Activating Alleys for a Lively City

Interesting Read, Placemaking Resources, Tactical Urbanism, What We're Reading

“…Alleys possess compelling potential to produce a vibrant secondary public realm that might also help to repair the ecological performance of our cities” Nancy Rottle RLA, ASLA, Green Futures Lab, University of Washington

 

Last week, we highlighted Tipton, Indiana which is currently working on an alley project as a placemaking tool in their downtown to make it more inviting. Alleys have historically been places for people and have recently gotten away from that to become a place more for automobiles and trash bins. In this document, entitled Activating Alleys for a Lively City by Mary Fialko and Jennifer Hampton, alleys are treated as potential dynamic spaces in a city or town of any size and the authors describe how this change can occur.

The case study is located in Seattle, Washington and the authors describe alleys from many different neighborhoods in the city. They also categorize alleys into the following:

  • High Density Mixed Use
  • Low Density Mixed Use
  • Nightlife District
  • Commercial District
  • Multi Family Residential
  • Single Family Residential

These are diagrammed and then specific ways are discussed as to how these types of alleys can be activated and made fore people again. Some of the goals the authors focus on for what alleys should be are: quality of public space, ecological health of the city, and a safer environment for people. These then can be accomplished through design strategies.

alley map

The authors determined there is a potential of increasing the public space in Seattle by 50% solely by converting alleys into usable public space. Source

Along with attractive drawings, diagrams and charts, the appendix includes a full inventory of 200 alleys in Seattle neighborhoods which is interesting to peruse through!

This resource would be great for any community looking to increase their public space in ways other than pocket parks and an excellent placemaking tool!

Get yours here!

Main Photo Source: Pinterest

 

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Trail Usage and its Economic Impact

Community Spotlight, News and Upcoming Events, Tactical Urbanism

Many of us have probably used a trail at some point in our lives. It’s a pretty simple concept—getting from point A to point B using a safe and designated place to travel besides a road designed for automobiles. They vary in size, location, purpose, and what kinds of services they connect from community to community as well as in their rates of success. Measuring success can be tricky, though, and can include anything from increased property values, to the amount of people using the trail, to economic development, to increased tourism, etc.

Starting yesterday, there is a study being conducted throughout Indiana trails by the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands, to “gather data on health factors related to trail use and their economic impact” (Source). Trails are something which many communities are interested in as placemaking efforts and something residents can usually support because of the beautification impacts on a community and the accessibility of usage for them. Studying trails around Indiana, though, and correlating them directly to economic development and an increase in usage would help convince other communities and their residents that trails are worthwhile investments. Trails must be planned and created intentionally to leverage support and achieve the desired outcomes.

The trails which are going to be studied are the:

  • Nickel Plate Trail (Peru)
  • Rivergreenway (Fort Wayne)
  • Erie Lackawanna Trail (Northwest Indiana)
  • Pumpkinvine Nature Trail (Elkhart and LaGrange counties)
  • Monon Trail (Indianapolis and Carmel)
  • Cardinal Greenway (Marion to Muncie to Richmond)
  • Pigeon Creek Greenway Passage (Evansville)
  • People Trail (Columbus) and
  • B-Line Trail (Bloomington)

 

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The Nickel Plate Trail in Peru, IN, has a bridge over the Wabash River. Source: railstotrails.org

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The B-Line Trail includes this striking blue arch over part of the trail. Source: heraldtimesonline.com

 

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is one example which is brought up in many discussions about the economic impact of trails in cities. The number which was released in the summer of 2015 was that over the 8 miles of trails from 2008-2015, “property assessment within approximately one block of the eight mile trail have increased 148%…an increase of $1 billion in assessed property value” (Source). It is slightly different since it is in the heart of the state capital and a state of the art trail, but the number is astonishing and should peak other city’s interests as to what they can do with trails in their own communities.

