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.

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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

 

Decay Devils and Gary Union Station

Community Spotlight, News and Upcoming Events, Placemaking Resources

Every city has little gems that make it interesting, unique, and creates attractions for visitors and residents alike. Some of these gems are easier to see than others are but, once they are discovered, they have the potential to become huge catalysts for renewed interest in the city or town. The Decay Devils group is an example of this in Gary, Indiana, and they are working with other groups and individuals to bring positive attention and revitalization to Gary’s downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

This past month they hosted an exhibit at the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts in the Miller neighborhood called “The Art Within: Rebuilding through Preservation”. Its main purpose was to investigate ways to salvage Gary’s abandoned buildings by looking at examples of abandoned buildings around the country and world and how they have handled similar situations. Using them as “public spaces or pieces of art” is an option to make them a contributing use to the neighborhood. The exhibit also included “memorabilia such as band uniforms, trophies and yearbooks from closed Gary high schools, such as Emerson and Horace Mann”.

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Gary community members were able to see examples of how abandoned buildings are dealt with in other communities around the country in an exhibit at the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts. Source

 

Decay Devils “was formed by a love of Gary’s architecture. The collective started four years ago with photographers who kept bumping into each other at City Methodist and decided to go on a road trip to see what other places have done to preserve their landmarks. It’s since incorporated as a nonprofit and embarked on a number of projects” Source.

 

Their mission is to preserve historic landmarks in northwest Indiana and through that “bring a sense of pride and beauty back to these areas by preventing further decay”. Some of their projects they have already accomplished include:

  • St. Monica, St. Luke Oral History Time Capsule Project
  • Marquette Beach Clean-up with the Alliance for the Great Lakes
  • Transforming Lake County Grant through the Knight Foundation and a
  • Gary, IN Blight Day Participant

The work is not done yet though! Decay Devils along with other individuals are planning other revitalization efforts in Gary. One of these is supporting the summer historic preservation tours , made possible with crowdgranting funds through Patronicity along with a matching grant from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA). This will catalyze interest in Gary’s historic architecture downtown including Union Station, a New Deal-era Post Office, City Methodist, and other historically and architecturally significant buildings by allowing people to tour them and teaching them about them along the way through signage and tour guides.

Decay Devils also have interest in restoring the Gary Union Station, which was built in 1910 and closed in the 50s. They plan to “make the location’s exterior aesthetically pleasing while securing the interior of the location to ensure safe viewing for the public” Source. They were awarded a $22,000 grant from the Knight Foundation for this purpose and have planned a cleanup around the station on Saturday, April 8th from 9 am – 1 pm. Cleanup details include to “clean up the landscaping, securely board up the lower level of open windows, and attach murals to the front exterior. The group also plans to install LED or solar lighting to the top” Source. Additionally, “the Decay Devils are looking for ways to illuminate the buildings at night to make it more visible and remind people it’s tucked between the train tracks downtown” Source. If you are interested in being a part of the cleanup, visit their site to learn more! In conjunction with this event they are also having an Artist Call Out the next week, on Saturday, April 15th from 4:30-8:30 pm to design one of the windows for the revival of Union Station with the theme of Growth.

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The Gary Union Station has a unique history worth salvaging to the Decay Devils as well as the rest of the city. Source

The city is going after a larger grant from the Knight Foundation to restore the City Methodist Church “into a European-style ruins garden that photographers would pay a fee to shoot” Source. This would go a long way in restoring Gary’s architecture.

 

“I think we’re at a very critical point where if we don’t act in the next couple years, a lot of this architecture will be beyond repair,” said Sam Salvesen, an associate city planner and AmeriCorps Vista. “The Ambassador Apartments were just torn down. If we don’t pay attention, if money’s not invested, we’ll lose them forever. Gary doesn’t need another parking lot. We have a built environment that’s worth preserving.” Source.

 

To see other work that Decay Devils will be embarking on, visit their website!

Main Photo Source: Decay Devils look to give new life to Union Station

Creatively Incorporating our Waterways

Community Spotlight, News and Upcoming Events, Placemaking Resources

“Creative Placemaking is generally understood as the use of arts and culture by diverse partners to strategically shape the physical and social character of a place in order to spur economic development, promote enduring social change, and improve the physical environment.” ROW.

