The citizen-led group that is helping Ann Arbor plan a downtown central park and civic commons includes a student in Taubman College’s urban and regional planning master’s program.
Camilla Lizundia, a second-year student, was appointed to the Council of the Commons in February and now is meeting regularly with the group to provide input on how to transform a parking lot in downtown Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor’s City Council voted in December 2019 to direct the city’s administration to convert the Library Lot on Fifth Avenue from a public parking lot to a public gathering and performance space by July 2020. The pandemic delayed the process.
The Council of the Commons is building upon the work of the Center of the City Task Force to advise City Council toward the advancement of the Ann Arbor Commons. The task force, which completed its report in February 2020, included Lizundia’s urban and regional planning classmate, Hannah Boettcher.
Lizundia learned about the Council of the Commons through a mentor, Jessica Letaw, the executive director of Building Matters Ann Arbor. “She encouraged me to submit my application to the Commons knowing that this was a group in need of some progressive leaders and young folks leading the charge,” Lizundia says.
Lizundia has been intrigued by the controversial nature of the Library Lot — which was once slated to be the site of a 17-story highrise — since 2018. Subsequent challenges to reach a consensus about the Library Lot's future only further piqued her interest.
“It's a classic case study of urban planning strife: various stakeholders with diverging interests causing conflict over a common resource,” she says.
As an urban planning student and a student-citizen of Ann Arbor, Lizundia offers a dual perspective on the Council of the Commons’ work. “Over the course of five years, I've developed strong connections to the city and its people,'' she says. “As a member of the Commons, I'm first an Ann Arbor resident and second an urban planner. Although I'm not sure how long I'll be living in Ann Arbor, I do care about the longevity of downtown and want to make sure that all voices are heard in the planning process, especially young people’s. And then as a planner, I bring a unique set of skills around community engagement and project management that has helped me steer meetings in certain directions.”
In the work, Lizundia also sees tie-ins to her interest in climate change adaptation and how we can redesign spaces to be more sustainable, equitable, and resilient.
“The Commons should be a safe space for all, and equity can be addressed in the planning process from how we publicize public engagement opportunities to prioritizing inclusive design instead of hostile architecture,” she says. “Everyone has a different wishlist for what the Commons should look like. Most importantly I think the space should allow for mixed use and be adaptable for different activities, for climate change, and for changing city needs over time. We want to plan a space for 10, 20, 50 years down the line.”