This is the second article of AN's July/August 2019 print edition feature focused on development. The first, "A new breed of skyscraper threatens to devastate the fabric of New York," can be read here. As our economy moves from one of consumerism to one of experience, the real estate industry needs to change. It’s time to shift focus from the hardware of buildings to the software of place. Developers are great at spotting the potential of land and what mix of uses and development will make land viable—what they’re less good at is what happens next. When they hand over that mix and program to an architect and ask them to squeeze it all into the site, developers may be doing all they’ve ever done historically, but they are neglecting the most critical of steps: agreeing on a vision for the place. “Vision” here means a strongly defined collective destination, the north star that guides and aligns all decision-making and allows teams to answer that most valuable question, “What should we do?” rather than that far more expensive question, “What could we do?” This process begins by asking, “Who is this place for? Why will they come? What will they do here?” When a place lacks vision, the end result is often at worst a commercial or critical failure and at best a bunch of people asking themselves, “What might this site have been if we’d only known then what we know now?” Architects often say that a project is only ever as good as the client. One of the challenges faced by developers is that many of them outsource the visioning process to architects rather than cocreating it with them. The best projects, and the best places, are always those that have a strong and shared vision delivered with unerring confidence. The absence of a place vision, and the reliance solely on a technical brief, can easily lead to cost overruns, design team disputes, ineffective communication, community objections, and ultimately simply soulless places. As we move from a consumer economy to an experience economy, we are reaching “peak stuff.” Millennials are far less interested in acquiring things and more interested in seeking experiences. Whereas their parents measured success by working hard to afford a luxury automobile, today’s youth measure their status by the stories they can tell about the latest hip restaurant, a pop-up retail experience, or an amazing vacation cabin in the woods. Instagram is full of the experiences people sought as opposed to the stuff they bought. This is putting ever more pressure on developers to provide a level of experience traditionally only provided by historic or organically emerging postindustrial neighborhoods. It’s time for real estate to step up. Office developments are no longer about grand statements that appease the corporation. Organizations have shifted their focus to the individual and the attraction and retention of talent over the cathedral to capitalism that has typified so many office buildings of old. In parallel, online retail is winning over homogenous retail streets and shopping centers; places like this will die unless they can shift to provide nontransactional experiences. Online shopping means consumers won’t bother to go to a shopping center or high street filled with chain stores to get things that they can simply buy with one click. There’s more choice online and goods can be delivered, and even returned, on the same day. People will only venture to physical shops if the basic act of consumption is complemented by outstanding service or experience. So the long-term viability of retail environments is predicated on their ability to provide some form of experience that provides enjoyment to the consumer. Architecture alone is no longer the answer. There is good news. Developers that are willing to take the “missing step” and really focus in on vision, purpose, and establishing a place brief will do well. They are not just stemming the tide of failure but actually achieving premium values across all real estate sectors. Kings Cross and Battersea Power Station in London have both proved that considered thought—rather than additional capital—can result in increased demand and value; Google and Apple both moved their operations to the respective projects—proof, if ever it were needed, that a strong vision leads to solid capital results. Closer to home, a strong vision and early communication for SOM’s The 78 development in Chicago allowed Related Midwest to secure stakeholder support for its ambition even before finalizing the massing, which paved the way for faster approvals. We need to embrace the synergy between great places and their consequent value appreciation. This is how we create a culture of self-perpetuating success, which will enable change where planning policy has failed. A small number of progressive developers have recognized that the market is changing. They can see that customers are increasingly seeking out experiential places that are engaging to live in, work at, or visit. Successful development is increasingly about the software of experience rather than the hardware of buildings. How you invest in creating place can vary whether you are investing millions into a sculpture at Hudson Yards or into a tech incubator to seed market momentum in Tampa. In contrast, traditional developers that are failing to develop or repurpose projects with such a sense of purpose and life are seeing their investment values stagnate. The scale of postindustrial sites that are now coming forward means we are no longer developing infill buildings that work off the historic character of established neighborhoods. Developers are working across entire districts, and it is essential that an overarching vision and purpose is established at the earliest opportunity. Failure to do so will result in incoherent and unsuccessful new districts; cookie-cutter, big brand monoculture; and disappointing, unpopular places. We are all familiar with places that have failed; they are globally prevalent, and the reason the real estate development industry is treated with such contempt and skepticism by the general public. But as new case studies emerge, such as King’s Cross in London, they act as a showcase for the synergy between the creation of great and thoughtful places and a more viable business practice. David Twohig is a founding partner of Wordsearch Place.