Connecting points of interest is a very important aspect of community trails: ones which do not connect anchor sites such as restaurants, cultural areas, retail, universities, etc., even if they are exceptionally well-done, will not attract high amounts of users like trails which connect anchor sites such as restaurants, cultural areas, retail, universities, etc. Trails can also become places of culture and art themselves, increasing the number of people who want to be there like on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail where there are numerous works of art which encourage people to stop and spend time admiring them.

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The Glick Peace Walk along the Cultural Trail in Indianapolis encourages people to take their time and enjoy the trail. Source

The Institute is planning on taking data four times for a week at a time in April, June, August, and October this year. Using surveys from “trail users, a control group of non-trail users and nearby property owners” as well as trail counters, the Institute will be able to inform “future trail development, operations and maintenance efforts” (Source).

This study may be able to help communities all over Indiana and surrounding states put their trails to better use and create places people want to be in as well as leveraging economic development dollars for the surrounding businesses in the area and the overall health of the community.

Main Photo Source: Seattle Department of Transportation

Repurposing Urban Alleys

City Planning, Community Spotlight, Funding Opportunities, Tactical Urbanism

When you think of the word “alley” what comes to mind? A small street between 2 buildings? A place where the delivery trucks and trash cans go? A somewhat sketchy area that’s not safe at night? Graffiti? Places which have been traditionally seen as useful spaces, especially in historic Europe, are now often seen as unappealing places of crime. These negative ideas are often associated with urban alleys but through placemaking and artistic efforts, alleys can become public gathering places, bright spots to stop and chat or drink coffee, or artistic expressions of the community.

In downtown Tipton, Indiana, there is a project currently going on to repurpose the public alley between Subway and Luttrell Insurance on South Main Street.

current alley

This is what the current alley space looks like on South Main Street in Tipton, Indiana. There are dozens of these alleys waiting to be repurposed in every Indiana town. Source: Google Maps

proposed alley

With some strings of light, moveable tables and chairs, and artistic additions such as a mural and archway, this space can easily become a destination for community members and visitors. Source.

 

“Dubbed “The Alley,” the project is part of a larger vision to beautify and repurpose public spaces in a way that supports downtown, said Tipton County Economic Development Organization Executive Director Nathan Kring.”

 

These projects are happening around the state and are endorsed by local governments, organizations, and the state. This particular project is through the Tipton County Economic Development Organization and the Tipton Main Street Association. The vision is for the alley to “include seating and a mural, and hopefully be used for public recreation and a venue for Main Street Association events” Source. Events which are put on in Tipton throughout the year will go towards funding the project as well as a matching grant from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.

Alleys like this ones and others around the state and country can become catalysts for renewed interest in the downtown—transforming old spaces into something new in very simple ways like adding strings of light, a mural, moveable tables and chairs, benches, and bike racks, can all encourage people to stop and spend time in the downtown.

Another reason to invest time and money into repurposing alleys is because they are an efficient use of urban space. Michael Scott of Urban Engagement Webcity wrote Urban Salvage: Repurposing Alleys as Public Spaces and states “these thoroughfares are now viewed as potential nodes of economic activity. Their scale—often too narrow for substantive vehicular traffic—makes them the quintessential walkable thoroughfares. Also in the plus column is their value relative to bike storage, recycling and other functional possibilities” (Scott).

A specific example called The Alley Project in Detroit, Michigan is featured on Project for Public Spaces’ website and deals with youth and beautify social spaces. A youth artist collective, Young Nation, and The Detroit Collaborative Design Center “transformed two vacant lots and a detached garage in their neighborhood into a vibrant public place. Today, the garage doors are canvases for art work, the abandoned lots serve as gathering spaces for kids to play after school, and the garage itself is a clubhouse/studio space for youth”. Source.

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The Alley Project includes the artistic community of all ages by encouraging them to decorate their city alleys like this one. Source.

 

“Despite having limited resources and minimal investment, the Alley Project succeeded in building community engagement, strengthening a sense of ownership pride in the area, and bringing life to a previously overlooked space” Source.

