Zaza Kabayadondo, co-director of Smith’s Design Thinking Initiative, said the teaching model will be amplified next semester “by drawing more teams of faculty and pursuing collaborative teaching and cross-course bridging of this kind.” More information about the Initiative’s support for collaborative teaching is available online.

For Smith engineering student Sarah Duckett ’17, the parklet project was a perfect way to “bridge the gap between being a student and being an engineer.”

“We learned how to communicate professionally, work well in teams, define needs and requirements of design solutions, and work through an iterative process to select and refine a final deliverable,” she said. “These are skills I value highly as I enter the industry.”

Other Smithies who worked on the parklet project were Molly Ackerman ’17, Laura Krok-Horton ’17, Claudia Stoll ’18, Pande Putu Sri Wahyuni ’17, Flora Weil ’17 and Sylvie Wise ’17.