Posts tagged with "Placemaking":
Set deep within the Chattahoochee Hills of northwestern Georgia are four carefully-curated, close-knit communities each designed to emulate architectural styles that could be found around the world. Serenbe, a 1,000-acre neighborhood housing over 350 homes outside Atlanta, offers its residents vastly different aesthetic experiences from hamlet—as they call them—to hamlet via the power of placemaking. Conceived over 15 years ago by Atlanta restauranteur Steve Nygren, Serenbe is designed around a quartet of individual hamlets—Selbourne, Grange, Mado, and the upcoming Mado West—all connected by a few roads and miles of nature trails. The entire site has become a sprawling live and play destination that attracts a diverse group of young families, part-time residents from Atlanta’s core, as well as retirees. Since opening, some have called it a New Urbanist enclave, while others see it as an oasis that provides both access to ample greenery and comforts of city life like walkable downtowns and unique cultural opportunities. For the design-minded, what’s most curious about Serenbe are the various building types packed within each hamlet. From straight-laced Southern homes to metal-clad boxes and Scandinavian-inspired apartment complexes, Serenbe’s architecture is an education in the field of residential design itself. According to Nygren, each hamlet’s architecture is largely influenced by the purpose it serves. For example, Selborne, the first hamlet completed, serves as Serenbe's culture and arts sector. Its Main Street resembles an American downtown with touches of Italian influence found on the building ornamentations. The structures in Grange, which houses Serenbe’s agrarian efforts, evoke both a farmhouse and agro-industrial feel. Mado, a two-part hamlet that’s now under construction, is Serenbe’s sector for health and well-being where the architecture takes on more minimalist designs inspired by Copenhagen and cities in Sweden. Though it may sound like Serenbe is a cookie-cutter community full of non-site-specific architecture, and, if you go there, the whole community will look practically pristine in every way and almost too idyllic, the reality is that the build-out of Serenbe has been meticulously planned to maximize authenticity. Dictated by the Nygren family and the new architecture firm, Serenbe Planning and Design, led by Steve Dray and Cecilia Winston, every adjustment made to an existing home, as well as every new structure built, goes through an extensive design review process where the site, architectural language, floor plan, and other community guidelines are considered before a design decision is made. All the materials used for construction must be original, sustainable, and in keeping with the style found throughout each hamlet. What’s more is that Serenbe’s architecture, much like the popular outposts of Atlanta restaurants on site, is actually an eclectic mix of Serenbe’s strict style and that of other outside architects. Collaborators have included Bill Ingram Architect, J Ryan Duffey Architect, Peter Block Architects, Kemp Hall Studio, and Smith Hanes Studio. AN toured Serenbe during the Nygren Placemaking Conference where the Nygren family annually spells out the story of Serenbe and how it functions as both a business and living destination. Part of what attracts people to Serenbe, according to its residents, is the collection of surprising structures populating the hamlets and how, architecturally, they express the personalities of the people living there.