 

If you’re looking for a fun project which involves community participation, artistic flare, and high returns for your community, consider repurposing an alley into public space!

Main Image Source: The Daily Texan

 

Transportation and Creative Placemaking

Interesting Read, Placemaking Globally, Placemaking Resources, Tactical Urbanism, What We're Reading

In many circumstances, transportation and placemaking can seem like opposites. Transportation is about cars, buses, and trucks, and getting these from one place to another as quickly as possible. Placemaking is about people first, getting cars, buses, and trucks to slow down and consider the place they are in. How do we get these two fields to work together for a product that is best for the general public?

In this comprehensive website by Transportation for America: The Scenic Route, Getting Started with Creative Placemaking and Transportation, they address this situation and provide a plethora of tools including case studies from all around the country, answers to general questions about placemaking from a transportation perspective, and their “eight approaches” to creative placemaking for transportation which include

  • Identify the Community’s Assets and Strengths
  • Integrate the Arts Into Design, Construction and Engineering
  • Marketing to Cultivate Ownership and Pride
  • Leveraging Cultural Districts and Corridors
  • Mobilize the Community to Achieve Your Shared Goals
  • Develop Local Leadership & Capacity
  • Organize Events and Activities
  • Incorporate Arts in Public and Advisory Meetings

This site is specifically “to introduce creative placemaking to transportation planners, public works agencies and local elected officials who are on the front lines of advancing transportation projects” Source.

 

“Done right, creative placemaking can lead to both a better process and a better product, in this case integrating community-inspired art into the ultimate design of the project as so many of the case studies in this guide demonstrate. The end results are streets, sidewalks and public spaces that welcome us, inspire us and move us in every sense of that word.” – James Corless, Director, Transportation for America

 

They also stress how this guide does not have to be read linearly. Each point and case study can be looked over independently of the others and still understood without necessarily going through all the other points in order. If you’re looking for ways to integrate transportation and placemaking, this would be a good start! Another plus is that the picture on the main page is of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail!

Visit the site here and find out how your community can better incorporate transportation and placemaking!

Main Photo Source: The Scenic Route 

We Love Auburn Month

City Planning, Community Spotlight, News and Upcoming Events, Tactical Urbanism

Small Indiana cities and towns usually have a good amount of town pride and Auburn, IN is no exception. Auburn is a city of 13,000 people located about a half an hour north of Fort Wayne, IN. They are known for their Auburn Cord Dusenberg Festival every year on Labor Day Weekend. What many people may not know about is the “We Love Auburn Month” every February to promote downtown businesses. Using placemaking techniques, local businesses and artists, and a unique set of activities, they are able to bring more residents and visitors downtown during the month with the lowest sales, historically. The events are put on every weekend in February primarily by ADAC, the Auburn Development Advisory Committee, and also supports their future events for Auburn.

Some of their activities this past February included:

  • Yarn Bombing Installation (January 28th)

This brightens up the whole downtown especially during the somewhat dreary month of February and calls for local artists to decorate (with yarn) trees, trash receptacles, light poles, and other public utilities. There are some very creative end products including musical instruments, animals, and abstract pieces.

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One example of what the creative people of Auburn came up with for Yarn Bomb 2017! Photo Credit: Amber Bassett

  • Upstairs Downtown (February 4th)

A handful of storefronts in the downtown opened up their upstairs (and some basements) to show people what the other parts of downtown buildings offer. Some of the buildings included a Masonic Temple, and a building which was originally a doctor’s office, then residential, and is now an insurance company. One of the traditional downtown commercial buildings uses the upstairs as more office and screen printing shop.

Additionally, at each building, a history of all the buildings was available with all their old uses and photos of each, compiled by the Willennar Genealogy Center.

  • Ice Sculptures (February 11th)

Local sculptors from around central Indiana were commissioned to create ice sculptures to sell to local businesses and community establishments around Auburn. For every 5 sculptures which were purchased at $500, the sculptors made a free ice sculpture. These went to places such as: Auburn Essential Services, local banks, the Chamber of Commerce, Visitor’s Bureau, and other local shops. Some sculptures were carved on site, making it an even more interactive process.

  • Dine Downtown (February 18th)

A local restaurant (Mad Anthony’s) gave 15% of their proceeds from the night to ADAC as a fundraiser. This turned out to be a very successful event!

  • Take It Off Party (February 25th)

This event was to take down the yarn bombing which was put up at the beginning of the month. They created it into an event with a local band, food, and a paddle auction!

All these events are fun ways to encourage people to appreciate the city they live in and show them that their city can be fun as well as functional. Using placemaking and creative local individuals, they are able to create an even more exciting and liveable city.

Information courtesy of Amber Bassett, Zoning Administrator for the City of Auburn.

Main Image Source.

Learn more about the work ADAC does in Auburn and Auburn in general here.

Gauging Impacts of Placemaking Projects

City Planning, Community Spotlight, Placemaking Resources, Tactical Urbanism

Placemaking can be difficult to explain to those who do not have experience with it because it is often not a concrete place, building, or event, at least at first. The whole concept of making a “place” can be extremely visionary and one of the biggest challenges those of us encouraging placemaking have is getting others to envision it as well to get them involved. Selling the idea of a beach in the middle of Detroit (as in the picture above), would undoubtedly have had its challenges, but ended up being an extremely profitable catalyst to the momentum in downtown Detroit.

One of the best ways to get people involved is to be able to quantify previous placemaking projects and show the positive results of who they have benefitted and how. But this again presents all sorts of new problems. The Cultural Trail in Indianapolis has quantifiably raised property values significantly around the trail and throughout the communities it runs through but there are also unquantifiable effects it has had on both Indianapolis residents and visitors.

In the 2015-2016 school year, the IUPUI School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), in conjunction with the Indiana Tourism Association, embarked upon a practicum course where they were able to quantify placemaking efforts around Indiana through both quantitative and qualitative data. In their inaugural year (fall 2015), they focused on 3 placemaking projects around Indiana and tailored a procedure to determine how impactful they were in their communities. These projects were:

  1. Franklin Street: Evansville
  2. The Lerner Theatre: Elkhart
  3. Indiana Dunes Nature Center: Porter County

All 3 of these are placemaking projects although they range in diversity from an entire street, to a building, to an outdoor recreation destination. One reason placemaking projects in general can be difficult to quantify is that there are different variables in each one—some are short term, some are long term, some are county wide, some are for a neighborhood, there are mixed use developments, cultural districts, trails, outdoor recreation, community gardens, art pieces, water features, and many, many other placemaking project options.

Figuring out a concrete, cut-and-dry process for determining impacts for all these would be almost impossible—but there are generalizations and observations which can be made about each of them which can then inform and improve future placemaking projects.

The SPEA students were able to make some generalizations about these different placemaking efforts and evaluate the projects’ impacts in their community with varying results. Some examples of these results can be found on their website.

Not only does this information help each of these individual communities, it can be helpful statewide as well: to gauge the impact that different kinds of placemaking projects have on different kinds of communities. Often communities move forward with a placemaking project with a final result in mind, but may not know if that project will get them to that final result. Determining a metric for how these placemaking projects actually impact different areas of the community would help those developing these projects to better understand some of the ways they may impact their surrounding neighborhood and city.

The class continued again the next year and they are looking to create a “guidebook” which will be available to communities around Indiana who want to find out more about placemaking projects and what some of their tangible, quantifiable impacts are.

 

Making Strides Towards Walkability

Interesting Read, Placemaking Globally, Placemaking Resources, Tactical Urbanism, What We're Reading

Did you know:

  • 33% of Americans are unable to drive a car?
  • Shifting from a long commute to a short walk would make a single person as happy as if he or she had found a new love?
  • Each point increase in walk score (a walkability index) typically increases US house prices by $700-$3,000?
  • The Indianapolis Cultural Trail diverts over 68 million gallons of runoff per year?
  • Every 10 minutes of community cuts community involvement by 10%?

Last week, I wrote about a project going on in Gary, Indiana which encourages people to get out and walk around their downtown in order to reinvest in it. This week I’m highlighting a really neat resource which is along the same lines: a comprehensive document about walkability in cities and the plethora of positive effects moving “towards a walking world” can have individually, locally, and globally.

 

“Walkability is a word that did not exist just 20 years ago. We made walking so unnatural that we had to invent a word to describe what we were missing” – Dan Burden, Director of Innovation and Inspiration at Blue Zones

 

Cities Alive: Towards a walking world is an extensive report put together by different parts of the ARUP team in London, with help from other specialists around the world, which details the benefits of walkable cities. Published in 2016, it categorizes the specific benefits of walkability, one of which is placemaking, into social, economic, environmental, and political benefits. In this easy-to-read, detailed, and beautifully assembled report, the reader can pretty much find any benefit of walkability, numbers for it, and the reasoning behind it. This report is the real deal.

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The 16 general areas of benefits from walkable cities, according to this report, each have their own icon and are presented in groups of four: social, economic, environmental, and political. Source. 

As if that were not enough, the report also presents interviews done with professionals around the world on this topic and offers practical solutions, 40 of them to be exact, to increase walkability in your city! Finally, there are 80 case studies from around the world categorized into topics of:

  • Vision and Strategy
  • Safe and Efficient Transportation System
  • Liveable Environment
  • Sense of Place and Communities and
  • Smart and Responsive City
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This map of the case study sites show the diverse range of topics the case studies cover and, although many of them are in western Europe as that is where the ARUP group is located, there are some on every populated continent. Source. 

 

“Essentially walkability is allowing people to do what the human body was designed to do in the first place: to go places without having to get into some mechanical instrument” – Dan Burden, Walkability Expert, the Doable City Forum

 

If you are interested in the effects and statistics related to walkability and public places in cities or if you need a resource for a project or presentation, this document is for you! Get your copy here!

Main Photo Source: Cities Alive

Do you want to be in love?

City Planning, Placemaking Globally, Tactical Urbanism, What We're Watching

“Emotions are contagious; when more people say they love their cities, more people will feel it and believe it”- Peter Kageyama

 

Most people in their careers operate within the measurable world. We measure participation at events, the amount of money something costs, how many jobs something creates, and a wide variety of other things to determine the success of projects, programs, or initiatives. These things are all great—the more participation we can get at public events, the more bang we can get for our buck or an increase in employment—are all valid and extremely important benchmarks to strive for. But we all know this is not enough.

The statistics about a place are not what makes the city, what truly makes the city, and we probably all know this from first-hand experience. We have all heard negative things said about our city and thought “that doesn’t really represent where I am from”. What is not said enough are the positive things about our cities, the things that the residents know firsthand from living there and what makes it home to them. The difficult part for people in design and community engagement professions is getting residents to share the immeasurable things about their community: how it makes them feel, what makes it their home instead of just another city, and learning how to interpret and market these intangibles to both the residents and other communities, if they can even be marketed. Moving feelings and ideas into tangible expressions of affection for a city is something that can take a considerable amount of thought, effort, community participation, and determination.

Peter Kageyama, an expert in community development and grassroots engagement and the author of several books including For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places and Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places, offered his thoughts on the subject at a ULI lecture series in October of 2016.

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Peter Kageyama has authored two books about loving your city and is an internationally acclaimed consultant on community development. Source.

His main idea is how to get people to fall in love with their cities, and how this then translates into reinvestment and urban revitalization. The concept is very simple: everyone loves on different levels and, at some level, probably loves the place they live in for one reason or another. Expressing this to the rest of the community in a tangible way and in a way that the city as a whole can get on board with is another story altogether. Kageyama discusses it in terms of potholes: every city has potholes: most residents can identify those potholes and want them fixed. It is much more difficult for residents to ask the city for intangibles such as beauty, art, and great design in a city, but we know that is a desire most residents want fulfilled, probably more desperately than they want the potholes filled. How do we, as designers, neighborhood advocates, and citizens, help people to love their city more and to make it a more fun place for people to be in?