 

Do waterways fit into this definition? Can water be creatively dealt with and shape a space or promote social change? Waterways are an incredibly important part of many Indiana cities and towns for recreational purposes, tourism, sources of water, aesthetics, wildlife habitat, fishing, economic development and a plethora of other reasons. They are also public spaces and provide places for people to gather. A lot of local organizations around the state are currently thinking about their waterways and how to re-energize, reconnect, reclaim, and reinvest in them for the betterment of the public and nature.

 

Reconnecting to our Waterways (ROW) is a “grassroots initiative designed to reclaim the benefits of Indianapolis’ waterways; to provide opportunities for physical, human, and economic development. It’s about helping neighbors strengthen waterways, and in turn, helping waterways strengthen neighborhoods” ROW.

 

Reconnecting to our Waterways been around since 2012 and focus on the main waterways in Indianapolis including:

Fall Creek

Pleasant Run

Central Canal

Little Eagle Creek

Pogue’s Run

White River

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ROW has identified different phases of improving the waterways around Indianapolis. Source. 

They have partnered with an incredible amount of state and local organizations: public, private, and non-profit, to help further goals of aesthetics, connectivity, economics, education, ecology, well-being, and more.

But, they also include creative placemaking in their initiatives to improve Indianapolis’ waterways! This group and its leaders encourage local artists and residents in different parts of the city to enhance the waterways which are so integral to the city and re-imagine them in order to get other residents and visitors to see them in a new, more positive light. Enhancing views of the waterways, removing invasive plant species, including art along trails and the waterways, gathering resident input, restoring bridges, planning for pop-up art and community events, and everything in between has been accomplished around these waterways, spurred on by ROW and pushed through by the residents who often become very excited and extremely passionate about reconnecting with their long lost public spaces.

This kind of work is possible in any community which is looking for a new way to engage residents, clean up waterways, reclaim public space, enhance the arts scene, improve economic development, and many more possibilities, some of which may be unique to your community! And while the improvement of each waterway in separate Indiana communities may seem like an isolated improvement, they have a multiplying effect, as they will subsequently improve the waterways in other, connected communities!

ROW has put on creative placemaking workshops, some of which are available on their website, here  as well as a document which explains creative placemaking more in depth.

If you are interested in waterways, the health of Indianapolis, engaging with your neighborhood, or creative placemaking, they also have monthly meetings focused around each of their waterways as well as public events at different library branches called Art + Science Brainstorms. Find a way to get involved and make a difference for Indianapolis or through your own communities and waterways around Indiana!

Main Image Source: Indiana Public Media 

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

PLACEMAKING RESOURCES: BACK TO BASICS

Interesting Read, Placemaking Resources, What We're Reading

Creative Placemaking: All You Have Ever Wanted to Know

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“Today’s placemaking efforts celebrate and stabilize distinctiveness with modest-scale investments, a dramatic change in American economic development…In the new century, sponsors look beyond physical alterations, paying more attention to the animation of places with economic and cultural activity” (Gadwa and Markusen, p. 5).

 

Most of you are probably aware of creative placemaking, how it has started in your community, and what you can do to make it grow. But in case you’re not or you just want a good placemaking resource, this document has everything you ever wanted to know about creative placemaking and a number of case studies to gain inspiration from! Prepared by Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa, this resource will inspire you to start/increase creative placemaking activities in your area!

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Creative placemaking is becoming a more accepted–and fun!– way to spark interest in a community, invest in it, and increase economic development. Source.

Want to know how the arts and culture benefit from creative placemaking? It’s in here.

Curious about the outcomes of creative placemaking? Consult this resource.

Interested in how to combat the challenges of creative placemaking? Yup, it’s here.

Looking for how to fund your next creative placemaking endeavor? You guessed it!

Need case studies from around the country, anywhere from California to Louisiana to Rhode Island? (See any response above.)

Need I say more?

Download your resource here!

Main photo source: National Arts Strategies 

PARK(ing) Day – Friday, Sept. 16, 2016

City Planning, Community Spotlight, News and Upcoming Events, Placemaking Globally, Uncategorized

“PARK(ing) Day is way for the community to create more public space for a day and really showcase how precious this shared open space in our downtown is.”

Amy Donahue, River City Co., Chattanooga, TN