Pratt Institute's May symposium will explore the relationship between theory and practice in modern placemaking
The Pratt Institute Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment is putting together a day of discussions this May 13 to dive deeper into the theory and practice of placemaking. This symposium, titled "Making Sense of Place: Place Theory and Placemaking in Practice," will focus on the intersections of academic theory and practical urban placemaking across four sessions led by current practitioners and theorists of place and placemaking, including:
- Eve Baron, chairperson of Pratt's Center for Planning and the Environment Grad Center for Planning
- David Burney, director of Pratt's Urban Placemaking and Management program
- Tim Cresswell, dean of the faculty, vice president for academic affairs, and professor of American studies, Hartford, Connecticut's Trinity College
- Setha Low, professor, The Graduate Center at the City University of New York
- Sean Anderson, associate curator, Museum of Modern Art
- Kim Dovey, professor of architecture & urban design, Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne
Chicago-based PORT Urbanism will work with the Downtown Cleveland Alliance to turn a forbidding underpass near Cleveland's warehouse district into a vibrant pedestrian space, now that the Chicago-based firm has been selected as the winner of a design competition to revive the Main Avenue Bridge. Speaking to the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Steven Litt, PORT principal and Ohio native Christopher Marcinkoski said the hope is to "make a space that's exciting and comfortable for the pedestrian, but that's also efficient and clear for vehicular traffic coming through it." The Main Avenue Bridge spans the Cuyahoga River just south of the $500 million Flats East Bank development. Litt describes the existing condition that prompted the design competition:
The dark and shadowy underside of the bridge, which rises above Main Avenue as the road descends west of West 9th Street at the edge of the Warehouse District, can feel confusing to motorists and unwelcoming to pedestrians.The firm's proposal, which comes with a tentative budget of $800,000, beat out plans from two other finalists: New York's Balmori Associates and fellow Chicagoans Latent Design. That money will have to come quickly, as the project is scheduled to open before the Republican National Convention meets in Cleveland next year.
Who polka dotted West Lakeview? The area around the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection on Chicago's North Side looks like a giant game of Twister, as Streetsblog's John Greenfield points out, thanks to a whimsical, low-tech placemaking initiative that is part of a larger $175,000 streetscape project along Lincoln Avenue. The blue and green dots visually tie together sidewalks and neckdowns at the busy six-corner intersection, setting aside space for pedestrians and discouraging risky passing maneuvers by cars during times of heavy traffic. Plastic bollards, makeshift furniture and large planters provide some protection for pedestrians using the intersection's crosswalks, or just enjoying the expanded (polka-dotted) public space. The painted dots are supposed to endure Chicago weather for three years, at which point the city has planned a more permanent streetscape improvement. In recent years Chicago has gradually reclaimed small portions of neighborhood streets for pedestrian activity, through initiatives like its "Make Way for People" program and others.
With the Midwest's winter thaw underway, Minneapolis residents have an eye to the outside. But for the 40 percent of the city's downtown workers that walk, bike, or ride transit to their jobs throughout the winter, public spaces play a year-round role. Downtown transit stops in particular see tens of thousands of Twin Cities denizens on any given weekday, yet their designs range from utilitarian to downright unwelcoming. Writing for journalminneapolis.com, Max Musicant mulled how his city could turn transit stops into places where people want to be. He envisions a network of local groups taking ownership of their area transit stops, requesting money from the Twin Cities' Metro Transit agency that would otherwise go to “off-the-shelf” bus shelters and their maintenance. They'd spend that money on place-based designs, their “own “branded” station, perfectly attuned to local custom, utility, and whimsy.” Muses Musicant, founder and principal of the Minneapolis-based placemaking and public space management firm The Musicant Group:
An ideal set up could have Metro Transit establish a handful of pilot project sites chosen based on the ability of capacities of local groups that came forward. For each site, Metro Transit would ensure quality control over the process: that riders, businesses and property owners drive the process, that each station meets minimum requirements (shelter, seating, structural integrity, etc.), and that there is an accredited entity with proper insurance and capacity (non-profit, adjacent small business, etc.) that commits to build and maintain the station up to an agreed upon standard.Minneapolis is a good place for public space designers to dream—the city's public review process and collaborative design culture make it especially attuned to public opinion. With the recent extension of the Metro Green Line, the Twin Cities reconnected their separate light rail systems after decades apart. One of the junctions, next to Target Field in downtown Minneapolis, was specifically envisioned as a celebrated public space, as much park and plaza as multimodal transit hub. Over the next two years, Metro Transit said it will deliver $7.36 million in upgrades, including 22 new bus shelters. At $1.7 billion, however, the Green Line extension was not without its local critics—fairness and fiscal efficiency were at the heart of many complaints about the project. And in the sprawling midwest, many in the Twin Cities still depend on their cars. Much of the $6 billion Governor Mark Dayton is requesting to improve the state’s transportation system over the next 10 years will go to repair roads and highways.
