There’s a wealth of expertise and energy within Ball State’s students. And the University has always looked for ways to share those attributes for the benefit of the local communities it serves.
One of the latest and most visible examples took flight last August when students in Ball State’s Urban Planning program, a part of the R. Wayne Estopinal College of Architecture and Planning, began to occupy a vacant shop in the Muncie Mall to help community leaders develop a Comprehensive Plan for Delaware County.
The former Dress Barn in the mall continues to serve as a community design center where Ball State students can host meetings, conduct research, and interact with residents as they help build a framework for the area’s future.
The project is a partnership between the University, the Delaware-Muncie Metropolitan Plan Commission, the City of Muncie, the Muncie Action Plan, Next Muncie, and the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce. Financial support for leasing the 8,900 square-foot storefront came from the City of Muncie and the Ball Brothers Foundation.
According to Scott Truex, associate professor of Urban Planning and the Urban Planning department chair, the benefits to the city and Ball State students alike are considerable.
“The overall plan our students are helping with will detail where Delaware County and Muncie want to be in 20 years,” he said. “It includes things like future land use, transportation, housing, and employment. And for our students, I truly can’t think of a better real-world experience that will prepare them for their future careers.”
Ball State students — a mix of about 30 undergraduates and graduates — are also working with a professional planning consultant to develop the plan.
“Students are getting an inside look at how a consultant works,” said Truex. “That’s an invaluable opportunity for them.”
Off to a Fast Start
While work on the overall Comprehensive Plan continues, Ball State students have already played a key role in recommendations for alternate uses for the former Storer Elementary School site and the revitalization of Muncie’s Industrial Neighborhood.
Truex said the students’ work is being done in the spirit of former Indianapolis mayor William Hudnut.
“His idea of having major city initiatives reflect a ‘sense of place’ that included community input and community priorities is something we help our students understand and practice,” Truex said. “And we’re very proud of their work so far.”
Another supporter of the project is Muncie Mayor Dan Ridenour.
“Anytime we can partner with Ball State students and faculty, the results are typically very beneficial to everyone involved,” he said. “And, at the same time, the project is helping out the Muncie Mall, and that’s something very important to us.”
Like many shopping malls across the nation, the Muncie Mall has been impacted by changing consumer habits resulting in storefront vacancies. Truex said the overall Comprehensive Plan will likely include recommendations on how to revitalize the mall property.
“It’s a challenge faced by many cities across the nation, and it’s beneficial for our students to be involved in a matter of social change of this magnitude,” he said.
40 years of support
In August of 1980, Muncie’s downtown, like many throughout the nation, was suffering from a general economic downturn and a loss of jobs. Then, Ball State became involved, opening a design center on Walnut Street similar to its current location in the Muncie Mall.
The positive effect of the group’s presence in downtown Muncie has been felt for more than four decades. Now, a new group of Ball State students hope to make their mark on another significant location in Muncie, which will similarly be felt for years to come.
“We still have some activity at the downtown center, but everywhere you look, there’s a revitalization taking place in downtown Muncie that’s wonderful to see,” Truex said. “Today, it makes good sense to have our efforts based at the mall, and our hope is that we can play a role to keep it viable and even growing in the coming years.”
See for yourself!
Ball State’s Department of Urban Planning has produced a video to support its application for a Discovery Grant that showcases not only the activities at the Muncie Mall design center, but also its emphasis on attracting students to the Urban Planning program.