Incorporate Community Input, Local Culture in Designs to Enhance Transit Stations

The U.S. is undergoing a resurgence in rail-based mass transit as miles of rail are laid and stations are placed strategically across every region. Cities, counties, and regions are not typically homogenous. Passengers desire a unique contextual motif to define their sense of place. Imagine boarding a train near your home during your daily commute to work. As you ride along the color-coded rail line, you observe a station that reflects the heritage and commerce of the residents of a particular neighborhood. Neighborhoods and communities are distinctive and stations for each should reflect the character and markers that make the area special.

Transit agencies are addressing these needs through community input and arts-in-transit programs. Most agencies have system standards that must be met to ensure consistent operations, and also possess flexibility in design to customize each station to reflect the surroundings. Well-designed transit centers can become a catalyst for growth in an area, enhancing business, retail, and the community. The design of transit stations should not only exhibit the area’s culture but also enhance the livability of the city. Such endeavors can be achieved when facilities exhibit citizens’ ideals through public art and landscaping that accentuates the uniqueness of the area.

Communities flourish when residents from dissimilar backgrounds work collaboratively and formulate a shared vision. Committee members—individuals chosen to represent the interests of their community during project development—represent citizens at large by contributing design ideas for transit expansion projects. This form of representation helps assure the public that their local culture and heritage will be integrated within a project. When architects listen closely to stakeholders’ desires, the latter will adopt a sense of ownership in the design solution.

Our design and building firm KAI Texas regularly collaborates with residents, architects, engineers, designers, and contractors to create stations that reflect the communities in which they are located. The firm recently led a public involvement program when designing a light rail station in Rowlett, Texas. Architects teamed up with a local artist, who was chosen by a separate selection process, to collaborate with a group of citizens selected to be committee members on the project. During the first meeting, a cooperative framework was established to determine the role of each individual or group so that project goals and community input could be cohesively integrated within the final design solution. This meeting also involved a tour, led by local citizens, which highlighted important aspects of the surrounding region and illustrated features that made this particular community unique. KAI Texas and the citizens of Rowlett desired to provide a one-of-a-kind transit destination that exhibited civic pride in a way that all patrons would enjoy. Community involvement allowed stakeholders to feel connected and valued, which ultimately made the venture successful.

KAI Texas’ community-oriented design approach has been employed in transit project in Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and St. Louis. The incorporation of public committees ensures that each station reflects the diverse legacy of each community. Architects can and should involve citizens in the design-build process, as it yields positive results that extend beyond brick and mortar.