In a few short years, the term placemaking has migrated from wonky urban planning circles to neighborhoods across the country—that communities come together around public space is no groundbreaking observation, but when successful the idea can be revolutionary on a local scale. So hopes Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council, who this weekend will sponsor “Old Place New Tricks,” a bid to “activate” neighborhoods from Englewood to Ravenswood with public space interventions that range from a “healthy eating happy hour” to “Selfie Sunday.” In all 18 events will rally neighborhoods across the city (and in the suburb of Blue Island), starting today and running through Sunday. MPC put together a map of them, which you can explore here. “Placemaking gives people the power to transform their neighborhoods, one space at a time,” said MPC’s Kara Riggio in a statement. “We at MPC hope this challenge provides communities an opportunity to tackle those vacant or underused spaces they've been eyeing for a while. Most of all, though, we hope it's a chance for people to get together with friends and neighbors for a great summer event!” No one’s under the illusion that pop-up art installations and weekend get-togethers can untangle the mess of problems plaguing many Chicago neighborhoods, but there’s hope that a community event focused on violence prevention in Austin, for example, or a peace-themed conference in Englewood may constitute a good start.
ArtPlace America, a non-profit comprised of national and local foundations that provides placemaking grants, has awarded its latest round cash—nearly $15 million to implement projects in 79 communities around the country. This year, 31 percent of grants will go toward projects in rural communities, essentially doubling the amount allocated for similar projects last year. According to a press release, these grants "include a notable uptick in creative interventions for improving physical environments through recycling, green initiatives, and site remediation, as well as a number of projects aimed at disaster recovery and resiliency.” The awarded projects total just four percent of the 1,270 letters of inquiry received by ArtPlace this year. Including this new round of funding, ArtPlace has invested a total of $56.8 million in 189 projects since 2012. Take a look at some of the projects below. For more information on ArtPlace, you can visit their website. Arts Confluence Haines, AK Alaska According to ArtsPlace: Although Haines is home to Fort Seward, a destination for many cruise ships, its vacant downtown storefronts leave much of the town disconnected from this important tourism economy. The Alaska Arts Confluence will contribute to the revitalization of downtown Haines by engaging the town’s many resident artists to transform vacant storefronts into active art galleries. The Confluence will commission local artists to create signage connecting these galleries with the Fort Seward tourist traffic and Chilkat artists to create a totem pole at the Soboleff-McRae Veterans Village and Wellness Center being built one block from Main Street. Project 51 Los Angeles, CA According to ArtsPlace: Play the LA River is the launch project of Project 51, a collective of artists, designers, community organizers, scholars, and urban planners. People will be invited en masse to sites along the Los Angeles River through a year-long, multi-pronged public art initiative. Through playful activities, interactions, festivals, and performances, the project will bring the 51-mile concrete river to life as a vital civic corridor and public space in Los Angeles and surrounding cities. The engagement is designed to reconnect residents with their waterfront while asking them to help imagine what future development along the River might be. Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy Boston, MA According to ArtsPlace: Public Art on the Greenway connects the Rose Kennedy Greenway’s 1.5 miles of green spaces in downtown Boston by using a combination of artworks, wall-sized murals, shipping container galleries, and artist conversations to engage the public. The project features both temporary exhibits and permanent installations. MoDCaR (Metropolitan Observatory of Digital Culture and Representation) Detroit, MI According to ArtsPlace: Building on the extraordinary musical legacy of Detroit’s Oakland North End, the Metropolitan Observatory of Digital Media and Representation, working with local stakeholders, will reactivate one linear mile of historic Oakland Avenue. O.N.E. Mile will leverage a network of architects, musicians, urban designers, contemporary artists, and community advocates to collectively plan and produce a series of vibrant civic interventions with installations, performances, events, and architectural mediations. Coop New West Jackson Jackson, MS According to ArtsPlace: Coop New West Jackson is a project addressing neighborhood blight, deterioration, and population decline with the installation of a new multi-faceted publicamenity. The Grenada Street Folk Garden, an innovatively landscaped urban farm that merges cultural folk art, ecology, and agriculture, is part of a strategy to engage and empower this low-income community through entrepreneurial opportunities, folk arts programming, affordable access to fresh food, and shared recreational green space for participatory