The Urban Lab | Catalyzing collaborative community initiatives in Fort Collins

The Urban Lab is a working collective of dedicated citizens, professionals, students, and academics who are committed to fostering a healthy and vibrant Fort Collins community through innovative design and creative solutions. Fort Collins continues to experience a rapid rate of growth and development, and has become an exceptionally desirable city with a high quality of life. With an engaged community voice providing input on the development of Fort Collins, professionals are eager to collaborate and test ideas while the City strives to efficiently and effectively implement innovative designs and processes into their planning. The Urban Lab is a ‘living laboratory’ where specific community needs are identified and the team members, the public, policy makers, professionals, researchers and students can collaborate to create, test, and implement integrated solutions.

Originated from a working group of ‘UniverCity’, an organization formed to create a platform for positive community initiatives, the Urban Lab has led several successful projects and events within Fort Collins since its inception in 2013.  From community design forums and competitions, to youth tactical urbanism initiatives and public art & engagement, the Urban Lab continues to focus on innovative development and redevelopment projects.

’Off the Rails’ Design Competition 2016

Mason ‘UniverCity’ District

The Urban Lab initially focused its efforts on the Mason ‘UniverCity’ District, an area that continues to undergo substantial and dynamic redevelopment.  This corridor is bordered by Cherry Street on the north, Prospect on the south, Remington on the east, and Meldrum on the west.  The District has a multi-modal transportation function and supports a diverse mix of business, residence, retail, hospitality, and entertainment venues.

In 2016, The Urban Lab hosted the ‘Off the Rails’ Design Competition in cooperation with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the City of Fort Collins.  The goal of the competition was to not only challenge professional designers, students, and artists to propose improvements to the Mason Street Downtown Corridor, but to also evoke compelling and inspiring design possibilities to push the corridor towards innovative enhancements

The competition had broad support from local businesses in the Mason District, which further established the community’s investment in progressing the redevelopment efforts of the District. This competition attracted a national jury panel comprised of Fort Collins’ Mayor Wade Troxell and three other esteemed development professionals: Associate Professor of Architecture Hansy Better Barraza (Rhode Island School of Design), Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design Walter Hood (UC Berkley), and local interdisciplinary design professional and innovator Ed Goodman.

This public design competition effectively drew in business owners, fellow professionals, students, and community members alike, and the success of the Urban Lab’s efforts on this project has led to further deeper engagement in design with the community.

First Friday Events

The Urban Lab has also been successfully hosting annual public engagement during the First Friday art walk events since 2013.  The most recent First Friday event was held in December of 2018 at The Exchange in Old Town, Fort Collins. The event was hosted in collaboration with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and CSU’s Landscape Architecture department. Currently, the DDA’s Microspaces initiative has focused efforts on underutilized and neglected “microspaces” (such as alleyways, traffic islands, and street medians).The landscape architecture students were tasked with researching and designing their own microspaces within Fort Collins. This public event provided the Landscape Architecture Department’s senior Urban Design students the opportunity to showcase their ideas and designs with the public in support of the efforts of the DDA’s Microspaces initiative.  Academics, community members, professionals stopped by to observe the students work and provided viable feedback.


Urban Lab Trajectory

As the Urban Lab continues to be an ‘idea engine’ for Fort Collins, the trajectory of the work will remain focused on projects centered around place-making, youth, public art, and regenerative design.  IBE Fellow Erin Cartwright’s research on other Urban and Social Labs across the U.S. and in Europe is a current initiative of our local Urban Lab. The findings have provided the Urban Lab with a platform to further connections with other urban and social labs, establishing more refined sustainable models for labs, branding opportunities, and deeper collaborative working potential. The vision of the Urban Lab remains focused on pushing boundaries within the public realm in Fort Collins to further generate a healthy, sustainable, and vibrant city.