Since Eddy Street Commons opened last year, shops, restaurants, condominiums, and offices have sprouted just south of campus. New housing options and a commercial district now connect campus and the South Bend community, new development that could eventually stretch as far south as Notre Dame's Robinson Community Learning Center at 921 N. Eddy Street.
Against this backdrop, fifth-year architecture student Tiffany Tran '11 developed a thesis project to expand the footprint of the Center from 7,500 square feet to 55,000 to include meeting rooms, art and dance studios, and technology classrooms. The focal point of the proposed building, says Tran, is a tower to orient people to the site to be visible from the University and nearby Perley Primary Fine Arts Academy. Tran says the idea behind the tower was to “to mark the Center as the heart of the neighborhood.”
Tran’s thesis project was praised by Robinson Center officials as a model of new urbanism. A tenet of the School of Architecture, new urbanism is a movement that promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities. New urbanist communities incorporate housing, offices, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within walking distance of each other. Tran’s plan calls for open plazas, market-rate apartments over storefronts and pedestrian-only avenues.
“New urbanism brings community back in its truest sense,” says Tran. “My goal was to physically connect the Center with the University, Perley and the surrounding neighborhood.” Having served as a receptionist at the Center the past two academic years, and working under Jay Caponigro, Notre Dame’s director of community engagement and the Center's former director, Tran developed an understanding of its diverse work---from tutoring neighborhood students, to GED and English as-a-second-language courses, to yoga classes. “She really did her research,” said Jennifer Knapp Beudert, manager of the Robinson Center.
Tran, a native of Southern California, flew back to Notre Dame in July before her fifth year to begin talking with staff, board members, and participants at the Center. She got to know South Bend outside of a university classroom, which resident and Robinson board co-chair Jasmine Brown appreciated. “[Tran’s plan] connected and united the University and the [Robinson Community] center,” Brown says, “That’s what the residents want.”
The board’s other co-chair, Mike Ball, thinks Tran’s vision could restore the vibrancy the Northeast Neighborhood had in the 1970s. “There was constant walking traffic,” Ball remembers. Where the Center now sits used to be a social beacon, with bars and cafes and other businesses on every corner, Brown says. “Since it was walked constantly,” he adds, “it made a connection between the university and town.”