and creative play. City of Fargo Fargo, ND According to ArtsPlace: World Gardens Commons is an artist-led initiative that engages Fargo’s diverse communities in transforming an 18-acre storm-water detention basin into a multi-purpose and ecologically sound public commons. While the grass-covered basins effectively control torrential seasonal flooding, they are barren spaces that challenge neighborhood connectivity. The project includes restored meadows, walking trails, natural playgrounds, and spaces for gatherings and activities. It will serve as a pilot for other infrastructure redesigns throughout Fargo. Santo Domingo Tribe Santo Domingo Pueblo, NM According to ArtsPlace: With a committee of distinguished artists and designers—including landscape architect Laurie Olin—the Santo Domingo Pueblo is focused on developing a heritage trail to connect New Mexico’s second largest pueblo nation with a newly constructed commuter rail station that will provide access to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The trail will combine safety and convenience with identity, placemaking, and cultural expression. The project also creates new, artist-centric economic opportunities within the Pueblo. Through a partnership with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, the Tribe will also explore how to understand and measure the ways that this trail will benefit physical and mental health. The Village of Arts and Humanities Philadelphia, PA According to ArtsPlace: The Village of Arts and Humanities, an organization carrying out a range of arts-focused community development programs, grew out of the artistic and activist work of choreographer Arthur Hall and visual artist Lily Yeh. The Village inaugurated an artist residency program this year, in which artists live and work in the North Philadelphia community. These five-month residencies enable both formal and informal interactions among artists and neighbors, including conversations, programs, apprenticeships, and workshops, and culminate in the execution of a transformative project rooted equally in artistic practice and community engagement. The grant will continue these residencies after a successful pilot stage. Fusebox Austin Austin, TX According to ArtsPlace: The project brings together Austin’s creative communities, city planners, developers, and local residents to envision and prototype a creative district of affordable living, working, learning, and exhibition and performance space at thinkEAST, a 24-acre former industrial site in East Austin. A “pop-up” Fusebox Festival on the property will comprise multidisciplinary performances, installations, and community events modelling a “living charrette” for a vibrant, creative, mixed-use community of the future. The final stage of the project will develop a district master plan and business plan for thinkEAST to be presented to stakeholders and City Council. Barter Theatre Abington, VA and nine other rural Virginia communities According to ArtsPlace: The Barter Theatre will develop and implement a creative industry cluster that will activate performing arts centers in nine rural towns in Southwest Virginia by creating a regional touring network and sharing programmatic and operational resources. Productions will include plays with Appalachian themes and writers and folk music of the region. The project complements an ongoing effort to help communities revive their downtown historic theaters.
The Metropolitan Planning Council in Chicago announced the winners of its “Active Union Station” competition, which is meant to enliven the railroad hub's underused public spaces. Although it’s the nation’s third busiest train station and gets more daily traffic than Midway Airport, Chicago's Union Station remains basically a waypoint on a longer trip. Two winners and a runner-up hope to change that. “Blah Blah Blob!” will take over the Plaza of Fifth Third Center, and “trainYARD” will sprout in the Great Hall. “I Searched High and Low for You” is the runner-up. The visual inspiration for Latent Design & Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative’s “Blah Blah Blob!” is, in part, the rip-stop nylon canvas elementary school teachers used to inflate around giddy students during recess. “Remember how much fun this was?” asks the entry’s visual plan. “Yeah, you do.” Astroturf completes the experience inside the brightly colored blob, which will move around the plaza throughout the exhibit’s duration. “trainYARD” brings the park lawn indoors, “putting it right in the middle of their daily routine.” The design by SPACETIME includes recycled-grass areas for tetherball, croquet and bocce, as well as picnic tables and lawn chairs. Runner-up “I Searched High and Low for You,” by Ann Lui and Craig Reschke, envisions a slew of red hammocks along Union Station’s Canal Street arcade, slung over a row of what appear to be floating orbs high overhead. Their appearance would be striking, acting as a “beacon for the city,” and a gallery of hammocks — not to mention their almost sculptural accent to the arcade’s parade of columns — would bring some activity to a lonely corridor. View the full list of entries here. The winners will receive $5,000 to implement their ideas between Aug. 24 and Sept. 2. Fifth Third Bank sponsored the competition, which served as the Metropolitan Planning Council’s fifth annual Placemaking Contest.
