BY MARIA WARDOKU
RCP students bring a wealth of passion, experience, curiosity and talent to RCP projects—and perhaps no student exemplifies these qualities better than Sarah Sularz. Sularz, a native of Minneapolis, is graduating this May with a Masters in Landscape Architecture (MLA), and is contributing her considerable design talents to advancing biking and walking in Carver County through her capstone project.
“The capstone process has been exciting. For the MLA students, it is our first self-directed project; all the way from choosing a theme, to topic conception, and now, going into the design process,” said Sularz. “I have been gathering information and creating a design and planning project to help SouthWest Transit (SWT), RCP, and Carver County increase bicycle and pedestrian facilities, create safe and easy-to-use trails and pathways from current residential communities [to SWT facilities], and grow the number of SWT commuters who do not rely on automobiles…It is shaping up to be a livable communities proposal just as much as a multimodal transit plan.”
“Sarah's capstone project's exploration into the links between public health, climate change, active transportation and mass transit may be one of the most important research-based design projects being done this semester,” said Bob Kost, one of Sularz’ capstone advisors and an adjunct faculty member in the College of Design. “This type of work typically focuses on more urban places. However a number of demographic trends, such as the movement of transit dependent, low-income families to the suburbs, indicate that providing convenient, cost-effective, healthy transportation choices for accessing mass transit in the outer-ring suburbs and metro fringe is increasingly important.”
Sularz’ project is on track to significantly benefit Carver County and SWT—and it benefits her personally and professionally as well. Sularz plans to use the materials from this project as she begins her job search post-graduation, and continue to advocate for her ideals within the design community. “My project is a total reflection of my career goals,” said Sularz. “I have always noticed differences between cities I visited, how people use streets, parks and public amenities. I have also been an urban cyclist and bike commuter for many years. I started when I was living in San Francisco, California and took a seven-mile urban trail called "the wiggle" every day to and from work…I had never felt better. I loved seeing the city a little differently every day, and having the freedom from traffic and stress while holding down a typical 9–5 job.”
Now, Sularz is on a mission to make that kind of joyful commute a possibility for more people. For this project, she says, “I was motivated by the potential of these suburban communities…I would love to see healthy, future-thinking design happen in the suburbs of the Twin Cities…I love the idea that this project might become reality. I'm happy and excited to be a part of a multimodal movement.”
Maria Wardoku is a Master of Urban and Regional Planning student at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs