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BLOCK STREET&BUILDING The Best of New Urbanism in Arkansas

URBAN DEVELOPMENT

> HOUSING > PLACEMAKING > WALKABILITY


BLOCK STREET&BUILDING The Best of New Urbanism in Arkansas

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the value of CITIES

Understanding the relationship of placemaking and urban development

as 24 streets URBAN ROOMS Designing streets to capture economic and social value

46 understanding WALKABILITY Walkable cities are vibrant places for residents to enjoy on foot

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programming SPACES

Why the arts need the city—but not all economic development wants the city

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tactical URBANISM

This new technique for testing street designs and beautification plans is saving neighborhoods

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the importance OF HOUSING

In search of the “missing middle”

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the strong TOWN MOVEMENT

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arkansas’ COMPANY TOWN

Addressing the collapse in infrastructure funding

Top-down visioning toward holistic planning

Introduction

Features

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30 32 36 38 70

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A Message from the Arkansas Municipal League A Message from Crews & Associates Letter from the Editor Block, Street & Building

No Boundaries For the People, By the People Shared Spaces From Oil Town to Festival Town Look to Main Street

New Urbanism Champions

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Anita Davis John Gaudin Greg Nabholz

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ON THE COVER: At the corner of Third and Rock streets in Little Rock, the River Market Tower brings together condo-living, restaurants, shopping and entertainment in the growing River Market District. Photo by Sara Reeves


BLOCK STREET&BUILDING A Special Publication of Arkansas Times ALAN LEVERITT Publisher alan@arktimes.com REBEKAH HARDIN Associate Publisher rebekah@arktimes.com EDITORIAL MANDY KEENER Creative Director mandy@arktimes.com STEVEN LUONI Editor MELANIE JONES Managing Editor melanie@arktimes.com ADVERTISING PHYLLIS A. BRITTON Sales Director phyllis@arktimes.com ELIZABETH HAMAN Sales Director elizabeth@arktimes.com ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES ANNE GREGORY | anne@arktimes.com BONNY GREGORY | bonny@arktimes.com BROOKE WALLACE | brooke@arktimes.com CARRIE SUBLETT | carrie@arktimes.com JO GARCIA | jo@arktimes.com LESA THOMAS | lesa@arktimes.com SALEE BLACK | salee@arktimes.com TIFFANY HOLLAND | tiffany@arktimes.com SHANNON MURPHY | shannon@arktimes.com PRODUCTION WELDON WILSON Production Manager/Controller ROLAND R. GLADDEN Advertising Traffic Manager ERIN HOLLAND Advertising Coordinator GRAPHIC DESIGNERS BRYAN MOATS, MIKE SPAIN, VINCENT GRIFFIN & KEVIN WALTERMIRE SOCIAL MEDIA LAUREN BUCHER lauren@arktimes.com OFFICE STAFF ROBERT CURFMAN IT Director LINDA PHILLIPS Billing/Collections KELLY LYLES Office Manager ANITRA HICKMAN Circulation Director 201 E. MARKHAM ST., SUITE 200 LITTLE ROCK, AR 72201 501-375-2985 All Contents © 2015 Arkansas Times

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IDENTIFYING, EVALUATING, REGISTERING, AND PRESERVING OUR STATE’S CULTURAL RESOURCES SINCE 1969 We support the revitalization of Arkansas’s urban areas! State and Federal Tax Credits have played a major role in bringing new life to historic buildings in downtowns throughout our state. The Main Street Arkansas and Arkansas Downtown Network programs work with groups around the state to revitalize their historic commercial cores.

An Agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage

Join Main Street Arkansas as we host the South’s premiere downtown revitalization conference. For registration information and sponsorship opportunities call 501.324.9887.

www.arkansaspreservation.org

MainStreetArkansas @MainStreetAR Main Street Arkansas is a program of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.


CO-SPONSOR, BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

A Message from the Arkansas Municipal League

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his Block, Street & Building issue highlights many of the exciting things going on in our cities and towns throughout Arkansas. There is more excitement in our communities about their re-invigoration than I can remember. As I write this, there is a baseball game being played across the street mid-day, on a Tuesday, between two Arkansas teams vying for first place in the Texas League. The stands are full of students and a few others taking a long lunch hour. Even though most of those in attendance do not drive automobiles, there is hardly a parking space to be found in our lot or on the streets nearby. Businesses, offices, schools, parks—all co-existing and feeding off one another. People are walking, sometimes several blocks, to reach their destination. There is no fear of walking throughout the downtown. There are so many things to do—restaurants, shops, libraries, trolley rides, attractions, etc.—that make “downtown” a place that people want to be. Downtowns build civic pride, allow folks to make new friends and develop a sense of community in their hometowns. I can remember when this area had none of these positive attributes. There’s a palpable difference that has come about in many of our cities and towns. The area where my office is located is just one example. All across Arkansas, our cities and towns are improving and it shows. Arkansas has so many wonderful festivals. A person can plan a wonderful vacation just going from festival to festival and do so year after year choosing different events. Or, if not a vacation, have a wonderful weekend getaway at one of these great events. Just recently there was a listing of upcoming events which included festivals centered around crawdads, a world championship steak cook-off, pioneers, railroads, steamboats, Portfest and Lum and Abner, just to name a few held in a month. Most of these events are held in downtowns that are part of Arkansas’s new urbanism. When we mention “urban” you might think “major city,” when in fact a community of 2,500 or more in population is “urban,” and that includes most people in Arkansas. Not all of the credit for Arkansas’s urban revival goes to our municipal leaders, as many of these improvements have come about by virtue of programs and policies authorized particularly by state officials. Some are federal initiatives, but most are state based or simply home grown. The people of Arkansas are the greatest in the world and want our towns and cities to prosper and be as good as they can be. Arkansas has so many advantages. We are centrally located with four seasons, none too extreme, especially if you are a warm weather person like me. Our exciting cities and towns are usually not far away from our wonderful and renowned lakes, streams, mountains, valleys, and fields, all of which have their unique beauty and appeal. However, nothing surpasses the quality of Arkansas’s people. We sometimes think of Arkansas as being small and we are only about average size and population compared to other states, but just think of the political leaders we have produced as well as the economic powerhouses in our state. Just to mention a few firms headquartered here, we have the world’s largest retailer, the nation’s leading trucking firms, a great department store chain, leading data firms, a major oil and gas company, and we are at the top of the list as a chicken and rice producing state. Plus, we have wonderful collegiate sports along with the professional baseball teams that are just wrapping up their game next door. I wonder which Arkansas team won? The years 2000 through 2010 were the largest decade of municipal growth in Arkansas. With that said, almost 97 percent of Arkansas’s population growth occurred within the city limits of a city or town. Some of the events taking place in our urban areas are smaller, like I presume the Crawdad festival to be, or larger like a Razorback football game, Riverfest, or a Garth Brooks concert. Regardless of size, all these activities are contributing to a true renaissance in many of our cities and towns. In April, I attended the Arkansas Derby at the wonderful horse track we have located in the only national park situated entirely in a city, which happens to be in an urban part of Arkansas, just as the nation’s largest dog track is similarly located in another of our urban areas. After watching the horse run, who went on to win the Kentucky Derby, I overheard an out-of-state visitor comment that “if a person couldn’t have a good time in Arkansas, then they just couldn’t have a good time.” Warm weather is upon us. Go out and enjoy this state’s inviting communities and be a part of the incredible revitalization we have going on in our beloved Arkansas. The articles contained in this publication are bound to whet your appetite to be a part of Arkansas’s new urbanism. Enjoy it and be a part of helping “Great Cities Make a Great State!” Don A. Zimmerman Executive Director Arkansas Municipal League

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500 Cities and Towns Strong!

www.arml.org

“Great Cities Make A Great State”


CO-SPONSOR, BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

A Message from Crews & Associates

W

hether it was home to the department store your mother took you to each fall for new school shoes, or the art deco theater where you had your first date, “downtown” holds a special place in our memories. In small towns and large cities alike, downtown is typically where you went for parades and to see tall buildings. It was where the sidewalks were bustling with people and energy—unlike any other place in the area. Such shared experiences of traditional downtowns are a testament to the emotional commitment to our urban heritage and the desire for walkable, vibrant places in which to live, work and play. It’s no wonder then, that downtown redevelopment is a hot topic throughout Arkansas, from the largest cities to the smallest towns. Today, downtown districts are often known as the “old” part of town. Many of those areas include the buildings, streets and landmarks that formally represented the heart of the community, but have since given way to newer areas of dining, retail and business development. In the best scenarios, neglected downtown districts are simply faded and aging—still serviceable, but no longer attracting businesses, shopping or new development. Residents might venture downtown to drop off a water bill, or maybe vote on a millage. In the worst scenarios, a downtown district is empty and crumbling, a sad reminder of robust days gone by. Either way, all untouched downtown districts share a common trait—incredible potential. Because they often contain the most iconic landmarks, distinctive features and unique neighborhoods, downtowns are powerful symbols for a city. Since most downtowns are one of the oldest neighborhoods citywide, they offer rare insights into their city’s past, present and future. When Arkansas communities invest in downtown revitalization, they are bringing back the charm and character this area reflects of their town. Remember the happiness you experienced when walking along a downtown street, taking in all the varied sights, sounds and smells? That experience is unique to downtown and comes to define the city or town. Downtowns provide a greater range of functions than any other location in the region. A single downtown may serve as a place for employment, shopping, worship, tourism, housing, government services, dining, entertainment, lodging and cultural attractions. The fact is that downtown often has touched the lives of more residents than any other location. This creates a strong collective bond to that place. Particularly in a smaller city’s downtown, all of these activities are usually situated within a compact area that is easily walkable, which fosters a sense of community. From the professional walking down the street to grab a bite during the lunch hour, to the young mom pushing her kids in the stroller to the library, to the jogger stopping at the coffeehouse after his run, these individuals all share a common connection to this environment that simply cannot be felt in other locations. The traditional commercial downtown district is an ideal location for independent businesses, which in turn keep profits in town, support local families with family-owned businesses, support local community projects such as ball teams and schools, and provide a local economic foundation—talk about return on investment! Downtown revitalization requires a high degree of cooperation and is best achieved when a private-public process is used. Crews & Associates is a proven leader in such relationships. We believe that revitalizing your downtown district is key to attracting new businesses and residents, encouraging local spending, and improving the overall quality of life in your community. We provide the funding solutions necessary to help Arkansas communities realize those benefits. Crews & Associates has a long history of investing in Arkansas, and we’re proud of the multi-generational relationships we have with cities and counties throughout the state. Our team is committed to seeing even more growth and improvement in the future. In fact, Crews & Associates recently completed three $100+ million financings in Arkansas. It’s funding that will continue to improve lives and grow the economy now and for years to come. Although downtown revitalization is certainly a complex, challenging task, seeing a dead downtown come to life is a great reward for any community —and worth investing financial resources, time, energy and emotion. Nathan Rutledge Senior Managing Director Crews & Associates, A First Security Company

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BUILDING UP DOWNTOWNS. A thriving downtown draws people together with iconic landmarks, colorful storefronts and sidewalks perfect for an afternoon stroll. At Crews & Associates, we help make it all happen. Our team has a long history of providing funding solutions for Arkansas redevelopment, which in turn attracts new business, residents, tourism dollars and more. Contact us today and find out what we can do in your community.

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BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Letter from the Editor

THE BEST OF NEW URBANISM IN ARKANSAS

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Stephen Luoni is director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center (UACDC) where he is the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies and a distinguished professor of architecture. Under his direction since 2003, UACDC’s design and research have won more than 100 awards, including Progressive Architecture Awards, American Institute of Architects Honors Awards for Regional and Urban Design, Charter Awards from the Congress for the New Urbanism, American Society of Landscape Architecture Awards, Environmental Design Research Association Awards, American Architecture Awards, and a Holcim Award, all for urban design, research and education. His work at UACDC specializes in interdisciplinary public works projects combining landscape, urban and architectural design. Luoni directed production of the center’s award-winning book: Low Impact Development: a design manual for urban areas. His work has been published in Architectural Record, Landscape Architecture, Progressive Architecture, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’ hui, Progressive Planning, International New Architecture, and Public Art Review. He was appointed a 2012 United States Artists Ford Fellow. Luoni has a BS degree in architecture from Ohio State University and a master’s of architecture from Yale University.

his is a propitious time to reflect on the value of cities. Many are looking again to the city as a solution to a variety of challenges. Young professionals and retiring baby boomers are moving to the city to enjoy its social vitality, street life and cultural offerings…and they want to walk or bike. Transportation and planning agencies see urban land use as a primary way to curb out-of-control infrastructure costs, transportation spending and mounting debt obligations. By providing places that reward the decision to walk or bike, the public health policy community sees the city as a way to combat spiraling rates of preventable illness from lifestyle diseases like diabetes and obesity. Demand for downtown housing, in apartments and walk-up formats, has rocketed as there is little affordable supply to meet this need. Investors have also returned to underwrite mixed-use downtown development projects that didn’t have such a chance 10 years ago. In our preparation of recovery plans for the towns of Vilonia and Mayflower from the April 2014 tornado in central Arkansas, we were surprised but inspired when both towns asked us to reinvent their places rather than rebuild what was there. They requested town centers! Usually we are the ones pushing the use of urban form to distinguish places. Why is there renewed interest in placemaking? Not everyone aims to move into cities from the suburbs. But there are many who now want the option of urbanism; they want the lifestyles and social connections that cities small or large offer. Communities, however, have not maintained investments in their downtowns for quite a while, and so reinvestment must match renewed interest. Cities are complex, and the tacit knowledge that goes into building successful cities has been lost. The following articles illustrate exemplary downtown investments underway throughout Arkansas cities. Placemaking is also sustained economic development. The most radical, but assured, action that our economic development teams statewide can take is to reinvest in Arkansas cities. For so many reasons, downtown reinvestment is the most holistic approach to building enduring prosperity. These articles examine the principles and learning that underlie good placemaking. Sincerely,

Stephen Luoni Editor, Block, Street & Building

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MATTHEW PETTY Matthew Petty is a development associate of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center (UACDC) and an alderman on the Fayetteville City Council. He joined UACDC in 2011 to focus on grant writing, partnership development and project research. His work has resulted in more than $350,000 committed to designing public spaces. On the city council, he is chair of the transportation committee, which oversees more than $50 million in capital improvement projects and transportation planning efforts. His policy focus is removing barriers to walkable development. Petty has a BS in mathematics and political science with emphasis in participatory governing and urban modeling.

