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Ann Forsyth

Ann Forsyth, director of the Metropolitan Design Center, will discuss affordable housing at the March 28 Great Conversations.

Built for success

University's Metropolitan Design Center and Great Conversations focuses on affordable housing

March 24, 2006

In an era of escalating real estate values, a strong commitment to affordable housing enables metropolitan areas to expand their populations without losing a healthy mix of housing options across all income levels. A new approach to affordable housing is gaining traction in the Twin Cities, thanks to the efforts of the University's Metropolitan Design Center, working in partnership with the Center for Neighborhoods and a broad coalition of development, community, and marketing consultants. Their resulting Corridor Housing Initiative is reshaping how local neighborhoods interact with city planners and private developers in determining the wisest approach to affordable housing projects within their communities.

"The dominant pattern of affordable housing has been to build regular housing and subsidize it," says Ann Forsyth, professor, director of the Metropolitan Design Center and speaker at the University of Minnesota's Great Conversations on Tuesdays, March 28. "But that's a very expensive approach, because it does nothing to address the economic structure of why housing is so unaffordable."

Forsyth will discuss "The Future of Affordable Housing" with Nicolas P. Retsinas, a community development expert at Harvard University. The Great Conversations event will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the Ted Mann Concert Hall on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. Tickets are $28.50 ($23.50 for alumni association members and U employees and students); order onlineor call 612-624-2345.

The Metropolitan Design Center plays a key social and educational role on projects such as the Corridor Housing Initiative. It works with volunteer neighborhoods that have foreseen the necessity of affordable housing in their areas and want to remain key influencers as neighborhood projects are developed and executed.

"We've created an interactive exercise where people play with actual blocks...they build scale models to see what a certain number of units on a site actually looks like," explains Forsyth.

Phase One of the Corridor Housing Initiative is now complete and consists of five housing corridors across Minneapolis. With the City of Minneapolis Corridor Housing Strategy, the project was a finalist in last year's Innovations in American Government Award. Phase Two, made up of eight corridors located in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and surrounding suburbs, is now underway. The new sites are located near existing transit routes, including the Hiawatha lightrail line.

More on housing

"Design Like You Give a Damn"
Monday, March 27, 5:45 p.m., Rapson Hall auditorium--Renown humanitarian and architect Cameron Sinclair talks about designing projects for the poor.

"Rethinking Our Urban Environments"
Monday, May 1, 7:30 p.m., Ted Mann Concert Hall--Congressman Earl Blumenauer and U urban studies professor Judith Martin discuss the daunting challenges and unprecedented opportunities that lie in rebuilding New Orleans.

HOME House Project: The Future of Affordable Housing
Through April 30, Weisman Art Museum--The exhibit showcases one hundred innovative design approaches that use sustainable materials, technologies, and methods.

Cabin Designs Past and Present
Tuesdays, April 4-18, 7-9 p.m.--Review the history of cabin architecture and explore the ideas that are influencing the creation of today's vacation homes with U instructor Dale Mulfinger.

"It's been an enlightening process," says Forsyth. "We're going around the Twin Cities and finding out what affordable housing looks like in St. Paul and the suburbs."

And Forsyth has been pleasantly surprised by what she's seen. "The designs have really improved. Affordable housing is really helping create a sense of place both in the center cities and in the suburbs."

According to Forsyth, there is a viable future for affordable housing in the Twin Cities. "We have a lot of land that could be developed more intensively and more there is a lot of room for affordable housing."

Forsyth envisions a more effective use for housing subsidies--through the adoption of the higher density strategy she advocates. "If we can increase supply and have more housing that is lower cost to start with, that means the subsidies can go further and can be better targeted to key population groups and key areas. Cities and neighborhoods need to understand that providing a mix of housing is important and that designs that use the land more intensively can be a benefit to the well-being of the community."

To listen to an audio vignette on affordable housing, listen to University of Minnesota Moment.