By Bird Bouchard
While most interior design students focus on beautification inside homes, St. Clair College students are focused on building affordable and beautiful communities.
As part of a class project, students in the Design Studio Advanced class were tasked with the challenge of tackling affordable housing within the heart of downtown Windsor. The class was also encouraged to limit waste and maximize the potential of every square inch of a small space.
In addition, the students had to do research and look at the city as a whole and figure out where they wanted to improve the community.
City councillor Rino Bortolin, an advocate for affordable housing, spoke with the class to ensure they understood the bigger picture.
"Housing is not an island unto itself," said Bortolin. "It is tied to transportation, development, density and how we plan cities. It's tied to taxation and infrastructure."
Bortolin believes all these decisions are tied to each other, which handicaps the ability to build affordable housing.
Despite the obstacles, Bortolin said even students can make a positive impact while helping change current regulatory rules.
Charlee Ward, a third-year interior design student, said Bortolin's speech opened her mind to the legal and government issues.
"There is a lot more than picking land and designing it," said Ward.
Ward's concept for her class project is working with the homeless community and giving them a better purpose in life. She decided to work on the vacant lot on the old Grace hospital site at University and Crawford.
The hospital shut its doors in 2003 and the building sat vacant for years, falling victim to vandalism and trespassing. The building was torn down in 2013 and the land has remained vacant.
Ward hopes to repurpose the land as a place where members of the community can help build each other up.
"It's a place for local downtown businesses to have a spot that would employ the residents," said Ward. "It's a place that will give them that confidence they need to get a job and better themselves as well."
Sandra Ellis, coordinator of the Interior Design program, said she believes Bortolin's message of building communities is an important one.
"That's what we're doing in this course," said Ellis. "We're building a community, not just bricks and mortar."
Ellis also said if everyone is working together, living in proximity and working where they live, it builds a beautiful community.
The end goal of the class project is to present to city hall, which Ellis said they're looking forward to doing.
"If we can generate ideas for the city to look at, maybe we can open some minds to think a little differently," said Ellis.