Landscape Architecture student Stephanie Onwenu wins City of Detroit’s Give a Park, Get a Park Design Competition

Stephanie Onwenu, Landscape Architecture dual degree student, from the School of Planning, Design and Construction recently won the City of Detroit’s Give a Park, Get a Park Design Competition.

Photo of Stephanie Onwenu interacting with residents of Morningside neighborhood.
Stephanie Onwenu interacting with residents of Morningside neighborhood.

Stephanie Onwenu, Landscape Architecture dual degree student, from the School of Planning, Design and Construction recently won the City of Detroit’s Give a Park, Get a Park Design Competition.

Give a Park, Get a Park is a unique approach to help improve neighborhoods around Detroit: The City of Detroit will “give a park” to neighborhood residents. Then, the same neighborhood will “get a park” – a larger park comprised of vacant, city-owned corner lots less than a mile from the former park. 

The competition was designed to engage with the community via thoughtful exchange of dialogue and design, encouraged teams to participate in a workshop and charrette on site along with Morningside residents to see a new neighborhood park designed. The winning team would receive a $10,000 prize and have the opportunity to implement their idea, thus bringing the project to life. 

The competition attracted 50 teams from across the globe. From the initial entrants, five teams were shortlisted to further participate in a workshop and head to data collection to support their proposal. Of the teams that proceeded to the next round, Onwenu was the only student. This she says was tough and intimidating in many ways.

In 2017, Onwenu had the opportunity to intern at Smith Group JJR in Ann Arbor. While at her internship, she heard about the Give a Park, Get a Park competition and wished to participate in it. One of the rules required her to be part of a team. Not having team members, she reached out to the marketing team at Smith Group JJR who helped her identify potential team members.

The team Humans for Design, including Onwenu, Monique Bassey and Salvador Lindquist, ended up going on to win the competition.

They were tasked with designing a new park space on a vacant corner lot, which was to stimulate the emerging design community within Detroit, as well as regionally and nationwide. This park would replace a surplus, decommissioned park in the same neighborhood.

The team’s winning design, "One Park," captures the voices and neighborhood identity of the Morningside residents to envision the park.

Incorporating four major themes, The Arc, Education Hub, Maker's Bend and Flex Corner, connects the four segmented parcels in the design, and provides individuals access to the various programmatic elements.

The form of the pathway is inspired by an arc of a horizon during the morning sunrise. All arcs join together to make one connected loop. The experience and program of the park changes as visitors walk along the unifying loop.

Onwenu got her start at MSU majoring in Civil Engineering, but changed tracks to Landscape Architecture, which she felt would give her creative flexibility.

After joining the program, in 2016, she had the opportunity to work closely with Associate Professor Pat Crawford on the 2016 DETXMSU: Design Think program, which was a pilot program that imbedded MSU students in Detroit for three months and encouraged them to live, learn, work and play in Detroit.  

Sharing insights about her success in the competition, Onwenu said, “Born and raised in the city of Detroit, I've see developers come in and plop things in areas that don't reflect the community. This is something I'm very much passionate about, engaging and designing for communities with their vison in mind. The experience of being from the area, and having the skills to communicate with the community to find out what they need helped me through the competition.”

She further attributes her success to her course work saying, “All these skills came from my classes here that I implemented on the field.” She added that the first two years of Civil Engineering allowed her to take classes in Engineering Business that came handy to explain design and communicate with engineers.

When quizzed about an inspiring development project, Onwenu is quick to respond that Central Park in New York will always top the list for her. She said, the project started as an idea and has transitioned to what it is today. She hopes her project in Detroit will mirror the success of her inspiration.

Onwenu further added that many people mistake Landscape Architecture to be only about plants, trees or manicured lawns, more landscaping. Not many people make the connection that Landscape Architecture is really more about thinking, planning, designing and engineering, as well, she said.

“MSU’s campus with lush green trees and buildings tell a story and the seamless blend of both is a classic example of Landscape Architecture,” she said. “It’s a whole environment.”

When asked what advice she would give to her fellow Landscape Architecture students Onwenu said, it is an intense learning experience, but worth it all in the long run.

“Be determined. Find something that will keep you on track.”

She is very appreciative of the faculty who she says are her mentors and are always available to answer any questions the students may have.

When asked about her future plans, Onwenu said she is looking forward to completing her undergrad degree in December 2018 and her Masters in May 2019. After that, she would like to travel and to gain more perspectives of design in her field of landscape architecture. However, home for her will always remain Michigan, where she plans to establish herself professionally.

Please join us in congratulating Stephanie Onwenu!

Did you find this article useful?