ABOUT THE UACDC The University of Arkansas Community Design Center (UACDC) advances creative development in Arkansas and beyond through design, research and education solutions. Originated in 1995 as an outreach center of the Fay Jones School of Architecture, the center has its own downtown facilities and a fulltime design and planning staff who deliver professional services for communities and organizations nationwide. While students participate in the development of some of the center’s projects, when a client hires the center they hire the professional staff. UACDC regularly collaborates with allied professionals in multiple disciplines, and the center’s nonprofit status allows it to deliver design services at cost while enhancing its ability to extract the highest quality of work from the center’s private sector team members. Under the direction of Stephen Luoni, the center’s director for the last 10 years, UACDC has become a respected national authority in urban design and the shaping of the built environment. As a bridge between public and private development sectors, UACDC has developed eight place-making models to address core challenges in our built environment. These models in community development include, among others, transitoriented development, low-impact residential development, context-sensitive street design, agricultural urbanism and smart growth urbanism. UACDC has helped to reshape development and planning policy at the state, regional, and municipal levels. BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 13


BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

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he four major challenges to successfully launching revitalization initiatives are inadequate public resources, depressed property values, negative market perception and limited access to private capital. Early small wins in any community development effort are critical to overcoming these roadblocks to momentum. The Flywheel Effect outlined by Jim Collins in Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t (Harper Collins, 2001) offers a good example of the power of early wins. A flywheel is described as a massive metal disk mounted to an axle. It takes enormous effort to initially get the flywheel moving. Over time and with sustained effort, however, the flywheel begins spinning with its own weight and the pushing gets easier and easier. It isn’t one big push, but a series of pushes that gets the flywheel truly moving. This is the basic strategy of a block, street and building community development approach—invigorating opportunity through a series of small, focused public and private investments. This approach helps build the tangible evidence to shift negative perception and prioritize public resources, which in turn accelerates property values and opens access to additional capital. To get things moving, it is important to define and map the geographic focus area in order to align the community vision, available resources and important partners. Once the area is outlined, multiple sub-districts between four to six blocks can be positioned to jump start the initiative. Identifying the connections between the built environment, businesses, residential areas, public spaces, streets and trails is the next step in the block, street and building approach. This helps prioritize the necessary changes in municipal rules and regulations that might slow down the initiative’s “flywheel.” Developing a comprehensive business plan for the overall district pushes the strategic residential, retail and restaurant mix to support and advance the desired experience. Part of that plan should consist of an identified catalytic project within each sub-district that launches the overall vision and creates a believable and positive buzz within six months of announcing the initiative. Repositioning and curating public spaces to connect the various blocks, streets and buildings within the greater master plan area sets the stage for a vibrant production season of activities that highlight key assets, generate economic activity and brings the emerging experience alive. The flywheel of redevelopment has now started to spin, but it is important to keep pushing. Constant changes in strategy and direction results in little or no sustained momentum. Described as the Doom Loop by Collins, a stop-and-start effort produces disappointing results, which prompt another round of overhyped changes to get things moving again. Over time, these hiccups create an environment of disbelief that sucks the energy and resources from the initiative. To counter the Doom Loop, it is vital to ensure the municipal governments, civic organizations and the private sector understand their roles and work together to advance the plan. The positive interaction between these sectors create a system capable of withstanding the desire for premature shifts and weathers the nonstrategic reactions to natural market fluctuations. The role of the municipality is to set clear rules and procedures for realizing the community vision while working directly with the civic and private sectors to remove barriers of implementation. The civic sector acts as the curator and concierge of the community vision by helping foster an environment of collaboration while promoting opportunities for investment. The private sector fuels the community vision by developing quality projects, offering relevant services and spending their dollars to support the local businesses. A string of successes build the needed momentum to sustain and grow redevelopment efforts. The block, street and building approach engages people in real time and offers a clear pathway to involving everyone in the revitalization process. Start pushing on that flywheel!

Daniel Hintz is the founder and Chief Experience Architect at the Velocity Group. Located in Bentonville, AR, his company helps public and private sector clients design and launch strategic economic and community development plans. Prior to starting his firm, Daniel most recently served as the executive director of Downtown Bentonville, Inc., helping foster the experience and development of the 1,765 acre downtown district. 14 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING


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the value of CITIES

PHOTO COURTESY LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Understanding the relationship of placemaking and urban development

Capital Avenue and Main Street intersection, Little Rock, 1955

A

rkansas has a rich history of urbanism because cities are crossroads. They are centers for trade in culture, ideas, goods and services. Cities exponentially multiply social and capital wealth in ways not found in the dispersed settlements of suburb and country. Physicists like Geoffrey West who study cities tell us that every doubling of population increases all measures of economic activity by 15-percent per capita. Similarly, sociobiologists emphasize that we are social animals inclined toward cooperation and the infinite expansion of our habitat—cities. Social activity is indeed viral. And as with any social activity, trade begets more trade to eventually form higherorder economies. Specialized economies based in shipping, education, health, manufacturing, finance, government or the arts are powerful aggregating forces in the development of cities. Historically, such social exchange was spatially fixed through town squares, village greens, parks and commercial main streets found in communities of all sizes. In almost every pre-1920s city, the square and the main street served as the heart of social and economic activity, as well as our identity. These well-loved spatial formats are the natural products of ever concentrating forces in urbanization processes. Robust

economic exchange in the pre-automobile walkable city demanded human-scaled public places framed by mixed land uses and compact residential neighborhoods with a full variety of housing types. Subsequent urban expansion was serviced by public rail transit that extended the range of the pedestrian—the transit city. Such expansion reproduced urban qualities outside of downtown in streetcar suburbs like the Hillcrest neighborhood in Little Rock. People want to be in the center of vital places. Hence the social physics of cities. Nevertheless, the city’s way of life has not always been valued, particularly when residents suffered the effects of overcrowding and unmanaged growth characteristic of the early 20th century industrial city. The response had been flight from cities to suburbs aided by the pervasiveness of the automobile and the express highway. Unlike the walkable city and the transit city, which concentrated populations, the automobile city dispersed populations. After 70 years of building sprawling development at the expense of cities nationwide, we are investing in cities again. This includes a renewed demand for urban options in many Arkansas communities, but why? continued on page 18

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the value of CITIES

PHOTOS BY SARA REEVES/COURTESY LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

A renewed APPRECIATION for the VITALITY that comes with trade in ideas along with living, dining and being around others is SHARED by young and old alike.

Since we stopped investing in cities over the past three generations, we have come to better understand that cities uniquely aggregate talent to build diverse economies, and serve as markets for the exchange of goods and services. Cities prompt innovation, patent growth and intellectual property development at much higher rates than nonurban areas. It is no accident that research universities have consistently developed their campuses using urban models as development templates to accelerate the social exchange necessary for innovation. Discourse and collaboration are far greater factors in innovation than lone genius. A renewed appreciation for the vitality that comes with trade in ideas along with living, dining and being around others is shared by young and old alike. Cities that don’t understand this shift toward what Richard Florida dubbed the “creative economy”—or worse, dismiss it wholesale—fall behind. Eighty percent of all recent college graduates now move to cities. Reversing traditional preferences, graduates now select the place in which they want to live before they consider job opportunities—a major force driving the widespread revitalization of cities. Cities that get placemaking right have a competitive advantage over their contemporaries, and not just in attracting young people. Surveys by groups like AARP and the National Association of Realtors show empty nesters and retiring baby boomers also want the option of urbanism in the highest proportions seen in a century. Cities provide myriad social opportunities. The conviviality gained from friends, associations or even strangers makes a difference in long-term wellbeing. Studies show that an individual’s depth of social connectivity, more than wealth, is the key to happiness and longevity. Concentration brings unique benefits. continued on page 20

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Central Avenue, Hot Springs, 1910 and today.


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BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 19


Old Main, Fayetteville

PHOTOS BY SARA REEVES/WESLEY HITT

Spring Street, Eureka Springs

PLACEMAKING PRINCIPLES Still, how could it be that a rural state like Arkansas showed accomplishment in building memorable downtowns? As it turns out, urbanism follows the same principles of composition in places large and small, from Helena and Bentonville to Chicago. Before the 1920s, there were few systemic land-use development codes, planners or bureaucracies governing city making. Euclidean zoning, or the single land-use zoning that we have grown up under, was adopted by municipalities only after 1926. Cities were built incrementally by small-scale actors: Surveyors, contractors, carpenters, masons, amateur designers and developers who employed time-honored patterns transmitted through design pattern books. Home journals and carpenter’s guides further popularized elite design knowledge drawn from precedents in architecture and urban design. The use of shared pattern languages was significant because successful urbanism is correlated to key compositional relationships without which the walkable city could not function. Thomas Jefferson for example, our only president who was a self-taught architect, learned architecture through the study of Renaissance texts on building. He went on to design and build arguably the country’s greatest campus—the University of Virginia. Essentially, these lay builders employed the five building blocks—the principles of placemaking—that structure the city’s image, well-known in planning but otherwise intuited by most because they experience them routinely.

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The Villages at Hendrix, Conway

1. The most important element is a strong center. Strong centers

catalyze public activity through spatial formats like a main street or downtown square framed by commercial and institutional land uses. Arkansas has plenty of great precedents in each, from the exemplary main streets of Jonesboro, Blytheville, El Dorado, Rogers, Van Buren, Morrilton and Russellville to squares that lend even the smaller towns a sense of grandness like those in Benton, Harrison, Monticello, Osceola, Berryville, Ozark, Altus and tiny Norman.

2. Landmarks establish symbolic moments. These moments help

people make place-based associations, allowing them to create a mental map of the town. This is why landmarks facilitate wayfinding for visitors. Obvious examples include courthouses marking the center of city squares, or the termination of streets with framed views like in the elegant punctuation of Main Street by the Jefferson County Courthouse in Pine Bluff. Dramatic examples couple geography with structures like the State Capitol Building overlooking downtown Little Rock and the University of Arkansas’ Old Main in Fayetteville. Though not consciously urban elements, the grain elevators of Stuttgart are unrivaled landmarks within a regional landscape akin to what church steeples are to a neighborhood.


Riceland, Stuttgart

Dickson Street, Fayetteville Downtown Rogers 4th & Main streets, Little Rock

3. Networks of walkable blocks subdivide into identifiable universities. Each university imparts a distinct character on the neighborhoods or districts anchored by schools, stores and parks. Neighborhoods are the building blocks of great cities. Even giant cities like New York and London were built from the accumulation of compact villages. Choice cities offer varying degrees of housing densities and lifestyles, ranging from the high-density downtown core, to surrounding downtown neighborhoods (many now historic districts), first-ring suburbs and the rural edge. Urbanists refer to this crosssection of decreasing neighborhood density from core to periphery as an urban-to-rural transect. Like all well-planned cities, many Arkansas communities exhibit this kind of clarity. Visitors to cities like Fort Smith, Texarkana, Springdale and Magnolia can find their way to the city center simply by observing neighborhood transitions.

4. District edges demarcate territorial thresholds, creating limits and the

sense of boundedness found in memorable places. Geographic features like hills and rivers are natural edge definers artfully employed in cities like Eureka Springs, Mountain Home, Hot Springs and Lake Village. Absent geographic features, planned urban fabrics specify their own edges through design, as exemplified by the urban neighborhoods of Conway that are sandwiched between downtown and its three outlying

neighborhood it anchors, and neighborhood patrons recognize their boundaries intuitively.

5. Memorable urban circulation networks are distinguished with

great streets. Streets constitute 25 to 30 percent of our urban surfaces and almost 80 percent of a city’s public space. Besides serving traffic needs, great streets host extensive non-traffic social uses, becoming destinations of their own. A great street can serve as a front yard, a place to do business, and a stage for festivals and political events. Great streets function less as corridors and more as urban-scaled rooms framed by buildings that define sidewalk space. Think Dickson Street in Fayetteville, Markham Street in Little Rock or Spring Street in Eureka Springs. Of course, there is Central Avenue in Hot Springs, which was just named by the American Planning Association as one of the nation’s ten great streets! Central Avenue joins the likes of Broadway Avenue in New York, Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., and King Street in Charleston, S.C. Street design is indeed central to capturing economic value. continued on page 23

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 21


2nd & Main streets, Bentonville

PHOTO BY WESLEY HITT

the value of CITIES

Place MATTERS more than ever for achieving sustained ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. 22 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING


Enhancing Arkansas Communities Since 1983

DEFINING URBANISM Urbanism is not only a condition of population size, but rather a scalable set of relationships exhibited in places large and small. It’s a question of qualities. Recall that the transformative Italian Renaissance emerged in Florence whose population at that time in 1425 was only 60,000—Conway’s current population. Small as they may be, many Arkansas downtowns hold equally powerful lessons about urbanism as say Houston or Orlando. The dispersed and unwalkable street systems in the latter recall Gertrude Stein’s famous observation upon returning to her hometown, Oakland, and seeing its devolution: “There is no there there.” The lesson is bigness is not a guarantee of urbanism. Place matters more than ever for achieving sustained economic development. Arkansans are giving their downtowns a second look and rediscovering the city as an unrivalled form for creating the interconnected social, cultural and capital wealth characteristic of prosperous places. Many would be astonished at the multiplier effect of downtown revitalization on general welfare and livability (i.e., health, education, affordability). Conversely, the inability to revitalize neglected downtowns stymies economic development and livability—a hard fact that many decision-makers are beginning to understand. This is changing with the pioneering initatives currently underway in some Arkansas cities. Historically, cities have always been the most innovative of political and economic engines. They are the most agile of all government entities, and when they transcend prescriptive roles to coordinate development as many Arkansas cities have started doing, revitalization is not only possible—it is probable.

 Natural Resource Restoration  Urban Greenspace & Trail Enhancement  Brownfields Assessments &

Remediation  Brownfields Grant Writing Jean Koeninger jmk@ftn-assoc.com Mark Koch msk@ftn-assoc.com Little Rock, AR (501) 225-7779 Fayetteville, AR (479) 571-3334 www.ftn-assoc.com

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 23


streets as URBAN ROOMS Designing streets to capture economic and social value

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treets are primarily meant to maximize the movement of vehicular traffic, or so most have been led to believe by modern transportation planners. However, thriving cities small and large alike commonly boast great streets that are the heart of cultural and social life. Streets are symptomatic; litmus tests for gauging the health of a community, whether one is factoring economic, social or ecological health. How people move around is the single greatest factor determining the quality of a city. If a city is designed solely for cars—for speed and covering long distances—then you get a city of cars. Alternatively, a city designed around transportation choice involving walking, cycling and public transit in addition to the automobile, yields a city for people. The social physics of cities portends that people will attract more people, increasing demand for public space. Great cities understand that multiple modes of movement within the street is a force multiplier of economic and social activity. The best streets are indeed vital places. The classic American Main Street demonstrates this well. The revitalization of Little Rock’s neglected Main Street, dubbed the Creative Corridor, is a case in point illustrating the centrality of careful street design in urban regeneration.

LITTLE ROCK’S CREATIVE CORRIDOR AND COMPLETE STREETS The Creative Corridor retrofits a four-block segment of a historic downtown Main Street through economic development catalyzed by the cultural arts rather than Main Street’s traditional retail base. Its once—thriving retail base decamped to the suburbs 50 years ago with little prospect for returning. The goal then is to structure an identity for the Creative Corridor based on a mixeduse work-and-live environment sensitive to historical context. The implicit challenge is to create compatibility between proposed large-scale buildings using curtain-wall technologies and smaller historic commercial buildings constructed of brick and stone. To ensure a sense of place and continuity, solutions relied on streetscape design—landscape architecture, public space configurations, building frontage systems and signage, and street furniture, collectively known as townscaping. Designed by the University of Arkansas Community Design Center + Marlon Blackwell Architects, the Creative Corridor plan restores the street’s traditional non-traffic social functions eliminated by present-day traffic engineering. Unlike roads, which efficiently move traffic from one point to another, streets are plateforms for capturing value. A well-designed street provides 24 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

non-traffic functions related to gathering, assembly, recreation and aesthetics. The answer is not to exclude automobile traffic, like Main Street once did when it was converted into a pedestrian mall in the 1980s. An essential planning rule of thumb is never close a street as this undermines overall street network connectivity and urban vitality. Rather, change the street’s level of service by recalibrating hierarchies among transportation modes to enliven the street’s public culture. This entails enlarging sidewalk zones and transforming the street corridor into a series of rooms that elevate the pedestrian’s right to the street. This new approach to street design is known as shared space, similar to a European plaza where motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and even streetcars negotiate the same space on equivalent terms.

STREETS ARE POLITICAL PROJECTS The ascendancy of Complete Streets policy parallels the regeneration of downtowns over the last 20 years. Both efforts require vigilant political leadership to navigate challenging codes, entrenched interests and general inertia to change. Residents returning to live in downtown require streets that add to livability rather than function simply as expressways for rush-hour traffic twice per weekday. Change requires political management because the challenge is less a technical design issue and more a cultural contest over values and access to services. Thorny subjects related to street parking, street trees, signage and use of sidewalk space by property owners or street vendors always arise without clear solutions. Accommodation for bicyclists and mode separation are particularly contentious. Over the past seven years, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola has worked with regional stakeholders and abutting property owners to realize the Creative Corridor. Stodola convinced the city’s major arts institutions—the ballet, the symphony and a consortium of artists to relocate their administrative offices and production space to the Creative Corridor. His efforts were supported through successive planning grants and technical assistance from the Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD), the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the National Endowment for the Arts and now ArtPlace, a consortium of national foundations. Their hope is that Little Rock implements a model downtown revitalization showcasing high standards of livability. According to Caran Curry, a central figure in the mayor’s office and the city’s grants administrator, Mayor Stodola’s initial objective was historic preservation. But after enrolling in continued on page 28


PHOTO BY SARA REEVES

TIDBITS Motorists are compelled to behave socially. For a fascinating look at these relationships see Tom Vanderbilt’s bestseller Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do. The National Complete Streets Coalition was launched in 2004: smartgrowthamerica.org. The Creative Corridor plan was designed by the University of Arkansas Community Design Center (uacdc.uark.edu) and Marlon Blackwell Architects (marlonblackwell.com). The ongoing revitalization of Little Rock’s Main Street, dubbed the Creative Corridor, has injected new life into the area.

Mayors’ Institute on City Design micd.org BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 25


streets as URBAN ROOMS

Rendering of the Creative Corridor looking north from the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. COURTESY UACDC

26 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING


“Since preparation of the CREATIVE CORRIDOR plan two years ago, over $76 million in BUILDING IMPROVEMENTS, including residential lofts, are underway or have been COMPLETED.” —Caran Curry

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 27


streets as URBAN ROOMS

Rendering of the Creative Corridor looking toward the North Gateway Plaza from the 400 block.

MICD, an institute that has provided technical assistance to over 1,000 American mayors in its 28-year history, Stodola crafted a larger vision for Main Street. He assembled a diverse set of area stakeholders, art groups and consultants to integrate preservation, arts-driven economic development and urban livability to reenergize the city’s most underutilized treasure—Main Street. Curry notes that since preparation of the creative corridor plan two years ago, over $76 million in building improvements, including residential lofts, are underway or have been completed. Many underestimate the unique power of the public sector to catalyze and direct market investment toward the kind of city it desires. As Curry observes, “engaged political leadership and the ability of the city to learn” was indispensible to realizing the plan. She urges every mayor to enroll in a MICD session to better understand the relationship between design and governance. The street space is being revamped with shared spaces from building edge to building edge to accommodate an influx of theater patrons for The Arkansas Reparatory Theatre, new galleries, restaurants, hotels and a technology park. A plaza is planned for the intersection of Capitol and Main streets, creating an urban room. Main Street will also become a “green street,” housing one of the nation’s largest demonstration facilities for ecologically based management of urban stormwater runoff in a downtown right-of-way. The two-block long facility is a landscaped treatment network in the form of a tree-lined allee housing rainwater gardens and bioswales topped by a boardwalk offering outdoor dining and sitting space. Modular structural cells beneath portions of the street allow more extensive tree root growth in uncompacted soil while bearing traffic loads. This should prolong the average lifespan of the urban tree, which currently stands at 13 years. The design meets the ongoing challenge for all future urban infrastructure: To deliver ecological services in addition to the expected urban services. The street becomes an ecological asset rather than a liability. 28 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

COURTESY UACDC

The street is transformed from a corridor dominated by mobility to a series of urban rooms with centrality and a sense of place. Special lighting effects, public art and architectural structures like arcades and LED display screens create a festive and safe environment at night. The street is designed to readily accommodate a future streetcar or light rail line serviced by stations that function as welcoming civic architecture with signage and unique lighting systems. Ironically, at the begining of the 20th century Little Rock had one of the nation’s largest interurban rail systems for a city of its size—supporting our argument that Arkansas has a rich history of citymaking. Metroplan’s long-term strategic plan for reestablishing urban rail, which includes Main Street, is a prudent step toward elevating urban livability and otherwise elusive economic development. Great streets are unrivaled tools for capturing value. The design concept for the Creative Corridor was to deploy ordinary infrastructure investments in new ways that reclaim an irreplaceable vintage street environment. The vision was the outcome of collaboration among the city’s leadership, property owners and area stakeholders. The project forges alignment among three separate components governing street implementation— policy, systems (decision-making processes used to plan and build streets) and the environment (the street)—that often prevent the realization of great streets. Why is this important? Because most requests by Creative Corridor stakeholders incorporated into the design proposal—as reasonable and as visionary as they were—are non-conforming under many municipal codes. Curry contends that, “The city had to step outside of its knowledge base to grow.” The process undertaken for the Creative Corridor allows a significant street like Main Street to once again function as a civic work of art and maybe even one day join the pantheon of great streets nationwide.


The historic reopening of Robinson Center will mark a milestone in Little Rock’s ongoing revitalization. The center is the western anchor to the arts, entertainment and cultural district, complementing the Clinton Presidential Center at the eastern end of the city’s thriving and vibrant downtown. This completely renovated state-of-the-art performance hall and brand new meetings venue will be home to many of Little Rock’s performing arts organizations and offer dramatic views from the new grand ballroom overlooking the Arkansas River. “A great place to live; a secret foodie city; a travel-worthy state capital; one of the best downtowns” are a few of the terms that the media has recently used to describe Little Rock. Those of us fortunate to call it home simply say “Life is Better with a Southern Accent.” TM

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streets as URBAN ROOMS

no boundaries Developer Jimmy Moses looks to the future as the River Market District continues to expand its boundaries and its purpose

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hen the River Market opened in 1996, the original focus of the project was to create an entertainment district, replete with bars, restaurants and other nightlife attractions. This new vision for the old Farmers Market was a success, as the area along what is now Clinton Avenue is a destination for residents and tourists alike. But Jimmy Moses, chairman of Moses Tucker Real Estate, which led the revitalization of the area, has set his sights on not only redefining what the River Market District is to Little Rock, but also where it is. Today, the boundaries of the River Market District stretch from the Arkansas River to Capitol Avenue, and from I-30 to Main Street. “The east/west edges are a little less defined, but the core is between Clinton and Capitol avenues and Sherman and Cumberland streets,” Moses says. “It is beautiful and well defined. If you come visit or work here, you can travel a true urban neighborhood that is high caliber with shopping, dining, entertainment, residences and everything in between.” Four years after the $10 million River Market project—which centered on the Ottenheimer Market Hall, a 15,000-square-foot indoor food market adjoined by two open-air pavilions that would accommodate the seasonal farmers market, among other outdoor events—two developments occurred that would begin to define the residential aspect of the area. First came Rock Street Lofts (located at East Third and Rock streets), followed by Tuf-Nut Lofts, also on East Third Street, both of which were converted warehouse living and rental properties. “Rock Street Lofts happened, and were followed by Tuf-Nut. Both of those ideas worked, and they continue to work. There’s always a demand for the Tuf-Nut Lofts,” Moses says. “This proved to us that people wanted to live downtown.” In 2002, Moses Tucker built the Capital Commerce Center, a seven-story, mixed-use building combining retail, office space and 16 condos, all of which were sold by the time the project opened. “It was just a rousing success, and gave impetus to us to say, ‘Let’s build 500 to 1,000 residential units here in the neighborhood,” he says. “It also showed us that we could probably transform the River Market District into a true urban neighborhood that all significant cities have.” One of the significant cities that Moses Tucker drew inspiration from was Portland, Oregon. Portland’s Pearl District, once home to warehouses and a rail yard, underwent a transformation similar to that of the River Market District, and is now a premier destination for arts, entertaining and residential living. And while Portland’s population is significantly greater than that of Little Rock, the ideas were easily adaptable.

30 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

“This is one of the most wonderful cities of the Pacific Northwest, and they really get how important it is to have a residential district for living in the city,” Moses says. “Even though Portland is a larger city, we looked at some of the buildings and ideas and adapted them to fit here. Around 2004 and 2005, that’s the approach we took to expanding the district into a true urban neighborhood with a residential component to complement the commercial activity.” Another aspect that helps define a good urban neighborhood is tourism. Moses notes that because of neighborhood anchors like the Main Library and the Clinton Presidential Library—as well as the Museum of Discovery, Historic Arkansas Museum and other area cultural destinations, people can come to the River Market District and spend two or three full days enjoying it, blending in with the people around them and having a great time. “I enjoy seeing people with maps walking around, as well as people with kids and dogs. That’s the definition of a good urban neighborhood, when people want to live there or visit there, and we have that,” he says. “I think that today when you say ‘The River Market District’, people understand that it’s much more than just an urban entertainment area, it’s a place to live and work, and a place to have fun as well.” With tourists and residents aplenty, the River Market is still in need of another group of people: employees. Moses notes that the biggest struggle for both the River Market and much of downtown Little Rock is attracting significant employers to either return to the area, or come for the first time. As downtown declined in the late 1980s and 1990s, employers declined as they moved out to other areas, and haven’t necessarily rushed back. “Even though we’ve done great things to make living and visiting downtown wonderful, there are those who say, ‘I’m not sure if I’m ready or willing to move my company back down there,’” he says. “When this trend turns over—and I think that’s around the corner—downtown will really explode. I think the Tech Park on Main Street is the start of a new employment trend. We’ve got such a great area downtown, and people will start seeing that employers and employees want to be in an area where they can thrive and enjoy the vibrancy.” As for the not-so-distant future, Moses remains optimistic and excited. “I hope that in another 10 years, you’ll see the financial quarter and River Market, and the line separating them will blur and downtown and the River Market will be indistinguishable from one another,” he says. “They will be tied together and walkable, filled in with renovation and new construction. What we’re seeing happening on Main Street is so important to set the stage for more to come in the future.” —MEL JONES


PHOTO BY SARA REEVES

At the corner of Third and Rock streets in Little Rock, the River Market Tower brings together condo-living, restaurants, shopping and entertainment in the growing River Market District. BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 31


streets as URBAN ROOMS

for the people, by the people

The revitalization of Little Rock’s 12th Street corridor is a community driven effort

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riginally called 12th Street Pike, 12th Street in Little Rock has seen more than its fair share of change over the past century. As the neighborhoods initially grew in the early 1900s, the need for a new school was apparent, and the Robert E. Lee School was built at 12th and Pine. During the same time, electric streetcars had become popular, and 12th Street Pike was merely a trail compared to 13th Street, which was the route of the City Electric Street Car Company’s trolley line that extended from downtown south and west to the last stop at 13th and Pine. The streetcar allowed growth to move from downtown to outlying suburban areas and these new neighborhoods were laid out on a grid based on the city’s old existing grid. As commercial development continued, the Robert E. Lee School served as an anchor to the area. Unfortunately, much of this was lost during the 1950s and 1960s as the neighborhood saw more changes in ownership and economic stability.

32 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

According to the “12th Street Corridor Plan” devised by Crafton Tull, the then four-lane 12th Street corridor acted more like a thoroughfare that funnels traffic through the community. And while the four-lane configuration of 12th Street accommodated vehicular traffic quite well, it did so at the expense of pedestrian circulation in the area. This thoroughfare trend, coupled with continued economic challenges in the corridor, had resulted in a lack of new growth, both residential and commercial. The local residents, however, were ready for change. The push to reclaim the corridor stemmed from the need for improvements to the quality of life in the part of town south of I-630 between Woodrow and University Avenue. During community meetings held during the exploratory phase of the “12th Street Corridor Plan”, residents pointed out that more people were moving out, leaving the neighborhood in a constant state of transition. And while there had been development all around the area, none of it was actually taking place in the 12th Street corridor, and


PHOTO BY SARA REEVES

Unveiled in 2014, the Little Rock Police Department’s 12th Street Station is the largest building built by the city in decades, and is LEED-certified Silver.

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streets as URBAN ROOMS

therefore not benefitting the residents. “City of Little Rock Director Ken Richardson would often remind us that we were planning the redevelopment with the community not for community,” says Dave Roberts, planning director at Crafton Tull. Residents also noted the positive changes they had witnessed, including less crime and better housing stock, all of which could be attributed to the work of the BCD—Better Community Development—known previously as Black Community Developers. One positive change was the opening of The Willie L. Hinton Neighborhood Resource Center. The former home of the Robert E. Lee School reopened in 1999 as a community center, business incubator and social service center, and named in honor of city director Willie L. Hinton for his efforts toward establishing the center. During this project timeline, plans were underway for two major public investment anchors: The Hillary Clinton Children’s Library and the12th Street Station, to house multiple department of the Little Rock Police Department, as well as other mixed uses. The ideas that emerged throughout the process were of economic growth, teaching skills and job training to job placement, and investing in the surrounding neighborhoods. Residents wanted a “real neighborhood” with a clean environment that elevated openness, parks, good transportation, lighting and even good food. It needed to be a place that people wanted to visit, rather than avoid. Residents wanted to create assets in the corridor that would benefit the entire city. As the steering committee considered all of these things, the vision for the master plan to revitalize the 12th Street corridor took its shape: “To create a sustainable, livable neighborhood that provides a strong sense of community and quality of life for a diverse population.” “The planning process was a success in part due to the diverse makeup of the steering committee. We had representatives from the neighborhoods, faith-based groups and city representatives, as you would expect, but the committee also included developers and bankers that didn’t currently live or invest in the area. Their input on barriers was as important as the point of view the others shared,” says Julie Luther, senior planner at Crafton Tull. Since the study in 2009, a number of positive changes have happened in the area. The nearby Hilary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library & Learning Center has opened, the 25,000-square-foot, stateof-the-art BCD EmPowerment Center has opened, and provides state-licensed treatment, prevention and intervention programs, as well as supportive housing, life skills and career training, technology training and community programs. Saint Mark Baptist Church recently broke ground on its 45,000-square-foot Children and Youth Center. And the Little Rock Police Department last year unveiled the 12th Street Station, a 44,000-square-foot home for the LRPD’s major crimes division, as well as patrol and detectives’ offices. Noted as the largest building built by the city in decades, the 12th Street Station is also LEED-certified Silver. The first phases of the streetscape redesign included restriping of 12th Street from Battery to Jonesboro to include bicycle lanes that not only reduces vehicular traffic to two lanes, but increases public safety, slows traffic and provides opportunities for alternative modes of transportation. “The redevelopment has resulted in more than just streetscape improvements. Over $200 million in redevelopment capital occurred during and after 12th Street Corridor Plan. The full impact of the 12th Street Corridor Plan will continue long after the bricks and mortar are in place,” says Roberts. —MEL JONES


New Urbanism Champion

ANITA DAVIS Owner, ESSE Purse Museum and The Bernice Garden Why is the revitalization of SoMa so important to you? The area has a huge sense of charm and historic significance, and it has the feel of a small town in the 1940s and ’50s. Revitalization is important because loyal long-term residents of the area deserve goods and services and walkable neighborhoods. It’s also attracting many young people who become new residents. As a developer, how do you see your role as a steward for the area and its continued growth? It’s always been important to me to keep the historic significance of the buildings yet add a sustainable element. The garden was a key element to developing this area so people could feel comfortable walking and have a place to meet. The garden was built to be sustainable and has beautiful flowers and greenery to create a little oasis. Why SoMa? In 2004 when I bought The Bernice building, the area was wide open for improvement; in fact, it needed help in all areas. I was becoming interested in sustainability and giving back to the community and had been to some Main Street meetings and was studying the Project for Public Spaces materials— and SoMa seemed a natural fit. What do you think SoMa’s greatest challenge or obstacles are as revitalization continues? One of the obstacles continues to be outdated or preconceived notions about what the area is like. And some people just flat don’t have any idea we’re here, we’re hip and we’re growing. Who or what inspires your work? The vibrancy of my small hometown when I was growing up showed the way a variety of privately owned business could create a community. From visiting large cities, I’ve seen different blocks in the same town recreate that feel with grocery stores, retail shops, and small parks interspersed among residences. SoMa is growing toward that. And, again, the Main Street meetings and Project for Public Spaces talked about the importance of having a green meeting space that invites community participation.

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501.372.6734 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 35


streets as URBAN ROOMS

Downtown Fayetteville square

shared spaces Fayetteville’s vibrant town square is a

PHOTO BY WESLEY HITT PHOTOGRAPHY

balances of chaos and calm

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y enlarging sidewalk zones and transforming the street corridor into a series of rooms that elevate the pedestrian’s right to the street, shared spaces bring balance to city streets. Consider Fayetteville’s town square. It is a well-loved but anarchic space where pedestrians cross the street everywhere, not just at crosswalks. It’s as if the entire square were a sidewalk. Traffic lanes are jogged as they intersect the square. Motorists have limited sight lines forcing them to proceed slowly through the square. Buildings are built to the edge of the street giving the square the feel of an intimate urban room, ideal for farmers markets and arts festivals. It also helps that the square was built a block away from the state highway, avoiding the regional traffic passing through town. Many Arkansas towns are not as fortunate since state highways—uncompromising in their standards to quickly move a high volume of traffic—intersect at their downtown squares. The fast-paced traffic kills the possibility of a pedestrian culture that makes cities interesting places in which to live, work and play. Shared space is slow space. Motorists and pedestrians maintain eye contact as speed is naturally limited to 17 miles per hour, the threshold at which such social exchange remains possible. The street is designed to elicit the behavior desired from motorists; no need for most local regulatory mechanisms like humps, bumps and speed limit signage. Such bureaucratization of the street is generally ineffective because people drive at the speed to which a street is designed. The secret is to build intrigue and purposeful uncertainty into the space of the street. While counterintuitive, this calms

36 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

traffic by making motorists more attentive, yielding a much safer street. Motorists are compelled to behave socially. Even so, the Fayetteville square would lose its social and commercial vitality if the automobile were to be excluded. Shared streets, however, are not recommended for all streets. But traffic engineers strongly dislike the Fayetteville square because it violates every tenet of modern street design—poor motorist sightlines, lane jogs into intersections, tall landscape at corners and unruly walk patterns among pedestrians. Traffic engineers gauge success by the volume of cars their plans move per lane per hour, particularly important for highway design. Fire chiefs have a large say in planning because they are required to get large trucks to emergencies in less than four minutes. In fairness, traffic engineers plan for safety, albeit one exclusively structured around speed, which has not been good news for pedestrians. Fifteen percent of annual automobile fatalities, or 5,000 individuals, were pedestrians…90 percent of who were in the crosswalk. The real problem is the universal application of highway design standards to all road types, including local streets. But the tide is changing with the increasing adoption of Complete Streets policy nationwide. This policy enforces the street’s multiple uses by rebalancing relationships among the motorist, the cyclist and the pedestrian, known as mode separation. Current economic development thinking reinforces this since it understands that people, not cars, make purchases and patronize restaurants, professional services, salons, bars and so on. After the car is parked everyone becomes a pedestrian.


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From Oil Town to FESTIVAL TOWN

El Dorado is getting a makeover as Arkansas’ latest must-go tourist destination RENDERINGS COURTESY OF WESTLAKE REED LESKOSKY

O

verhauling public image—celebrities do it, politicians do it. So why not cities? El Dorado, “Arkansas’ original boomtown”, is in the midst of a reinvention that will not only create jobs and improve the retention of residents, but will also have people across Arkansas and around the region checking the calendar to see what’s coming up in El Dorado. Despite the implementation of the El Dorado Promise in 2007 and the presence of three publicly traded companies—Murphy Oil, Deltic Timber and Murphy USA—a recent decline in population had city leaders ready to take another look at the city and the quality of life it offers. Roger Brooks, a destination developer, was hired to take a good, hard look at El Dorado and help answer the question, “What’s next?” Brooks created a master plan for the city that was analogous with the story of Ashland, Oregon. Once a vibrant timber and industry town, Ashland lost a lot of population and industry base. The town founded the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1935, and it has since become the largest and most financially successful Shakespeare festival in the country, with 500 permanent employees. Brooks recommended building upon El Dorado’s experience with hosting events like Musicfest each October. Madison Murphy, president of the Murphy Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving quality of life through the support of education and culture, notes that four things are needed for keeping jobs in El Dorado: Education, relative tax rates, infrastructure and quality of life. “We knew we needed to give serious thought on how to pull off something that improves quality of life,” he says. “We wanted to know what people did on weekends, after work and on their time off. And we wanted them to spend that time in El Dorado instead of getting in the car and heading out of town.” A high quality of life in a town like El Dorado is also certain not only to get people to visit, but also to make the move permanently. The endeavor has become known as El Dorado Festivals & Events, founded in 2011 as “a mission-driven 501(c)3 company founded to create the ‘Festival City of the South!’” The company looks to engage new

38 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING


The master plan for the multi-venue El Dorado Arts and Entertainment District, designed by Westlake Reed Leskosky.

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 39


From Oil Town to FESTIVAL TOWN

“El Dorado has FABULOUS bones. We have a CHARMING DOWNTOWN that has been well MAINTAINED.” —Madison Murphy

The Griffin Auto Building will be transformed into a performance venue with an adjoining restaurant (top) . Outdoor spaces for the El Dorado Arts and Entertainment District include an amphitheater, open lawns and even a farmers market (below) .

40 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

economic opportunity for the city through the creation of an arts and entertainment district in the southern core of El Dorado’s nationally recognized beautiful downtown. “El Dorado has fabulous bones,” says Murphy. “We have a charming downtown that has been well maintained, and that’s largely attributed to Richard and Vertis Mason, who for years had the foresight to acquire and restore a number of old sites around the square.” Nationally-recognized architects, engineers and technology design firm, Westlake Reed Leskosky has prepared a master plan for the multi-venue El Dorado Arts and Entertainment District that will infuse historic structures with new energy through flexibility of use and a variety of cultural and entertainment activities that will appeal to local, regional and national contemporary audiences and future generations. A collection of landmark structures, including the 1929 Rialto Theater and the Griffin Auto Building, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will be adapted for use as new performance venues. These will be connected via the old Trinca Building, originally a bus station, to the McWilliams Furniture Building, which will serve as an exhibition hall and space for artists in residence. And just a few blocks away, Pinson House B&B will become residences for both traveling artists and artists in residence. Terry Stewart, chairman of El Dorado Festivals & Events, says that the artists in residence program will feature mostly visual artists working in a variety of mediums, and who will receive a stipend and in return make art, teach classes and workshops, and give performances for a few months. As for the renovation project itself, Stewart notes that they are in the final stages of hiring a construction manager and finalizing the project’s cost. “We will truly get to work on the renovations and construction in about six to eight weeks, and expect to finish in the fall of 2016, or spring 2017 at the latest,” he says. One of the biggest challenges, of course, is letting others know about the new El Dorado. “Any time you’re trying to change the culture of a town, it’s very intricate in how you message and market it,” Stewart says. “I think we have a great plan and the right people to execute it.” If Stewart and his team are successful—and we’re confident that they will be—people will be putting El Dorado on their list of new favorite entertainment destinations. “If you watch our calendar once its up and running, I think you’ll see artists who maybe aren’t playing in Little Rock, or perhaps a show you want to see again is in town,” he says. “We’ll have a continuity of programming that on a regular basis, you’ll know there will be something—a touring Broadway production, a band, an exhibition, an entire festival—for your taste.” —MEL JONES


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WALKABLE URBAN PLACES Today there are two broad forms of metropolitan development:

Drivable Suburban: With the lowest development density in metropolitan history, it features stand-alone real estate products, tends to be socially and economically segregated, and relies upon cars and trucks as the only viable form of transportation. Walkable Urban: A form that has much higher density, has multiple real estate products (housing, office, retail) close to one another, employs multiple modes of transportation, and is walkable.

Walkable urban development calls for dramatically different approaches to urban design and planning, regulation, financing and construction than drivable suburban. MORE PROFITABLE FOR THE PRIVATE SECTOR

Little Rock’s Hillcrest neighborhood, seen here during Etsy Fest 2015, is a walkable 1920s streetcar neighborhood. Building the area today would be almost impossible under Little Rock’s auto oriented-development code. Photo credit: Daniel Gold @dgold.

Based on several WalkUP studies done by SMART Growth America and George Washington University, walkable urban product types (office, hotel, rental apartments, retail and for-sale residential) are out-performing drivable suburban by an average of 37% in value premium. Walk Score, a national database rating places on walkability, indicates that each one-point increase in Walk Score is associated with between a $700 and $3000 increase in home values (www. walkscore.com).

Each form is found in both cities and suburbs. Walkable urban can be found in historic downtowns in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Benton and Conway, for example, and in old streetcar suburbs like Hillcrest and the Heights in Little Rock, and in a few New Urbanist developments like Hendrix DENSITY, INFRASTRUCTURE AND TAX BASE — Village in Conway. SUSTAINABILITY FOR THE PUBLIC SECTOR Drivable suburban has been the dominant approach Little Rock offers an example of the difference to real estate development for over 60 years. development patterns can make. The image below Today, the pendulum is swinging back to walkable shows the Little Rock city limits in 1950, reflecting urban development. Market demand for drivable the pre-WWII era of development. The “Old suburban development is on the wane nationally. City” is characterized by a dense street grid, mixed Meanwhile, there is pent-up demand for walkable use neighborhoods, walkable streetcar suburbs urban environments. and a residential density of 5,110 people per square mile (102,213 people in 20 square miles). Little Rock in 2015 now covers 122 square miles and holds 199,511 people — six times the land area for less than twice the population. The residential density is down to 1635 per square mile. Post1950 development is characterized by strictly separated land uses, a disconnected street network, and auto dependence for all trips. Miles of Roadway 1950: 367 2015: 1232

JUMP START

INITIATIVE

Planning for Sustainable Growth

The Old City had 367 linear miles of roads

(19 ft/person). The city built since 1950 added another 865 miles of roads, but now each person must pay to maintain 31 feet of road. Miles of roads per capita is also a surrogate for miles of water lines, miles of sewer lines, miles of gas and electric lines that are required to be installed and maintained — forever. HEALTH AND FUTURE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT Walkable places are healthier places. Amid an epidemic of obesity, whether our cities are designed to encourage or discourage walking makes a difference in the body mass index and overall health of our citizens. From an economic perspective, the Millenial Generation has shown a preference for cities over suburbs as places they choose to live and work. This large and creative population cohort is increasingly locating in cities that are walkable, bikeable and dense. JUMP START PROJECTS — OPPORTUNITIES TO INVEST IN THE FUTURE Metroplan has used a Sustainable Communities planning grant to fund redevelopment plans for five communities in central Arkansas. The underlying premise of Project Jump Start is that relatively dense mixed-use development with housing at a variety of price points can be profitable for the private sector, and will provide a more sustainable tax yield for the public sector to support services and infrastructure. Late in the process, Mayflower and Vilonia were added with the help of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center. The cities involved have agreed to change their development rules for these areas to facilitate redevelopment. These seven Jump Start areas represent new and exciting opportunities to invest in the future by using the principles of city building that man has been using successfully for millennia.


HEART OF BRYANT

Heart of Bryant in Bryant is focused on building on the historic location of Old Town and restructuring it as a central place for events for the Bryant Community. Mixed-use commercial and retail opportunities front Reynolds Road and transitions appropriately towards the surrounding neighborhood. Contact: David Green | dgreen@cityofbryant.com

MARKHAM STREET, CONWAY Markham Street in Conway is strategically located between Downtown and Hendrix College. Intended to build on its history as a residential neighborhood, the plan emphasizes a transition from residential in the north, to mixeduse as it moves south. Development around a new public park will be key to unlocking this area.

Contact: Scott Grummer | scott.grummer@cityofconway.org

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Planning for Sustainable Growth


LEVY, NORTH LITTLE ROCK

Levy in North Little Rock has a cultural mix within the neighborhood which can drive development around family-focused programming and large festival areas. Creation of a “central plaza” will help return Levy Days to the community. Contact: Robert Voyles | rvoyles@nlr.ar.gov

PARK HILL, NORTH LITTLE ROCK

Park Hill in North Little Rock has many opportunities along this commercial corridor. An emphasis on allowing mixed use, to take advantage of the market’s desire to incorporate different residential types in this desirable area will be key. Contact: Bernadette Rhodes | brhodes@nlr.ar.gov

JUMP START

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Planning for Sustainable Growth


12TH STREET STATION, LITTLE ROCK

A stone’s throw from UAMS and the medical Corridor, 12th Street Station in Little Rock has focused on appropriate infill opportunities that support local employment. Keys to success require improvements to pedestrian facilities within the neighborhood and developing mixed-use buildings along the 12th Street corridor. Efforts within the “core” are intended to influence the development patterns throughout the corridor. Contact: Frederick Gentry | fgentry@littlerock.org

Recovering from a destructive tornado in April 2014, Vilonia and Mayflower have been aggressively focused towards rebuilding and restructuring their built environment to be more resilient in the future.

HEART OF MAYFLOWER

Vilonia is focused on opportunities to build a Town Center. With better connectivity, pedestrian and bicycle trails and street improvements, the community is actively pursuing integration of safe room opportunities throughout the community. Contact: Devin Howland | devin.howland@capdd.org

TOWN CENTER, VILONIA

Mayflower is working towards building a central heart of civic and commercial activity in the community. Taking advantage of its location between Conway and Little Rock, it is capable of addressing future growth in a sustainable development pattern.

JUMP START

INITIATIVE

Planning for Sustainable Growth


understanding WALKABILITY Walkable cities are vibrant places for residents to enjoy on foot PHOTOS BY SARA REEVES

Downtown Jonesboro has the ideal combination of both daytime foot traffic and a vibrant nightlife. 46 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING


T

here is an old economic development saying: retail follows rooftops. It means that in order for retail businesses to thrive, there need to be a certain number of homes in proximity to the business. The rule of thumb for a corner store is 1,000 households within a mile, 2,500 for a convenience center with multiple stores, even more for a supermarket. In general, these rules are understood only viscerally, described in a single term: Walkability. Yet the term is rarely explained in detail—neither its economic impacts, nor the measures which define it. These measures are universal, and rules of thumb such as those based on housing described above may help explain why so many downtowns and neighborhood centers struggled or failed over the past decades as housing preferences shifted to the suburbs. They may also help us understand how to bring them back. Housing development, like so many other things, is driven by market demand. And the profile of housing demand looks much different today than it did three generations ago when the suburban experiment began. Driven by a desire for privacy and enabled by cheap transportation, young baby boomer families migrated from their urban homes to the relative tranquility of the countryside. Today’s housing market shows a strong preference for mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods, and contemporary housing trends are the source of a nationwide revitalization of downtowns. Arkansas mirrors national observations, with successful downtown revitalizations already successful or underway in a number of cities. In Jonesboro, the resurgence of downtown has been nothing less than stunning. Young Investments is one of the companies serving Jonesboro’s downtown market. They manage 51 lofts, 20 storefronts and five restaurants on Main Street in Jonesboro. Owner Clay Young says they still don’t have enough supply to meet the demand. When Young started investing in Jonesboro’s downtown, most developers were doing strip centers and suburban plats. Young says he took the risk for the community so “everybody could get to enjoy seeing something being transformed into what it looked like back in 1887.” It turned out to be a smart investment. Today there is a waiting list to move into Young’s properties and his lofts command higher rents than anywhere else in the city. That’s not just good for Young—tax contributions from downtown properties recovered after the recession faster than outlying neighborhoods. Jonesboro’s trend is one observed almost everywhere. In 2011 and again in 2013, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Consumer Preference Survey showed at least 50 percent of the nation preferred to live in a walkable neighborhood. Preservationists and urbanists have long argued that the quality of life in downtown settings meant they were preferred by city residents, but the NAR’s Consumer Preference Survey is hard data which can’t be easily brushed off.

What’s interesting about NAR’s 2013 survey is what it shows about the nation’s housing preferences on a deeper level. It’s not surprising that an overwhelming majority (76%) of Americans would prefer to live in a bigger house with a yard. But when respondents were asked if they would be willing to trade the big yard, a large home and a commute in the burbs for a smaller home near destinations they could walk to, almost two-thirds of the respondents preferred the walkable neighborhood, which was defined as a place where shopping, restaurants, a library and/or a school were within walking distance. While this is a nationwide statistic and there isn’t any city-level data for Arkansas communities, the success of Young’s properties indicate Jonesboro residents have similar preferences. Of course, the recent success of Jonesboro’s Main Street doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s clear that downtown Jonesboro has hit a tipping point. It’s vibrant. It has both nightlife and daytime foot traffic. But it’s important to recognize a few dozen loft apartments aren’t capable of sustaining the more than 20 storefronts and halfdozen restaurants thriving now. In order to understand their success, we need a wider perspective. Jonesboro’s downtown had its ups and its downs, but it was never dead. The neighborhood surrounding Main Street kept it alive. To the south and west of Jonesboro’s most active blocks lies one of the essential components for a vibrant downtown: a compact neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood that mixes houses and apartments and everything in between. White collar and working class families are both welcome. Its residential streets have a slower pace that welcomes dog walkers. It’s got all of the ingredients, including proximity, that have made it a meaningful contributor to Downtown Jonesboro’s ability to survive.

SUPERCEDED The first step for any city looking to increase foot traffic is to make walking routes safe, and that requires more than a police presence. Jane Jacobs, a neighborhood advocate who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, argued the presence of buildings close to the street conveyed a sense of safety to pedestrians on its sidewalks, precisely because the people within those buildings were able to observe the street and report anything unusual. In order to achieve this eyes on the street effect, cities must embrace historic housing densities and building arrangements. Most World War II era neighborhoods meet that threshold—high-rises not required. The task for cities is thus to repair the remnant urban fabric of these neighborhoods with appropriately scaled infill development and restore the reciprocal relationships Jacobs observed. Fill in the gaps, and walking becomes safer. Ensure new neighborhoods are modeled after that historic development pattern, and walking will be rewarded from the beginning. continued on page 48

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understanding WALKABILITY

The theory of the pedestrian shed stipulates that most people will elect to walk rather than drive to a destination within a half-mile if the environment rewards walking.

PEDSHEDS It is convenient to draw an analogy to explain the infrastructure necessary to support high levels of foot traffic. Recall the concept of a watershed, which describes the pattern of water catchment and transportation. Similarly, a pedestrian shed—pedshed for short— describes the land-use relationships that make pedestrianism feasible and includes dimensions such as mixed-uses, density, street types and infrastructure, and block size. One can consider the pedshed of a grocery store, school or bar. The theory of the pedestrian shed stipulates that most people will elect to walk rather than drive to a destination within a halfmile if the environment rewards walking. Consider a typical commercial corridor, complete with thriving big box stores and fast food establishments. When patrons are finished at one store and wish to visit another, they typically get back in their vehicle and drive to the next, even if that store is adjacent to their original destination. The entrances may be separated by a mere 250 feet— shorter than an urban block—and yet still most people choose to drive. Contrast the commercial corridor with a walkable neighborhood, where residents will routinely walk for a quarter mile or farther. Why is that? It is simply the case that the environment of a walkable neighborhood rewards walking, whereas suburban environments are neutral—or even punishing—to pedestrians. It follows naturally that residents will choose the most convenient, safe and comfortable transportation option, and it makes sense that the land-use policies enacted by cities have direct impacts on the incentives any particular place offers pedestrians. It is a matter of observation to recognize barriers that restrict the extent of a pedshed. Those barriers may be treacherous or uncomfortable road crossings, easily resolved by cities with the will to do so. Or, they may be the arrangement of the transportation network itself. Most road networks constructed in the late 20th century were optimized for motorists’ convenience, and that means long distances between intersections, with wide lanes and small sidewalks placed directly adjacent. Such networks are anything but comfortable for pedestrians to traverse, and they can hardly be called safe. (The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has found a plurality of pedestrian fatalities due to collisions occuring on arterial roadways—a telling figure considering the all-too-common lack of pedestrian infrastructure.) continued on page 50

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Jonesboro’s DOWNTOWN had its UPS and downs, but it was never dead. The neighborhood surrounding Main Street kept it ALIVE.

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understanding WALKABILITY Walkable neighborhoods include multiple buildings on each block to make the walk interesting to pedestrians.

On the other hand, observe the arrangement of a walkable neighborhood. Block lengths are about 300 feet and each block contains multiple buildings. Each building varies from the next in at least details, making the walk interesting to those traveling at a speed low enough to notice, as pedestrians do. The lanes within the street are wide enough to allow safe passage for vehicles, but not so wide that crossing the street requires an inordinate amount of time. After each block, at the intersection, pedestrians are given the choice to change direction, allowing them freedom to reach their destination using the most effective route. It is in this manner that a pedshed should be understood. To build pedestrian counts on mixed-use and commercial thoroughfares, like Jonesboro’s Main Street, walks have to be both useful—can I run an errand while I’m out?—and interesting—are there people to see and things to discover? It isn’t enough for cities to just build sidewalks and install road crossings, because merely safe routes only ensure that residents who must walk out of necessity are afforded a minimum level of service. Understanding level of comfort and convenience as dimensions of a pedshed is essential to understanding how to leverage walkable neighborhoods for revitalization of adjacent commercial nodes. Cities may be tempted to focus on landscaping, active storefronts, sidewalk dining and beautification efforts to improve walkability. To be sure, these are essential components of a successful revitalization plan, but cities that fail to understand the importance of the pedshed will find their revitalization efforts less durable than hoped.

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WHAT’S YOUR WALKSCORE? One of the ways city leaders and neighborhood advocates can examine their downtown neighborhoods with an eye for revitalization strategy is to use an online tool called Walkscore. Type an address or click a point on a map and Walkscore will look at the kinds of shops and services in a particular area and their proximity to the location and give a number that measures the walkability of the area. Of course, Walkscore is no replacement for concerted efforts to gather public input and develop comprehensive revitalization plans, but in a pinch, Walkscore can be used to quickly determine the short-term goals that will bring the most value to city neighborhoods. A person living in a neighborhood with a perfect score of 100 would be able to do everything they needed by walking. Most suburban neighborhoods score in the 20s and 30s. The Downtown Jonesboro neighborhood? It scores in the 50s, which means some destinations can be reached by walking but most trips are still by car. Main Street proper scores in the 70s. These scores help explain the revitalization on Main Street in Jonesboro. Christopher Leinberger at the Brookings Institution has looked at neighborhood Walkscores all across the country and discovered that higher walkscores translate into better retail performance and increased demand for housing. Why? Foot traffic. Walkscore is far from a perfect measure of walkability—it measures only proximity—but it can help downtown advocates specify the gaps in amenities and services that need to be filled to improve neighborhood vitality. Recall that two-thirds of the NAR survey’s respondents would trade a suburban home where driving is required for the ability to walk to their errands and entertainment. Even adding a simple corner store that sells grocery staples to the edge of a residential neighborhood—where one wasn’t available before—can boost a Walkscore by 10 or more points. That translates into benefits for every other retailer in the area. According to Leinberger’s and others’ research, those benefits include substantially higher retail sales per square foot, a lower risk of default for new development ventures, and increased property values and tax revenues. A rising tide really does lift all boats. At the least, there is no arguing this fact: there is a substantial market for walkable neighborhoods and their attendant destinations. Leaders, developers and advocates paying attention should take advantage of this opportunity. Ensuring that neighborhood patterns and transportation infrastructure reward walking is the way to new social and economic activity. Walkscore can be used for establishing a baseline and justifying efforts to bring new amenities to an area. If your neighborhood has the sidewalks and the streets that make walking possible, filling in the gaps in services—even just one convenience at a time—will start a revitalization which pays for itself and raises residents’ quality life. Don’t believe it? Visit Downtown Jonesboro and see for yourself.

w w w. c r a f t o n t u l l . c o m

design for life. It’s what motivates,

rogers plaza conway, arkansas

connects, and inspires us all. BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 51


programming SPACES Why the arts need the city—but not all economic development wants the city PHOTOS BY WESLEY HITT

E

very economic order gives rise to a distinct urban system that suits its needs. Economies based on trade, travel and shipping developed compact port cities to maximize economic and social exchange. Think New Orleans, Charleston or Memphis. The second and most popular model for bringing jobs to the city over the past century was based on manufacturing—“chasing smokestacks,” as those in the field refer to their work. Landing even one major manufacturing center could lead to decades of stability for a community’s workforce and tax base. The benefits exceeded the direct jobs created too, as all of those workers needed grocery stores, entertainment options and other services. However, 20th century manufacturing did not need the city, instead preferring “greenfield” sites. In fact, the city hindered operational efficiencies, giving rise to the suburb as the favored settlement pattern over the last 70 years. A third economic model is based on the creative class, whose recent understanding was popularized by Richard Florida in his bestselling book The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. The creative economy model demands the city and allows us to better understand the nature and timing of Bentonville’s downtown revitalization. Florida examines the realm of work based on providing creative goods, services and experiences typically thought of as adjunct to core economic activity, or worse a charitable product. Rather, Florida shows that the creative economy is a considerable force demanding its own patterns of housing, city space, land use mixes and transportation systems. Creative economies based on the cultural and culinary arts, artisanal food production, architecture, product design, advertising and publishing, media and technology drive urban revitalization. They demand urban form and the advantages of proximity. One can see this in the movie and television industries in Los Angeles, fashion in New York, technology in Silicon Valley, automotive design in Detroit, winemaking in Napa Valley, music recording in Nashville, or teaching and research in any college town. Creative industries attract similar niche businesses and the ancillary service sectors that support their enterprises. This amassing of skilled human resources in fixed spatial relationships results in highly productive networks known as an agglomerated economy. Creative economies need the city to facilitate innovation and the monetization of ideas, whereas manufacturing does not require such proximity. The latter maximizes its productivity by remaining nimble to search for the cheapest labor force and maximum government subsidies. Here, place not only doesn’t matter, but may even complicate the costs of doing business. continued on page 54

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Downtown Bentonville has become an acclaimed travel destination since the opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2011. BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 53


programming SPACES

THE CREATIVE CLASS IN NORTHWEST ARKANSAS Bentonville’s downtown revitalization cannot be attributed simply to the sudden appearance of a creative class, because a sizable creative class had already developed around the logistics industry centered on Walmart. For more than two decades, Walmart and its vendor community—the thousands of companies that have opened operations in northwest Arkansas—have been supported by battalions of artists, advertising executives, architects, product and apparel designers, and media production professionals who did not insist upon urban options beyond Fayetteville. This non-Ozark work force consisted primarily of “tarmac labor” on short-term assignment in Walmart’s closed business-to-business loop. Indeed, this labor force and its executive classes fueled the mushrooming of suburban subdivisions as the region’s once-vital downtowns lay dormant. Hence, Florida’s thesis that the rise of the creative class necessarily produces urbanism does not always hold. So why is downtown Bentonville undergoing such transformative change now? The difference is catalytic investment like the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art adjacent to downtown Bentonville or The William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park (the only downtown presidential library of 13), the latter stimulating $2.5 billion dollars in new projects within Little Rock’s River Market District. While pioneer investments do not have to be heroic like these two $150 million-dollar-plus projects to motivate subsequent development, catalytic projects by definition signal to the market permanence and signature value. Just their announcements spurred successive waves of public and private commitments toward economies that now intertwine tourism, education and the arts. Both projects re-energized neglected downtowns, including the return of residential development. Little Rock and Bentonville are now tourist destinations, and both projects have become national forums for acclaimed speakers and the exchange of ideas. Opened in 2011, Crystal Bridges has since been joined by the 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville, a hybrid boutique hotel and contemporary art museum, and soon the Amazeum, a children’s museum. Crystal Bridges’ 120-acre campus is walkable from Bentonville’s downtown square, and its 3.5 miles of trails and outdoor art venues were smartly planned to extend the downtown experience. Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges attracted the novel 21c, the brainchild of Louisville’s Brown-Forman heiress 54 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Laura Lee Brown and husband Steve Wilson. Just one block from the square and a kind of trailhead to Crystal Bridges, the 21c is one of three such hotels nationwide. It was selected the 11th best hotel in the U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler in 2013, and the top “hot” new hotel in the U.S. by TripAdvisor.com. The three projects join the recently refurbished Walmart Museum on the downtown square, the site of Sam Walton’s original five and dime store. A wonderfully strange cultural civic center, 21c combines rotating art/multi-media exhibitions and site-specific installations with 104 guest rooms. The facility includes meeting space and The Hive restaurant and bar, the latter named one of the South’s 100 best bars by Southern Living magazine. The Hive features both vernacular and high traditions in the culinary heritage of the South, particularly Arkansas, with a focus on locally sourced food. Its executive chef, Matthew McClure, was a semifinalist for “Best Chef: South” in the 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards, considered the “Academy Awards of food.” Since 2008 a culinary driven restaurant industry has developed around the square anchored by The Hive and Tusk & Trotter, leaders in connecting Bentonville to the James Beard Foundation—the nation’s leading organization committed to culinary heritage. Before the opening of Station Café on the square in 1999, downtown Bentonville had no restaurants. Restaurants love the presence of other restaurants. Now, 16 eateries including food trucks are within walking distance of the square—a classic example of the city’s agglomeration economics. The development of downtown’s creative economy has a grassroots component complementary to the signature projects. In 2003, Downtown Bentonville Inc. (DBI) was formed as a nonprofit focused on activating local cultural assets within the city. The goal was to have someone who worked to energize downtown every day. In the past 10 years, DBI has planned and executed more than 100 special events in downtown, bringing an estimated 120,000 people to the city annually. Former DBI executive director Daniel Hintz would stop at almost nothing to generate buzz for downtown, including wearing a chicken suit to hype the local culinary industry when addressing crowds at the farmers market. DBI planned and executed an Arts and Culinary Festival and instituted a monthly evening event, First Fridays, which focuses on local artists and music in a festival atmosphere. In tandem with event production, DBI and city leaders created a Downtown Master Plan and identified new districts for focused investments in the


Former DBI executive director Daniel Hintz would stop at almost nothing to generate BUZZ for DOWNTOWN, including wearing a chicken suit to hype the LOCAL culinary industry when addressing crowds at the farmers market.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. (Below left) 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville. (Below right) Crepes Paulette food truck.

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 55


programming SPACES (From top) The Bentonville square. The just-opened Thrive mixeduse apartment complex. Bentonville City Hall. The Station Café, on the square.

visual and culinary arts. Having a plan and knowing where investments will be made has been key for instilling confidence in the real estate market and small business community. The combined tactics of downtown planning, targeted recruitment and memorable events are working. In just the first few years of managing the market, profits increased fivefold. First Fridays have grown beyond the square to extend down the adjacent blocks. The events are extraordinarily diverse, walking a fine line between family-friendly and edgy, welcoming people from all backgrounds. Instead of chasing smokestacks, DBI has chased chefs, artists and small-scale retailers. In 2012, Southern Living cited Bentonville as the “South’s next cultural mecca” while the Washington Post identified the Bentonville dining scene as “in” for 2013. The animation of the square with a robust farmers market, arts and culinary festivals, and a thriving restaurant scene provides an “experience economy,” where memorable events made from the intersection of art and public place becomes the business product and a revitalization catalyst. Remember, people want to be in vital centers with other people. First they visit it, and then they want to live around it.

THE EXPERIENCE ECONOMY AND DOWNTOWN NEIGHBORHOOD REVITALIZATION Even during the economic boom before 2007, downtown real estate values had not reflected Bentonville’s economic growth potential, though the area was one of the nation’s fastest growing. The growth opted out of downtown. Since revitalization of the downtown square district the rate of infill development and historic preservation in downtown neighborhoods has accelerated along with real estate values. New multifamily housing projects accommodating all income scales are planned or under construction within walking distance of the square. This includes townhouses and the new mixed-use Midtown Center at the square’s northwest corner. A new 31,000 square-foot Walmart Neighborhood Market will anchor this mixed-use retail center topped by condominiums. Just a few blocks south of the square in Bentonville’s newly designated arts district, construction is underway on Thrive, a 62-unit mixed-use apartment complex that pioneers urban housing in this downtown neighborhood. Compatible with downtown’s small-town character (population 40,000), new housing is being built to the sidewalk edge with building frontages (balconies, porches, stoops) that create great streets. Building great streets is especially important since the top draw of downtown housing is its location within a walkable range to restaurants, work, stores and cultural attractions. Regardless of price points, all new housing is embodying good town form that reinforces Bentonville’s building, street and block patterns—its sense of place. Just as the economic boom in northwest Arkansas has been expressed through the sprawling development of single-family houses and offices, the emerging economic order needs the synergies of downtown. The former was in the business of simple housing and real estate development. Ample surveys confirm the poor economics of single-use development, as it provides at best 85 percent of the tax base needed to maintain minimum public services. Indeed, some “bedroom” communities based on single-use planning are beginning to experiencing long-term solvency problems. On the other hand, the creative economy based in experience—which the arts uniquely provide—requires the city and its mixture of uses, housing types, great streets and densities. Such diversified economies, based on the city’s synergies and the powerful economic forces of agglomeration, are more resilient and hold more wealth. Arkansas cities that continue to develop important cultural, educational and entertainment venues outside of downtown miss the multiplier economic and social effects that holistic-based planning bring. 56 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING


LET BCOHARCHITECTS HELP YOUR CITY TRANSFORM YOUR VISION INTO REALITY Benton Riverside Park is the result of the city’s vision of a park for citizens of all ages. There is a new community center, senior activity and wellness center, boys & girls club, softball complex and a soccer complex. The park also offers baseball, indoor competition and leisure swimming, basketball, volleyball, large community events, and a masterplan for four miles of walking and biking trails with future links to the planned Southwest Bike Trail, residential neighborhoods and downtown Benton. This is truly a walkable park for all generations.

5 01- 315 -76 8 6 • 219 W. S O U T H S T., B E N T O N • W W W. B C O A N D H . C O M


TACTICAL URBANISM

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own but never out, Batesville’s downtown has been struggling for decades. Instead of throwing money at the problem, Main Street Batesville is using a new technique to revitalize the town’s iconic square and Main Street. Called tactical urbanism, the technique combines events such as festivals and farmers markets with temporary, low-cost materials to test out street designs and beautification plans. Cities across the country are using tactical urbanism to explore revitalization strategies. When the designs do what they intend—increase foot traffic—businesses, citizens and elected leaders have the confidence to support the funding needed for more permanent improvements. When they don’t, the team goes back to the drawing board with vital information for making the design better. Main Street Batesville has bet the town’s revitalization efforts on a streetscape project which leverages tactical urbanism. Batesville’s downtown experienced a decline starting in the ’70s and ’80s when big box stores on the town’s edge were developed and drew customers away from locally-owned shops. Slowly but surely, the iconic downtown pharmacies, hardware stores, clothing boutiques and department stores downsized or even failed. With declining revenues, property owners struggled to maintain facades and make improvements. It’s a story that has played out in town after town. Organizations like Main Street Arkansas and their local affiliates work to address the problem head on. They insist that our downtowns can be revitalized and become the heart of community life and local economies once more. In Batesville, Joel Williams, director of Main Street Batesville, believed street and sidewalk improvements could bring customers back downtown and be the beginning of broader economic development efforts. The organization hired a consultant to produce a conceptual design for the street and decided to use tactical urbanism techniques to test it with low-cost, temporary

PHOTO AND RENDERING COURTESY OF MAIN STREET BATESVILLE

This new technique for testing street designs and beautification plans is saving neighborhoods

street improvements so he could get feedback from the public and businesses before asking the city council for their approval to construct permanent improvements. The project is entering Phase 3, fundraising for permanent landscaping and new sidewalks for one block of the project. “In the first phases, tactical urbanism let us see what makes people excited and led us to tweak our consultant’s design,” says Williams. The project originally had angled, back-in parking, a safer configuration that is being used in several cities but is often controversial with motorists. After feedback, the back-in parking was changed to normal head-in parking. Testing the design also helped with public support for the project. “Based on an early survey we have at least 70 percent public support to make this design permanent and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was even higher now,” says Williams. “Downtown is thriving again and we haven’t even made the changes permanent yet.” The streetscape project in downtown Bateseville is part of a broader economic development initiative that includes a new park and business recruitment efforts. Before the tactical urbanism installation, some community members questioned whether or not Main Street Batesville should be making a new streetscape a priority over business recruitment. They argued an investment in the street should come after business in downtown had returned. Leaders of the organization believe the current success shows the new streetscape is justified. Bob Carius, president of the organization’s board, explains: “This wasn’t a chicken or the egg decision. It was about making a nest for the chicken to come to in the first place.” The idea behind the streetscape is to cultivate an atmosphere that engages downtown patrons every day, not just during markets and festivals and not just from 9 to 5. A hundred years ago, downtown Batesville had fully occupied three- and four-story buildings and continued on page 60

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Tactical urbanism allows for testing of development initiatives before they become permanent, like the new streetscape plans for downtown Batesville. (Facing page) Events like festivals and farmers markets are part of the tactical urbanism technique.

