The third floor in CAP is quiet most days, and not just because of social distancing and online classes, but because everybody is at the mall. Shopping? No, holding studio classes, of course!

Last summer Chair Scott Truex saw an opportunity as college leadership and staff puzzled over how to fit CAP classes into spaces designed for engagement, not for social distancing. He also knew officials in Muncie and Delaware County were about to embark on a new comprehensive planning process, and he was eager to get urban planning students involved with the process and the community.

The Muncie Mall had lost all four of its anchor stores, following a nationwide trend away from enclosed shopping experiences, and Truex saw an opportunity there. He knew occupying the mall would give planning students more space and better proximity to the community than staying on campus. Summer became a frenzy of meetings, marshalling partners, selecting furniture from the university’s excess warehouse in an old elementary school building, and arranging for movers, signage, door locks, and Ball State internet service. Funding support came from Muncie Mayor Dan Ridenour, Muncie Delaware County Plan Commission, Ball Brothers Foundation, Community Foundation, the BSU Office of Community Engagement, the Office of the Provost, and CAP.

In fall, the storefront hosted community projects for the Industry Neighborhood and Urban Light Community Development Corporation, development of the old Storer elementary school site, and the Muncie Delaware County Comprehensive Plan. These projects, which involved all three undergraduate studios, included community meetings with great turnouts. This spring, grad students also moved to the mall for classes and for studio.

Students were wary at first, but now say they like the large space and the change in routine.

“Being at the mall allows us to interact with the community in a way that was not as easy to do before,” said junior Hannah Jones. “I like the idea of filling mall space with different uses, and the planning department has done that well!”

Teaching “out of the building,” giving students exposure and engagement opportunities in a community, has always been a learning objective for Truex.
His community engagement experience in managing an urban design facility, setting up community charrettes in pop-up studios around the state, and founding the CAP Indy Center made a move to the mall an easy transition.

“The idea that we could also help educate a community, help them understand issues, possibly put them in a framework that allows people to be more informed … the better decision making we can make, and we can get people a little closer on the same playing field in understanding those things,” he said in an interview with Inside Indiana Business with Gerry Dick in the fall.