 

We want to create “cities that grab us by the heart and refuse to let us go”- Peter Kageyama

 

Kageyama, in his short twenty minute presentation, cites example after example of things which cities have done, big and small, to give their residents “love notes”. These love notes are often, though not always, small, but they always have a larger-than-anticipated impact on the people who get to experience them. From Cloud Gate and Crown Fountain in Chicago, to the Big Blue Bear in Denver, to Rainworks in Seattle, to bronze mice hidden around downtown Greenville, South Carolina, many cities are catching onto ways to love their city and pass on love notes to their residents and visitors.

Kageyama encourages those in both top-down positions like the local government and bottom-up positions like grassroots organizations to look for out-of-the-box solutions which can give their city a little love. People working from the bottom-up are especially important because they are the ones of the ground floor of the community. They often see issues and have simple yet creative ways of solving them that city officials and heads of large organizations do not. But these same people are the ones who usually think “city-making is beyond them”; since they are not in a profession which deals with city development their opinions are not valid. Kageyama is quick to include and encourage these people to get involved—often the most spectacular placemaking efforts come from people who are not in the profession.

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Community members from diverse backgrounds are absolutely essential in the process of “city-making” as they are ones who will be using the city which we make! Source. 

He also encourages the people who want to make these kinds of changes in their community to look for “garden hose solutions” or solutions which do the job without being over the top or costing an excessive amount of money. While there may be objections to spending money on things which have a cost but do not have a measurable value when there are still potholes to be fixed, Kageyama says:

 

“Technically, you could always fix more potholes, but the placemaking effects have values beyond the purely financial”- Peter Kageyama

 

If we wait until everything in our cities is 100% functional and safe before moving on to the fun and creative investments in cities, the fun things will never get done. There will always be potholes, but there will also always be people who want to fall more in love with their city. Fixing potholes has a known and finite benefit; focusing on the things which get people to fall more in love with their community are the ones which will have exponential and generational benefits. A balance of the two will be essential to the emotional health of the people in the city and, subsequently, the health of the city.

The whole idea of Placemaking Indiana is to “love where you live” and to continually fall in love with the place you live. To do this, it must be a collaborative and ongoing process which engages the whole community and is continually looking for and pursuing new ways to express our love for our city and state. Check out the efforts we have been making in this direction, including My Community, My Vision, Stellar Communities, and CreatINg Places here. Wherever you live, don’t forget to love your city today!

Check out this link for Kageyama’s talk with ULI!

Main Image Source: The Making Table

Big Blue Bear: Denver Post

Mice on Main: Greenville Daily Photo

What We’re Reading: From Dead Space to Public Space

Placemaking Globally, Tactical Urbanism, What We're Reading
How Improving Alleys Can Help Make Better Cities

“To most eyes, alleys are—at best—liminal zones. Inhabiting the space between “here” and “there,” they exist but for the grace of their adjacencies. At worst, they are dark, dank, and even dangerous—seen by city dwellers as dead space. However, to a visionary few, the negative space alleys occupy isn’t dead at all; it’s merely dormant, waiting for a rebirth into something functional and new.” – Matt Alderton

Read more about how cities are activating their underutilized alley spaces and creating welcoming public spaces on ArchDaily.com here!

Placemaking Resources: The “Tactical Urbanist’s Guide to Material and Design”

Placemaking Globally, Tactical Urbanism

tactical-urbanism1

Just this month, the Street Plans Collaborative, with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, released the Tactical Urbanist’s Guide to Materials and Design. This 132-page, free downloadable resource for any person, organization, or agency looking for ideas and information on how to create Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper projects with a variety of materials.

Download your free copy here!