Joel Williams, director of Main Street Batesville, believed street and sidewalk IMPROVEMENTS could bring customers back downtown and be the beginning of broader ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT efforts.

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FROM TOP LEFT, PHOTOS COURTESY OF BROAD AVENUE, JUSTIN FOX BURK, SARAH NEWSTOCK, JUSTIN FOX BURK

The Broad Avenue tactical urbanism project in Memphis saw residents take matters into their own hands, restriping the street without governmental resources.

businesses thrived. The streets were safe because traffic was slower and the sidewalks and shop fronts were comfortable places for people to socialize. Over time, the way people interacted in downtown Batesville changed. Main Street Batesville knew they had to do something. “Towns like ours just won’t survive without strong local economies,” says Williams, “and the lifeblood of our local economy is downtown.” Batesville isn’t the only nearby community where tactical urbanism is being used to turn neighborhoods around. Just across the state line in Tennessee, Memphis has emerged as a poster child for the benefits of tactical techniques. The first tactical urbanism project in Memphis took place in 2010. For years, Broad Avenue had been a ghost street, lined with vacant buildings and bordered by a road widened for traffic that had long since moved to a new highway. Today, every building is occupied and property owners maintain a waiting list for interested tenants. The turnaround started with a small group of interested citizens who took matters into their own hands. Over a few weeks, the group organized an event they called A New Face for an Old Broad that proved the street could be a focal point for the neighborhood, just as it had been in the past. They got permission from property owners to set up “pop-up retail” in the vacant spaces and invited art galleries, a florist and a café to set up temporary storefronts. They organized a bike parade. They invited food vendors and musicians

to occupy the unused parking lots. They even invited fitness instructors to run outdoor classes. In terms of event programming, they left almost nothing out. If it weren’t for one other detail, it would be easy to mistake A New Face for an Old Broad as just a well-run festival, but it was more than that. The event organizers wanted to show their community that if the street were reconfigured for on-street parking and protected bike lanes, businesses would thrive again. The organizers believed the street could be repainted to support their goals at a minimal cost for the city, but Broad Avenue wasn’t high on the list of priorities at Memphis City Hall. Organizers took the matter into their own hands. Armed with paint cans, they restriped the street themselves—without governmental resources. At first, city leaders planned to let the paint fade away, but that didn’t happen as quickly as expected. Memphis has significant fiscal challenges and power washing unsanctioned paint on a blighted street was simply a lower priority than other infrastructural issues. In the meantime, vacant properties were leasing up. The event and the new parking and bike lanes had opened the eyes of businesses who saw opportunity on Broad Avenue. Over six months and with follow-up events to the inaugural effort, the street became active again. Smartly, city leaders decided to make the changes permanent. Work is underway now to install protected bike lanes on a two-mile stretch connecting two of Memphis’ biggest parks. continued on page 62

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62 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

The new project remains true to the original DIY spirit of the Broad Avenue organizers—$70,000 of capital needed for the socalled Hampline was crowdsourced from the neighborhood. Since the event, there has been more than $20 million invested and 29 new businesses in the three-block area on Broad Avenue, and vacancy rates have dropped from 45 percent to five percent, all starting from an initial $20,000 investment in the event and the guerilla street striping. In most cities, if citizens took it upon themselves to restripe a road for parking, bikes and pedestrian safety, they would be threatened with prosecution. In Memphis, something different happened. Instead of punishing the organizers for a successful neighborhood revitalization, the success of A New Face for an Old Broad stimulated a small revolution in city leadership. The mayor wanted to know if the same tactics could work in other neighborhoods, and formed an Innovation Team, with help from Bloomberg Philanthropies, to identity areas where the same strategies could work and give resources to tactical urbanism projects. The team is challenged to develop replicable approaches for generating neighborhood economic vitality. The Innovation Team takes a three-part approach to neighborhood revitalization: Clean It, Activate It, Sustain It. First, they identify areas of the city with potential like Broad Avenue had. They call those places “urban magnets,” a term coined by Vancouver architect Alan Boniface, and they are usually neighborhoods built before World War II with distinct architecture and compact arrangements. They work with the community to clean things up and activate the space with a short-term event, just like citizen advocates did with A New Face for an Old Broad. Next, they document and observe the impact of the event and use that to make policy and infrastructural changes more effective. Tommy Pacello, a senior project manager for the Innovation Team, believes tactical approaches hold tremendous potential for local governments large and small. “Many local governments have capacity issues that can prevent them from addressing with these sorts of challenges at a fine-grained neighborhood level,” he says. “The day-to-day management of most cities is so time consuming that it can limit the ability to pay attention to the nuances of individual neighborhood needs.”

PHOTOS COURTESY BROAD AVENUE

The revitalization of Broad Avenue in Memphis has brought many new businesses to the area, including farm-to-table restaurant Bounty on Broad.


luxurY loFt apartments, HigH-end oFFice and commercial spaces For lease...

...In ExcItIng Downtown JonEsboro In preparation for the A New Face for an Old Broad event, residents painted a façade of what this warehouse on Merton Street could look like post renovation.

Pacello argues cities can use these small, low-risk interventions to gauge an area’s readiness for investment. He contrasts the tactical approach with conventional planning methodology most cities use: “Small projects can be chaotic but that is where the innovation lies. Cities try to plan for all of the negative externalities a project might generate, but it’s impossible.” Pacello is adamant that most cities’ command-and-control ethos regarding infrastructure development leads to ineffective solutions. Judging from the remarkable turnaround projects he has assisted or led, he may be right. What’s unique about Memphis—beyond the leadership—is why the guerilla infrastructure tactics used by Broad Avenue organizers worked. Tactical urbanism has taken root in communities across the nation, but most city leaders still view the tactics with suspicion. Pacello believes the best response is for cities to embrace a coordinating role and point citizen advocates towards projects the city can study as if they were laboratories for infrastructural experiments. Arkansas towns would do well to follow Batesville’s and Memphis’ examples and embrace tactical urbanism as a technique they can use to test unfamiliar ideas. Smart city leaders can set up innovation teams, like Memphis did, with the express purpose of improvising revitalization efforts using low-cost, communitybuilding strategies. The Memphis model uses a team explicitly authorized by City Hall, but in Batesville, the nonprofit Main Street association works in ad hoc partnership with local government to explore the concepts using similar techniques. Both models work and can be adapted for cities and towns of any size. The lesson for Arkansas communities is that it’s ok not to have every last detail planned before trying something new. With tactical techniques, testing conceptual designs is low-cost and low-risk. Organizing an event and adding a little paint just doesn’t cost much. The techniques allow leaders and advocates the opportunity to gauge public support and revise designs before major capital expenditures, lowering political risk and addressing financial uncertainty simultaneously. In a way, it’s running city infrastructure projects like a business startup. It’s lean and it’s iterative. It’s low-risk. It’s results-driven. Build, measure, learn—it may be just the approach needed to revitalize your neighborhoods.

For inFormation call Young investment companY llc at 870-935-3555

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The CityGrove Townhomes was one of the first residential projects completed in Argenta.

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the importance of HOUSING In search of the “missing middle” PHOTOS BY SARA REEVES

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e don’t build them like we used to—neighborhoods, that is. Visit a historic downtown neighborhood, one built prior to World War II, and you will find that their characteristic charm and vitality comes from a mix of multi-family housing and single-family homes. Granny flats and carriage houses, duplexes, bungalow courts, townhouses and small apartment buildings like the mansion-apartment type not only accommodated a range of household incomes and lifestyles, but their architecture created great streetscapes. Despite the differences in densities between single-family housing and multi-family residential, the latter forged a compatibility with its single-family brethren because they shared a similar vocabulary of massing, scale and detail. Planners call those building types missing middle housing because they are no longer widely built. The term was coined by architect Daniel Parolek, founder of Opticos Design, Inc., designating that scale of housing between the detached single-family home and the large apartment building. Middle-scaled housing was once the staple of pre-1940s urban neighborhoods. Neighborhoods that still contain missing middle housing are remarkable. They are resilient against changing consumer preferences. They inherently achieve the densities necessary to sustain a public transit system (bus systems need seven dwelling units per acre to be feasible, more than twice the suburban average of three units per acre), and neighborhood commercial amenities (16 units per acre required). Their densities are non-threatening to established neighborhoods because they aren’t achieved by intrusive mid-rise apartment towers. They allow older residents to age in place and maintain their social connections to neighbors and merchants. They are models of affordability because the mix of housing types and scales is inherently flexible and compact, offering options to either rent or own. Last but not least, they are well suited to the neighborhood-scaled commercial amenities demanded in today’s housing market. For examples of neighborhoods developed from missing middle housing, look no further than historic neighborhoods like the Quapaw Quarter in Little Rock. Replete with historic single-family homes, the Quarter also contains a healthy proportion of missing middle housing, which enlivens street edges through stacked porches and balconies close to the sidewalk. The density adheres to the Goldilocks principle—it’s just right—and therefore supports neighborhood stores and parks that reward the decision to walk. It’s the same formula found in other iconic Arkansas downtowns like Eureka Springs.

MISSING MIDDLE HOUSING IS ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT Recent studies show that more than 60 percent of Americans prefer walkable mixed-use neighborhoods, but only four percent of new housing supply fits that category. Cities recharging their downtown neighborhoods with housing options affordable to a wide demography are winning the competition for talent and business investment. Argenta is one of the few Arkansas communities embracing new missing middle housing projects. A private development firm and North Little Rock partnered to create a master continued on page 67

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New Urbanism Champion

JOHN GAUDIN Life and Wealth Management

Why is the revitalization of Argenta so important to you? Revitalizing downtowns across the country are essential to retention and attraction of “talent” in our communities. Argenta is unique in that it is located on the Arkansas River directly across from downtown Little Rock. I work and live in Argenta. As a developer, how do you see your role as a steward for the area and its continued growth? In 2010 the Argenta Master Plan was developed through a public, private and nonprofit partnership. The goal of the plan is to understand our assets, and how to best position them for long term development and success. That partnership and plan really has helped us to develop intentionally around smart growth. Why Argenta? The District is jam packed with Arkansas history. The housing and commercial stock of historic buildings in a small area is compelling. In the 90s the Argenta Community Development Corp. really did groundbreaking work by revitalizing the first Blue Collar Historic District in the nation. All of the major rail carriers have at one time or another come right through the area. We see so many remnants of those glory days in the architecture, personality and design of the community. What is your personal vision for Argenta? What does Argenta in 2020 look like to you? I believe the people involved in this revitalization recognize the connection of great placemaking and economic development. We have been fortunate to have the arts lead and partner with innovation, education and economic development. The mindful approach we have taken has made us a destination for communities around the state and the country. Our latest focus on innovation is leading the state in developing a “pipeline of youth” by helping to develop talent which will in turn lead to talent retention and attraction. What do you think Argenta’s greatest challenge or obstacles are as revitalization continues? Like most communities we run the risk of defaulting to easier, cheaper and less sustainable development. Who or what inspires your work? I continue to be inspired by the residents and business owners who have invested their time, talent and dollars into the area. What do you love most about Argenta? My neighbors, my home and my family. What do you want readers to know about Argenta? Argenta is a very diverse organism with space, culture and opportunities for everyone. Argenta is more than a place. It’s a movement!

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the importance of HOUSING


Main Street, Argenta. The Villages at Hendrix was created to function like a tradition neighborhood, and employs single family homes, townhouses, apartments and a true market square that anchors a beautiful street network

plan that put middle-scaled housing at the center of redevelopment plans for the waterfront and downtown. The plan puts Argenta on a path towards building hundreds of downtown housing units aggregated over dozens of smaller projects. John Gaudin, an investment advisor some call the godfather of North Little Rock’s revitalization effort, is adamant that the city’s willingness to assume a coordinating role in the development process has been instrumental in the district’s rediscovered vibrancy. One of the first projects completed was the CityGrove Townhomes. Located in the heart of downtown where market demand for new housing is highest, their walk-up townhouses fronted by stoops and balconies are compatible with the neighborhood’s housing mix. Lawn and landscape are shared among units structuring an inviting image for the block. The project is worth study precisely because its scale and street frontage isn’t typical of contemporary housing projects. The high level of demand for walkable housing in active downtowns like Argenta’s is generally met by mid-rise apartment construction with defensive street edges and anonymous lobbies, all appearing rather fortressed. Most middle-scaled housing, on the other hand, is walk-up (no elevator) with stoops, porches, balconies and terraces whose textured edges foster social interaction and street vitality. Regional variations of once popular four-, six, and eight-plex apartment buildings were self-styled mansion apartments expressing the singularity of their massing, similar to a large house. Today’s large-scale apartment complexes commonly express the repetitive nature of their cellular organizations—much like a barracks. New neighborhoods without an existing context can also replicate relationships found in successful urban environments. One in Conway is a particularly good case study. The Village at Hendrix was created anew to function like a traditional neighborhood, including that know-your-neighbor feel. The Village employs single-family homes, townhouses, apartments and a true market square that anchors a beautiful street network. The transition from

more intense, downtown-style interaction at the market square across the spectrum of missing middle housing into the singlefamily area of the project is seamless and affords prospective residents of the Village a choice between urban and suburban lifestyles without sacrificing walkability or safety. Ward Davis, chief executive officer of the Village, says the conviviality of the neighborhood is almost palpable. “Everyone recognizes one another and no one feels isolated, but they still have their privacy.” Davis was eager to describe a nightly phenomenon, “Each evening after dinner, you can see residents coming out onto their porches and looking up and down the street for people to talk to. We designed this neighborhood so that people got to know one another naturally.” If there is one lesson to be learned from studying these examples, it’s that social connections emerge from the variety of housing types and the manner in which they are arranged. The shared entry of a mansion apartment operated as a fourplex means neighbors will likely come to know one another. A renter in a granny flat becomes friends with the owner of the house by virtue of proximity without sacrificing privacy. Detached homes placed close enough together so that neighbors can talk porch-to-porch lead to new friendships. The walkable streets framed by a blending of building types lead to unplanned encounters on the sidewalk. This emergent conviviality is the primary difference between neighborhoods as extensions of the city and the contemporary subdivision, often just a parceling scheme for production homes. The subdivision’s planned uniformity of single-family homes prohibits housing diversity, dampening adaptation to changing household structures over time. Their inelasticity lacks resilience or the full ability to endure changing financial and social trends. We’ve built countless subdivisions over the last three generations, but with a fragile social life lacking complexity it’s not quite right to refer to them as neighborhoods. It takes middle-scaled housing to create one of those. continued on page 68 BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 67


the importance of HOUSING

Unfortunately there is a structural favoritism in the real estate development industry, and it doesn’t favor middle-scaled projects. Building permits in most American cities fall into one of two categories: Production of single-family suburbs or large multifamily complexes. It’s an unbalanced housing portfolio that leaves communities vulnerable to market crashes and changing consumer preferences. Addressing this weakness is a daunting challenge because the structural deficiencies are systemic, stretching from the halls of local government to the boardrooms of the financial sector.

