Kinston DW 2

During DesignWeek in January 2017, students viewed buyout properties in Kinston that flooded during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Photo by Darien Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

With many communities in the state still in the early stages of recovery from last fall’s Hurricane Matthew, students from North Carolina universities came together to assess the best ways for some of the affected communities to rebuild. In mid-January, the North Carolina State University College of Design held its first DesignWeek, in which students developed designs that could help three eastern North Carolina communities adapt to future flooding events.

About 70 students – from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Department of City and Regional Planning (DCRP), along with those from N.C. State – worked in teams assigned to one of three rural communities: Windsor, Greenville or Kinston. Each school’s faculty, along with industry representatives and community leaders, helped students research and create designs that mitigate flood damage and improve resiliency in the towns.

Several of the students are enrolled in courses that are part of a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) education project at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Open space, greenway connections in Kinston

Darien Williams

Darien Williams

Darien Williams, a first-year graduate student in DCRP at UNC-CH and a Department of Homeland Security Science & Engineering Workforce Development Fellow with the CRC , said his Kinston team approached the challenge of DesignWeek with trepidation.

“None of us are from eastern North Carolina, only a few among us had experience there,” Williams said. “Before envisioning what we could come up with, we dedicated our time to understanding what was needed and being asked for. The first days of DesignWeek were spent simply talking, researching and organizing information: What was Kinston’s demographic makeup? What has been tried there before? What sorts of questions should we ask residents?”

Williams said his team reached a deeper understanding of needs through face-to-face dialogue with city officials. In Kinston, 65 percent of the population is black, with a quarter living under the poverty line. The town had executed a buyout of land post-Hurricane Floyd (1999), leaving large parcels cleared and ready for whatever was next. Williams’s team determined that future uses needed to be open space, with no permanent structures.

Students discuss designs during the competition phase of DesignWeek. Photo by Travis Klondike, North Carolina State University

Students discuss designs during the competition phase of DesignWeek.
Photo by Travis Klondike, North Carolina State University

“When we did a site visit, we deliberately restrained our imaginations, and instead patiently listened to residents with open minds,” he said. “As we moved from the city center to the parts of town that faced repeated flood loss – long stretches of road home to impoverished communities, proximal to buyout land, overgrown with local flora – we internalized the true nature of disaster and recovery in Kinston. Sidewalk and driveway cuts were still present where a vibrant community once flourished.

“Until our site visit, our perspective of the city and its recovery was through the lens of white residents. This paradigm shifted, as it became increasingly clear that we were being tasked to design something that would largely affect black communities.”

Williams’s design team included three landscape architects, one architect and one planner – Williams. Balancing open space, with no permanent structures and potentially noncontiguous property boundaries, Williams said he tried to look at the design challenge through the eyes of his landscape architect peers. This, he said, was perhaps the most thrilling part of DesignWeek: Engaging in interdisciplinary approaches and being forced to step outside intellectual comfort zones.

Williams said his team’s designs were similar to those offered by other teams designing for Kinston: They used open space, light recreational uses and connecting existing greenway assets.

“One key takeaway from DesignWeek was the importance of centering the experiences of the population being served,” he said. “While our group may have gained a great deal of knowledge and perspective from the experience, benefiting the people of the City of Kinston affected by Hurricane Matthew was the most important objective.”

Additional  perspectives of DesignWeek can be found here: