Barron Peper

Architecture junior Barron Peper informs the rest of the Student Voice members about their plans to renovate the Drag on Thursday afternoon. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

While working in the studio, architecture students may also brainstorm about how to better their school and their community.

Students in a new organization called Student Voice aim to promote urban improvements on campus and in Austin.

“We want this to be a lasting mission — all of us are studying abroad next year, so we really need people of different majors and years to keep it going,” architecture junior Barron Peper said.

Architecture senior Patrick McGovern said he and a couple of other students were talking about architecture professor Sinclair Black’s idea of renovating the Drag and realized West Campus was not as community-based and cultural as it could be.

Peper said students studying architecture learn a lot about city projects, but Student Voice is an outlet for them to actually apply what they learn.

The group is organizing an event to raise awareness of its first project to renovate the Drag. Peper said members of Student Voice will mark with chalk or balloons where they envision trees and other improvements and compile a video of interviews of people’s visions of the Drag on March 29.

“It’s basically a very visual, interactive movement to get people to know about this,” Peper said.

The group discussed how it would answer questions about the project and pointed out that homelessness is a common question that occurs in discussions about the Drag. Peper said homelessness and improving the Drag are two separate issues.

There are also classes in the urban studies program with projects to improve Austin, said architecture and marketing senior Catalina Padilla. 

Another idea Student Voice members have proposed includes addressing waste water in the Liberal Arts Building, Peper said. 

To fund projects, Padilla said she thinks the group could get sponsors who would benefit from each specific project.

When students think of the Drag, they don’t think of a pristine shopping area, but Student Voice is a new organization planning to change that.

Architecture junior Barron Peper is a member of Student Voice, a new organization awaiting approval from the University, which is focusing on the Drag renovations as its first project.

“We want to kind of build it up quickly and get a lot of momentum and make it happen as opposed to stretching this out over a long period of time,” Peper said.

Peper said the people and culture are already working to make this happen. He said the pedestrian environment already exists, but the infrastructure does not support it.

About 15 years ago, a committee of people who live and work around the Drag collaborated with architect Sinclair Black and made plans to renovate the street, but insufficient funding prevented the improvements, architecture professor Lawrence Speck said. The committee’s plans included widening sidewalks and adding trees and shade, Speck said.

“Of course, some things have changed by now — the West Campus is way more dense — a lot more students and a lot more pedestrian traffic coming this way, and it’s all the more crucial that these improvements get done,” Speck said. “It’s not safe, and it certainly is not comfortable. … It’s not a good pedestrian environment. It’s not a good retail environment.”

The Drag renovation project has recently seen a renewed interest. Speck said the University has been talking to people in the city, and some of the city’s new staff members are interested in addressing the problem.

Speck said there is experience throughout the country that street and sidewalk improvements cause people to feel like they are in a quality environment.

“It’s weird that besides such a prestigious university there’s [the Drag],” architecture and marketing senior Catalina Padilla said.

Some merchants support this project while others are apprehensive.

“If we put in more trees and make it look nicer, I think it will invite more people to come onto the Drag. … I’m all for it, this idea,” Tyler’s employee Laura Boyce said.

C. Jane owner Julie Copp said she is against these renovations because widening sidewalks would decrease parking availability and the construction would prevent customers from seeing her shop window. She said she would rather see the sidewalks power-washed and potted plants added.

Published on February 22, 2013 as "Potential Drag renovations debated".