Students for Design Activism


The Starling Project (named for a bird that takes over abandoned nests) is lead by a group of Humphrey students in collaboration with regional planners, urban designers, landscape architects, architects, policy makers, neighborhood organizations, graphic designers, and Students for Design Activism.

The project developed in response to the heavy toll construction of the light rail is taking along the Central Corridor (which is the primary commercial corridor in St. Paul.)  The vacancy rate in storefronts is around 25% and questions loom:

What will happen to surrounding neighborhoods if that rate gets worse?

Does the process of building a light rail line destabilize communities to an extent thathamstrings the benefits once the line is completed?

What can be done to mitigate that?

In response to these questions, the Starling Project’s GOAL is to define and promote a supply of vacant storefronts on University Avenue for short-term tenants of all kinds (entrepeneurs, artists, start-ups, community groups, etc…)

These storefronts will be readily identifiable from the street by some uniform design elements and custom storefront displays will tell the story of what’s happening inside.  The Starling Project is creating a positively-branded project to address landlords’ concerns about making their spaces available to short-term tenants at below-market rents.


October 21st marked the date of the first Starling Project Charrette, where all said collaborators got together to think about how this project might come alive.  Check out the photos from that event and stay posted for further news.








Interview with Co-chair Anna Lawrence Bierbrauer




Three Ring Gardens







The idea for Three Ring Gardens began as a seed planted by students at Gordon Parks High School two years ago. While looking at a model of the future Central Corridor Light Rail the students noticed two greenspaces next to their high school. With greenspace virtually non-existent in the area, the students were excited by the new idea and asked their teachers “Are we going to have a park next to the school?” Although money to fund greenspace along the Light Rail had run dry, faculty at Gordon Parks High School have nurtured their students’ dream; Partnered with Students for Design Activism(SDA) through the Landscape Architecture Department at the University of Minnesota, GPHS and its surrounding neighbors have created a vision to transform 2.5 acres of vacant land into a community greenspace with an urban agriculture and ecological education program. This dynamic park stands to benefit over 800 low-income, new immigrant residents, the largest population of at-risk students in the Twin Cities and over 32,000 residents in the direct vicinity, including local businesses. Located on University Ave and Griggs Street in St. Paul, Three Rings Gardens and its neighbors are surrounded by a major interstate, an arterial road, office buildings, and large parking lots. Upon completion, it will serve as the only true public green space in over a half-mile radius.

Responding to the needs of the GPHS administration, community stakeholders, and the student body, SDA has developed a site plan and schematic design for Three Ring Gardens, fostering an education of food production, ecology, stormwater management, and alternative energy endeavors in the everyday lives of the students. For the larger community, neighbors and students, this also becomes a place for public art, pick-up games, outdoor performances, or a simple breath of fresh air.

By focusing on education, equity, sustainability, and community development, Three Ring Gardens becomes a park unique to the region and a destination that will further strengthen the new urban fabric of the Central Corridor while re-envisioning neighborhoods in which we provide cultural, intellectual, economic and natural diversity.

Our Goals:
1. Transform existing vacant lots into vibrant, community green spaces.
2. Teach students and the community residents about urban agriculture, natural systems, and health lifestyles.
3. Foster relationships and skill sets that cultivate knowledge, dignity, and create a sense of pride in self and in place.

Making Three Ring Gardens a Reality
These vacant parcels are still on the market. In order to make Three Ring Gardens a reality, they must be purchased first. While procurement funds are required, garnering community support is equal in importance. With support from community stakeholders and the office of St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Three Ring Gardens is quickly becoming a project that spurs hope and excitement on a neighborhood and regional scale.