Although it gets more daily traffic than Midway Airport, Chicago’s main rail hub remains little more than a waypoint for most people—a bustling transit station buried beneath an often empty Beaux Arts volume. The Metropolitan Planning Council wants to change that. Their new placemaking contest, Activate Union Station, calls on architects, landscape architects, planners and designers of all stripes to submit ideas for a design-build program that will enliven the underused West Loop hub. Two winners will receive $5,000 each to make their ideas happen at any of three Union Station hotspots between Aug. 24 and Sept. 2: the Headhouse, located west of Canal Street; the east-facing arcade on Canal Street; and the Plaza of Fifth Third Center, along the Chicago River. The nation’s third-busiest rail hub, accommodating more than 120,000 Amtrak and Metra passengers every day, Union Station already recognized the need to invite people to stop and stay in its 2011 Master Plan, as they do in D.C. and Philadelphia. Entries are due July 24 at 5:00 p.m. to activateunionstation.com.
The median of a downtown stretch of State Street is now home to the latest of Chicago’s People Spots, a series of parklets sprinkled throughout the city as part of its “Make Way for People” program. Dubbed "The Gateway," the portion of State Street between Lake Street and Wacker Drive features shaded tables and chairs in what the city is calling its first “People Plaza.” Flowerboxes, banners, and bright red and blue colors lighten up the otherwise utilitarian median. While the spot’s central location is probably its greatest asset in attracting visitors, satisfying views of downtown’s architectural gems impart some elegance to the straightforward design. Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly, and Chicago Loop Alliance Executive Director Michael Edward were on hand Friday to dedicate the space, touting business opportunities for nearby restaurants and bars. The goal of the program is to activate public space for placemaking's sake, with economic development expected for nearby retail corridors. A cleaning team will service The Gateway from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. each day through the end of September, according to a press release from the Chicago Loop Alliance. On Saturday, the city is hosting a bicycle tour of the People Spots in Andersonville and Bronzeville.
The National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) announced the recipients for this year's round of Our Town grants—a $5 million investment in creative placemaking all over the United States. Combining grants from 2011, the program has invested over $10 million in projects in all 50 states and Washington D.C. This year, 80 applicants were chosen from a pool of 317 entries, which were all assigned to one of three panels: Arts Engagement-projects mainly focused on artistic production, Cultural Planning and Design-projects to build local support systems and spaces necessary for creative placemaking, and Non-metro and Tribal Communities-projects based in small communities not adjacent to metropolitan areas. These panels allowed for a diverse set of winning projects, ranging from a new cultural heritage center in a remote village in Alaska to a new arts center to encourage community engagement in New Jersey, only 20 miles south of Manhattan. More than half of the 80 recipients were communities with populations less than 50,000 and five of the grants were given to communities with less than 1,000 residents. To date, the NEA has invested more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. Regarding the large sum to be invested, NEA Chairman Landesman responded optimistically. "Cities and towns are transformed when you bring the arts—both literally and figuratively—into the center of them,” Landesman said in a statement. "From Teller, Alaska, to Miami, Florida, communities are pursuing creative placemaking, making their neighborhoods more vibrant and robust by investing in the performing, visual, and literary arts. I am proud to be partnering with these 80 communities and their respective arts, civic, and elected leaders." View all 80 winning projects at the NEA's website.