Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Tactical Urbanism: Smart Growth presentation at the National Building Museum: Thursday, October 11th

From the National Building Museum:

Cities and citizens are increasingly using short-term action to spur long-term revitalization. Come hear Mike Lydon, primary author of Tactical Urbanism Volumes 1 and 2, discuss chair bombing, site-previtalization, depaving, open streets, intersection repair, and numerous other placemaking tactics.

FREE. Pre-Registration required. Walk in registration based on availability.

Smart Growth is presented in association with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Smart Growth Network.

Date: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Time: 12:30 PM - 1:30 PM
401 F Street NW
Washington, DC

-- Tactical Urbanism Volume 1
-- Tactical Urbanism Volume 2
-- Better Block Project, Oak Cliff neighborhood, Dallas
-- City Repair, Portland
-- City Repair's Placemaking Guidebook, second edition
-- Neighborista, a blog on creative tactical urbanism projects

Plus for many months I've been meaning to blog about DC's "temporary urbanism" initiatives. I hadn't been very impressed by the initiative generally, but I went to one in April, at 14th Street and Colorado Avenue NW, at the little neighborhood junction there, where the neighborhood worked with Re:bar, the San Francisco design-planning firm, to reconceptualize the physical space in that area and it was very inspiring. This was funded by the DC Arts and Humanities Commission 5x5 Public Art Project.

I know now why I haven't been too impressed by the various DC "Temporium" efforts.  It's because I am more interested in how to "sustain effort" in revitalization--because it takes years*--and these projects have been one-off events that aren't part of a program leading to additional and further improvements in an area.

In other words, a temporium "event" shouldn't be an endpoint, but a beginning or midpoint project in an overall initiative to revitalize a commercial district.

In some respects, "Tactical Urbanism" is misnamed, it's more about citizen-engaged revitalization.  Anyway, according to the manuals, it is about sustained efforts:

While exhibiting several overlapping characterstics, “tactical urbanism,” is a deliberate approach to city-making that features the following five characteristics:

• A deliberate, phased approach to instigating change;
• An offering of local ideas for local planning challenges;
• Short-term commitment and realistic expectations;

• Low-risks, with a possibly a high reward; and
• The development of social capital between citizens, and the building of organizational capacity between public/private institutions, non-profit/NGOs, and their constituents.

A lot of times people can't imagine change, they have to see some tangible, physical evidence of alternative possibilities, and they were allowed to do that through the repainting of a slip lane, which can be eliminated and through a placemaking improvement initiative, it could be converted into sidewalk-patio space, which could further support a restaurant there, and promote additional street activity.

The intersection used to be the end point on one of the streetcar lines, so it has a bit of density compared to the area around it, with a handful of 6 story apartment buildings.  And the area is still well-served by the busline that replaced the streetcars, plus is two blocks from 16th Street, which is also well-served by buses.
While the area lacks the kind of nearby population density that is supporting the revitalization of 11th Street NW as a short three block neighborhood commercial district, anchored by restaurants, in Columbia Heights, it can still be improved, is a nice place to live already--albeit with not a lot in the way of retail and other amenities (other than bus service and a couple of corner stores--the Colorado Kitchen restaurant closed a few years ago, although not from the lack of customer and neighborhood support), and has the ability to add some more housing to otherwise underutilized parcels, which would support the addition of a restaurant and maybe some upgrading to the retail.
Part of the project involved improving some of the planting strips across the street on Colorado Avenue.

Delicias Market and another corner store serve the area.   With some strategic investment into the improvement of the exterior and interiors of these stores, the little retail district would get a nice boost. 

The currently vacant "Colorado Cleaners" could be a great restaurant space, especially if the slip lane is removed and becomes an extended patio.

* I laugh when people talk about the "overnight" success of H Street NE's revitalization. The current improvement iteration started around 2000, when a bunch of residents came together to oppose a gas station construction project. The residents then joined in with the H Street Merchants and Professionals Association to continue improvement efforts, including the creation of a "Main Street" commercial district revitalization organization.

But after the 1968 riots, the H Street Renewal Plan was created, led in part by a citizen-involved "Project Area Committee," and later the H Street Community Development Corporation was created to bring about various projects, so from the mid-1970s through 1990, most all of the projects outlined in the Renewal Plan were accomplished, and yet the corridor still languished. The reopening of revitalized Union Station in 1988 didn't provide the boost that was expected either.

In large part, my involvement in urban revitalization efforts was sparked by trying to figure out why more than $100 million in realized projects didn't have the desired result. (And since I've written hundreds of blog entries on the topic already, I won't write yet another one.)

In short, the overnight success has been, so far, about a 40 year process.

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