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Washington State University School of Design + Construction News – 2016

Reviving Mill Creek

Landscape architecture students bring people, nature back to paved over Walla Walla waterway

By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

Mill Creek in downtown Walla Walla, WA.Seventy years ago, devastating floods sent Mill Creek underground.

Once a meandering, branching stream, the creek today runs through the heart of Walla Walla in a concrete channel, fenced and paved over in a 1938 flood control project.

But times are changing for Mill Creek: WSU landscape architecture students are exploring new ways to return it to daylight.

Last fall, eight undergraduates—Marissa Easter, Will Keniston, Matt Mendenhall, Alfredo Rosas, Anna Staal, Riley Stewart, Ola Stuj and Reece Vissia—presented designs to help people and fish access the waterway while protecting the city from damaging floods.

Students worked with city officials, environmentalists, and concerned citizens on designs to revive a one-mile stretch in downtown Walla Walla.

“This is a visioning exercise—it builds momentum,” said Assistant Professor Michael Sánchez, who led the project. “The community gets to see what Mill Creek could be.”

Where paved lots cover today’s creek, students designed public parks and green spaces that double as surge storage.

“The idea is to slow stormwater down,” Sánchez said. “Using low-impact development (LID), you can capture it in small ways throughout the city.”

Other visions included walls and structures that let plants shade the water, making it cooler for fish.

Interacting with dozens of stakeholders, students experienced the political side of urban landscape design.

“They’re getting exposure to real-world situations,” Sánchez said.

Student designs also echo one of Walla Walla’s historic legacies. In 1865, Walla Walla landscape designer John Langdon worked off notes from John Olmsted, son of parks pioneer Frederick Law Olmsted, to propose a chain of green spaces that double as flood storage along Mill Creek.

“His ideas were about bringing people to the stream,” Sánchez said. “It’s just common sense design.”

Sánchez hopes to continue the project with a new group of undergraduates next fall.