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A makeshift sign welcoming drivers to Paradise sits along Skyway. Jeremy Siegel/KQED
A makeshift sign welcoming drivers to Paradise sits along Skyway. (Jeremy Siegel/KQED)

Architecture Students Reimagine Paradise in Aftermath of Camp Fire

Architecture Students Reimagine Paradise in Aftermath of Camp Fire

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A group of architecture students from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo are back at the drawing board after presenting their plans for a reimagined Paradise at CSU Chico on Friday.

The students have been putting their heads together for the past few months to help residents of the Butte County town rebuild after it was almost completely destroyed by the Camp Fire in November, by creating detailed plans for essential buildings in Paradise, such as libraries and courthouses.

"Cost is definitely important, but safety is more important, especially in a place that has the tendency to burn," said Cal Poly junior Katherine Young, who is working on a redesign of Paradise's town hall that includes fire-resistant materials.

The students initially visited Butte County in January to get input from former residents of Paradise about what makes them love the town. That trip inspired a number of new ideas, including an open-air recreation center for youth and mixed-use housing and retail buildings.

Cal Poly student Elisabeth Frizzell stands in front of her plans for a downtown Paradise that includes mixed-use housing and retail buildings. (Jeremy Siegel/KQED)

"These students work really hard on these projects for six months," said Cal Poly architecture professor Stacey White, who teaches the studio class behind the redesign effort.


White said after Friday's community forum that the 36 student projects will be narrowed down to 20, which students will work together on to turn into detailed designs. They will then return to Butte County in April to present their completed plans to residents.

"Everything they do is open-sourced, so it's available to everybody at no cost," White said. "There is a lot of very technical information that can then be leveraged into whatever the town thinks is most appropriate."

It's unlikely that Paradise officials would take the student plans and run with them, but because the concepts are free, detailed and community oriented, they can be helpful for things like grant applications or individual development projects, White said.

Former Paradise resident Patrick Cole talks with a Cal Poly student about her redesign concept. (Jeremy Siegel/KQED)

Former Paradise resident and current Chico State student Patrick Cole — who was among the community members who went to the forum to check out the design plans and give input — said he hopes that when Paradise is rebuilt, it maintains a balance between new buildings and the area's rugged, natural beauty.

"Every morning I'd walk outside and there was big 100-foot trees," he said, remembering his time in the town that sits along a canyon ridge. "And I'd be like, this is such a beautiful place. And even though it was hot during the summers, the shade of the trees would keep it pretty cool."

For Kerry Kennedy, who was born and raised in Paradise and now lives in Chico, the concepts are a source of optimism.

"It's heartbreaking to see and feel what the community is going through, but I really feel it's a really amazing opportunity to kind of reinvent the wheel," he said.

Kerry Kennedy was born and raised in Paradise. (Jeremy Siegel/KQED)

Kennedy said he hopes redesign plans will include sustainable and fire-resistant materials. "We really have to think more intelligently about the way we are building and the way we are consuming," he said. "It's tragic, but there's a lot of opportunity."

Regardless of what a new Paradise looks like, Kennedy added, he thinks the spirit of the town — the community, the passion for independence and the outdoors — will always be there. And seeing a room full of ideas for what it could be gives him hope.

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