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.

the alley project_reduced

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

 

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.

image-2

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
image-3

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

Revitalization of a True American City: Gary, Indiana

City Planning, Community Spotlight, Funding Opportunities, News and Upcoming Events, Uncategorized

Many downtowns in Indiana have become run-down, underutilized, and in distress in the past 70 years. Perhaps one of the most well-known in this category is Gary, Indiana. Located on the northwest corner of Indiana along Lake Michigan and 30 miles from Chicago, Gary is often associated with a run-down downtown, a declining population and loss of jobs in the area. The flip side of this though, and one which the current leaders in Gary are attempting to capture, is the incredible amount of opportunity for rebirth and revitalization within the area.

gary-pic-2

Gary is working towards capturing the history of their downtown and showcasing it for visitors as well. Source.

The Gary Preservation Tour is the newest addition to Patronicity’s CreatINg Places project list. Three different projects have been funded in the last two months with a collaboration from crowdfunding and matching grants from IHCDA, including the Pre-Enactment Theater! This Preservation Tour will take place during the summer of 2017 over the course of three days and includes two days of walking tours which will lead visitors through the history of Gary present in the downtown. The Associate City Planner of Gary, Alex Koerner, has sited different buildings which will be on the tour including “City Hall, Union Station, the Gary Land Co. building in Gateway Park, and the Hotel Gary (now called Genesis Towers)” (Source). The last day will be an open house where everyone is invited to come to Gary and explore the city at their leisure using volunteers and new wayfinding signage to guide themselves around downtown.

The money raised by crowdfunders through Patronicity and matched by IHCDA will help pay for securing key historic buildings in the downtown, improving the aesthetic of Broadway Street with banners, and paying for costs during the event in the summer.

gary-pic-1_compressed

One of Gary’s goals is to preserve historic buildings in order to later restore them including this 100 year old Methodist Church. Source. 

Gary has an even more comprehensive goal than getting people downtown for a couple days during the summer to admire some of their historic buildings—they are coupling the walking tours with events going on in Gary to get people to stick around and check out what Gary has to offer including baseball games, restaurants, and arts festivals. Connecting people to the place they are living is an extremely important part of this endeavor as is the walking part of the walking tour.

In the summer of 2016, a study came out done by the Arup group out of London called Cities Alive, Toward a Walking World which shows in detail how designing cities for pedestrians over cars has immense benefits in every area of a city’s health and the health of its citizens. It also includes an incredible amount of case studies backing this up. Some of the reasons they outlined can be used to substantiate Gary’s process and goals and show how increasing Gary’s walkability factor can increase their attraction as a stable Indiana community.

“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and place, you get people and places” – Fred Kent, Project for Public Spaces

More walkable streets improve a city by:

  • Bringing back “eyes on the street”
    • A cheap way to make people feel safe on the streets.
  • Making neighborhoods more vibrant
    • Walking around a place which was built for people will bring people back multiple times and encourage them to spend more time in these areas.
  • Enhancing “sense of place”
    • Increases people’s sense of civic responsibility to take care of a distinct place.
  • Fostering social interaction
    • New people will get to meet each other!
  • Improving a city’s brand and identity
    • Making a city more walkable makes it more livable and making a city more livable makes more people want to visit.
  • Increasing tourism
    • See above.
  • Activating the street façade
    • Walkable cities will also have less vacant storefronts and more foot traffic in those stores.
  • Inspiring civic responsibility
    • It is much harder to pass up issues which you see while walking around than while driving— a walkable city encourage individuals to come together and advocate for each other.
  • Helping make cities more resilient
    • Crises which affect cities that are dependent on the automobile or other forms of transit will have less of an effect on cities that are more walkable.
  • Being a tool for urban regeneration
    • People walking around a neighborhood or the downtown connect with other individuals in the area, and then become more invested in that area and motivated to act. That’s when change happens within cities and communities.

To see more of these examples, visit this article!

gary-pic-3_compressed

Walkability is not only good for revitalizing communities, it increases individual’s physical health, economic wealth, and overall environmental health. Source. 

This is just a small portion of what effects encouraging and showcasing walkability in a community like Gary can have on the immediate and surrounding areas. Showing the public that Gary is investing in its core downtown, revitalizing distinct and beautiful core buildings, and building the place up for people, will give people renewed hope for Gary’s future and drive to be part of the exciting change currently happening there.

The best thing you can do for Gary is to go home and say four nice things about it.” – Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

I would add that another good thing you can do for Gary is to go walk around it.

To learn more about Gary’s Preservation Tour or to donate to their cause, visit their page on Patronicity‘s website, or go to their Facebook page!

Main Photo Source: Gary Preservation Tour

What We’re Reading: What is a Walk Score?

City Planning, Placemaking Globally, What We're Reading

It’s not too difficult to identify neighborhood that are more “walkable” than others. Residential areas that are more dense, with more amenities are obviously more conducive to pedestrian travel than are widely disbursed neighborhoods with stores, schools, and other necessaries only accessible by car.

walkable-sidewalk-1

Researcher who are measuring a neighborhood’s walkability or “Walk Score” have found that not only do areas that are more accessible to pedestrian have higher health benefits to its residents, but that a higher Walk Score means a higher degree of public safety and property value.

To learn more, visit the Reliance Foundary’s “What is a Walk Score?” here!