Alumna's designs used in Gastonia revitalization project

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Gastonia's efforts to revitalize its once thriving downtown provided Jennifer Harper '06 the opportunity to spotlight her design skills, complete a master's degree, and take a look at the roots of her community and family history.

Harper, a Gastonia native and Appalachian interior design graduate, hoped to one day see the Parkdale Mills area where her grandmother worked in the 1950s restored and thriving again. When she learned the city was planning a new convention center with arts and entertainment venues downtown, she decided to get involved.

Harper met with city officials who asked her to design a pedestrian plaza that would serve as a cornerstone to the revitalization plans and reflect the city's rich textile and manufacturing heritage. The assignment fulfilled Harper's requirement for a thesis project in industrial design at N.C.State University, and allowed her to prove her worth as a design professional.

"My professors at Appalachian continually told me I had the potential to do bigger and better things. I do have greater confidence now both personally and professionally," she said.

Research for the project provided Harper with an appreciation of the machinery and products that fueled Gastonia during its heyday and surrounded her grandmother during her mill days. Her plans for seating, street lighting, a fountain, outdoor dining and a mini-amphitheatre incorporate the graceful curves and rhythms of spindles, gears and other equipment used to manufacture yarn, the main product of Gastonia's textile industry.

Harper is currently working with Gastonia's city engineers to develop the park and ensure all her design details are up to standards and specifications. The city plans to break ground on the project in April.

"The thought of walking through the park and seeing people enjoy my design is a true thrill," Harper said. "I feel this is a great accomplishment and a great start to my career."