THE FINANCIALIZATION OF HOUSING Once a product of design pattern books used by contractors and developers to build neighborhoods incrementally, housing has now become financialized. Lenders rely on formulas and programs built around standard single-family products and large multifamily complexes. It’s simple to get a loan to build or buy your own house and the financing is not much more complicated to build a subdivision. On the multi-family side, an entire industry of risk-averse brokers, loan officers and secondary markets with origins on Wall Street and in Washington DC has grown around conventional multi-family projects. Housing products must have universal appeal so that they can be readily bought and sold; what financiers call market fungibility or liquidity. It’s why every new project looks alike. Multi-family lenders and other financial actors, like Real Estate Investment Trusts, have made a rational decision to dedicate their resources towards large formulaic projects, which come with lower operational costs on the origination side, as well as a smaller damage control burden if a development fails. The planning offices of most local governments are just as oriented toward single-family and large multi-family construction projects. Typical codes preclude missing middle development on the sites best suited for middle-scaled projects. Suburban codes 68 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Argenta Flats is the latest residential development in the Argenta Historic District.

like a 20-foot setback or high parking minimums can make or break a project’s financial performance. In the majority of cities, for example, it is illegal to rent out a granny flat on the same lot as your home or build a couple of nice rowhouses on the lot next door. Every stage in the development pipeline of a middle-scaled venture grows more difficult beyond four units. Development companies typically then fall into one of two camps: Single-family developers who build production subdivisions or custom products, and conventional multifamily outfits focused on 100-plus unit projects. This stands in stark contrast to the historic mode of city growth. It didn’t always require a team of developers, lawyers, lenders and code officials to complete a project. Missing middle projects rewarded context-sensitive innovation and expressed regional variations in climate, building material and social custom. Their development process was lean, which made them viable for small-scale entrepreneurs. For developers and cities, the path towards missing middle housing is winding. Conceptualizing the projects and communicating their intended benefits are the easy first steps. Completing middle-scaled projects seems more complicated than over-scaled projects because project managers must navigate a maze of ill-fitting regulations and lending practices. Yet the promise of missing middle projects—resilient and convivial neighborhoods—goes to the heart of civic responsibility. If city leaders, development interests, lenders and neighborhood advocates can work together to accomplish pilot projects, those projects will illuminate the path towards regulatory reform. Change the regulations, and watch 1,000 flowers sprout and bloom. Middle-scaled projects are achievable by local, small-scale actors already present in your community, from real estate developers and contractors to the underemployed advocates and the retired. This is the same group that built traditional downtowns. They don’t disrupt or replace existing social patterns; they complement and enhance the conviviality of your streets and neighborhoods. It’s a traditional, poised approach to city growth, and it works.


New Urbanism Champion

GREG NABHOLZ CEO, Nabholz Properties Inc. Senior Managing Director, Newmark Grubb Arkansas Why is the revitalization of Argenta so important to you? I love living in and visiting unique, vibrant, walkable places, and from a work standpoint, one area I specialize in is place-making economic development consulting across Arkansas. Argenta happens to be the place I live and one of those vibrant walkable places where I do a lot of my work. As a developer, how do you see your role as a steward for the area and its continued growth? One of my strengths is that I am a connector and through that I see opportunities for partnerships and leveraging resources. Helping to connect the dots to bring these various groups together is something I can contribute because in order for Argenta to grow, the public, private and nonprofit sectors are going to need to partner together in new ways to get much needed infrastructure finished and to make potential catalytic economic development projects a reality.

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What does the Argenta Arts & Innovation District in 2020 look like to you? The entire river front corridor from the Clinton Presidential Bridge to Rockwater Village will be developed with a mix of retail, entertainment, office, residential and hospitality uses. This includes major anchor attractions that do not currently exist in central Arkansas but will complement like-development on the south side of the river. The Mill District will be completed with the Argenta Plaza as its centerpiece and Main Street will be completing built out and fully occupied. In addition, Argenta will also be linked in a much better way with the rest of North Little Rock and downtown Little Rock via an expanded trail system, improved sidewalks and streetscapes on the main arteries, and improved public transportation. What do you think the greatest challenge or obstacles are in continuing the revitalization efforts in Argenta and the surrounding neighborhoods? Getting all of the stakeholders in Argenta, North Little Rock, Little Rock, central Arkansas and the State of Arkansas to realize that the resources are there to accomplish this goal. It will take a mix of introducing the right hand to the left hand, busting silos and for everyone to check their ego at the door. This challenge that can be overcome because the majority of these stakeholders do understand a rising tide lifts all ships. What do you want readers to know about Argenta? The Argenta Arts & Innovation District is one of the unique walkable neighborhoods that make up ONE DOWNTOWN: Downtown Little Rock-North Little Rock. Argenta is centrally located and is easily accessible to the rest of the region and is a convenient five to 15 minute walk to the other neighborhoods within this one downtown that spans the Arkansas River and connects two great cities.

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Look to MAIN STREET

PHOTO BY SARA REEVES

New urbanism breathes new life into downtown, historic districts

Main Street in Argenta, North Little Rock

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ravel anywhere in Arkansas, and you are likely to see downtown areas bustling with new life. Known as new urbanism, the revitalization of these historic urban areas is sweeping the entire country. By definition, new urbanism promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, mixed-use communities. These areas are composed of the same components as conventional development but assembled with contained housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents and all within walking distance of each other. According to New Urbanism, an organization based in Alexandria, Virginia, there are more than 4,000 new urbanist projects planned or under construction in the United States, half of which are in historic urban centers. “There is no better way to save a historic building than to keep it in service, or put it back into service if it is vacant,” says Frances McSwain, director of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP), an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, and deputy state historic preservation officer. “The benefit of rehabilitating historic buildings and revitalizing historic downtowns is capitalizing on limited natural resources and the embedded energy expended when the building was originally constructed. Retention of historic buildings reduces construction waste, and historic downtowns are ripe for revitalization since infrastructure is already in place.” 70 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

Making what’s old new—and better—again is what AHPP is about. By identifying, evaluating, registering and preserving the state’s historic and cultural resources, AHPP seeks to instill a preservation ethic in future generations of Arkansans. “We document and register the state’s cultural resource treasures,” McSwain says. “We also provide grants and technical assistance to help the guardians of these places ensure their survival.” One of the ways AHPP accomplishes this is through the Main Street Arkansas program, which works to bring new vitality to the historic commercial centers in the state that serve as the communities’ economic development generators. Main Street Arkansas has been a leading advocate for downtown revitalization providing resources, education and professional assistance to spark life into Arkansas’ traditional commercial areas since 1984. In fact, Main Street Arkansas cities have yielded a net gain of 3,907 jobs, 1,151 new businesses and 1,066 business expansions and relocations into downtowns. More than $145 million in investments has financed 3,272 facade renovations, rehabilitations and new construction projects in Main Street Arkansas cities, which have seen 844 public improvement projects valued at $25,193,767 and 545,536 volunteer hours. “The Main Street program’s goal is to make downtowns viable again,” says Greg Phillips, director of the Main Street Arkansas program. “It allows communities to revitalize downtown and neighborhood business districts through historic, cultural and


In Siloam Springs architectural resources as well as local enterprises and community pride so they become the center of the community again. We use the Main Street four-point approach, which integrates organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring into a practical downtown management strategy so a local Main Street program will produce fundamental changes in a community’s economic base.” Currently, Main Street Arkansas works with 33 cities across the state. There are more than 40 statewide Main Street programs throughout the country. In fact, Jonesboro is one of the latest Main Street Arkansas programs to begin breathing life into northeast Arkansas, and part of what drives preservation and revitalization is monetary incentives through federal and state government. In addition to the Main Street Arkansas program, AHPP can help historic property owners with federal and state tax credits. These credits go to rehabilitate these properties and encourage revitalizing historic downtowns and neighborhoods. “In 2009, Arkansas passed a law where citizens can claim a portion of their investment in historic properties as a credit on their state income taxes,” says Tom Marr, rehabilitation tax credit

Everything is just steps away... • Revitalized Historic Downtown • Farmers Market • Exquisite Loft Living • 8 Miles of Creekside Trail Home of John Brown University, #1 Southern Best College, US NEWS Best Small Towns in America Listing, Smithsonian Magazine 2012

“The Main Street program’s GOAL is to make downtowns WHOLE again.”

mainstreetsiloam.org WWW.MAINSTREETSILOAM.ORG/INVEST

—Greg Phillips

coordinator with AHPP. “The state tax credit is 25 percent, with limits, of the approved rehabilitation expenses on a historic building, which is or will be an income-producing property, such as commercial, office, rental residential, etc. The filer can then claim up to $125,000 per project for those properties and up to $25,000 per project for work on private residences. In either case, an owner must invest a minimum of $25,000 to claim any credits. “For the federal tax credit, people with historic structures qualify if they are listed or determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, either individually or as a contributing structure within a National Register historic district; rehabilitated for an income-producing purpose; meets the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and approved by both the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and the National Park Service before work is initiated; and meet the substantial rehabilitation test in that the cost of the rehabilitation must exceed the adjusted basis of the structure being rehabilitated, or if the structure has been depreciated to its fullest extent, a minimum of $5,000,” Marr says. “The owner of a historic structure who is considering a rehabilitation project and wants to take advantage of these tax credits should contact us before work begins, not only because we and the National Park Service must approve the proposed project, but also because we will provide the forms necessary for taking the credits.” —KD Reep

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the strong TOWN MOVEMENT Addressing the collapse in infrastructure funding PHOTOS BY WESLEY HITT

A

fter an era of unprecedented development, why can’t our cities and state agencies afford to maintain our infrastructure? The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department tells us they can only meet 18 percent of the state’s highway needs over the next 10 years, forcing them to devolve maintenance of entire road systems to counties and cities. Chuck Marohn, founder of the Minnesota-based nonprofit Strong Towns, has formulated the most perceptive analysis of this dilemma now impacting many states and cities. Marohn argues that the first generation of suburban highway construction (the interstate system of the 1950s and 1960s) was funded through savings and investment, but an even larger second generation of highway construction— and the maintenance obligations for both generations—are debt-financed. The assumption was that future growth will lead to rich returns, which has not been the case. Neither the federal government, states or developers have the capital to develop new infrastructure, nor do cities have funding to maintain existing investments. Marohn’s solution: Develop better urban land use mixes that have a proven track record of sustained wealth creation. Good town form is a big part of the solution, not more roads. We have the whole infrastructure equation backwards. Municipal leaders are consistently encouraged to leapfrog the market with new infrastructure. It is first assumed that growth is inevitable, and second that growth will pay back the city for

its investments. Both assumptions are wrong. Despite a neverbefore-seen rate of growth for more than half a century, we can’t even maintain what we have already built. It’s time to try something different.

HOW TO GROW A CITY This predicament is a direct result of our contemporary approach to infrastructure investment. Most public sector projects are debt-financed, and for that matter so are many corporate and individual investments like a home and a college education. Debt makes sense when it leads to subsequent wealth creation, a multiple return on investment. As Marohn argues, the second generation of infrastructural investment has not only failed to create wealth, but it is leading to unmanageable debt that threatens the future solvency of many cities. Unfortunately, some local governments do not conduct the proper cost benefit analysis to know if they are fair-costing their planning decisions. Let’s illustrate this with a scenario. Imagine you are in charge of a growing city. A land owner on the edge of town (it’s always easiest there) wants to build 100 new homes and some retail space on the old highway. You will need to widen the highway and extend the water and sewer lines to the project’s boundary, while the land owner will build the neighborhood infrastructure— the sewers, water mains and streets, which are then transferred to city control. You know your local congressional representative continued on page 74

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Good town form (facing page) is a big part of the solution, not more roads.

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 73


the strong TOWN MOVEMENT Since the 1950s, many cities have developed land at a rate as much as three times faster than their population growth.

can help you get federal funding to expand the old highway, so your city can get major infrastructure and a new subdivision for pennies on the dollar. Contemporary wisdom says you would be a fool to walk away from this deal, and chances are this has been the standard deal in your city for 50 years. Here’s the catch: Unless the new subdivision generates enough tax revenue to maintain all that infrastructure, your city won’t be able to afford the maintenance. You suspect there are other ways to grow your city, but they probably won’t come with virtually free infrastructure. What do you do? As the city’s leader, it is your responsibility to assess the risks and costs of each decision and make an informed choice on behalf of your citizens. Almost every city takes the deal, believing that the deal can’t be bad because the up-front costs are so low. Most cities don’t even count the anticipated revenue from the proposed development. Tax collections from a typical subdivision don’t cover the ongoing maintenance expenses of the attendant water and sewer lines, lighting and roadways (65- to 85-percent of costs). Also, the required overhauls aren’t included in analyses because they don’t come due for 20 to 30 years. The only way to pay for those obligations is short-term revenue from additional development. If cities make only one change in response to current budget challenges, it is this: do the math. Count the costs (including the maintenance) and count the revenue. Astute readers may be thinking, “But aren’t Arkansas cities funded primarily from sales tax dollars?” Yes, they are, and in theory the residents moving into new subdivisions mean more sales tax collections, which should fund the maintenance. Yet this expectation has not been born out, as evidenced by the long list of unfunded and deferred projects. No city can survive for long when it loses money on 90 percent of its development—residential

land uses—and tries to make it all up on the remaining 10 percent— commercial uses.

STRONG TOWN FORM FOR SUSTAINED WEALTH CREATION Marohn contends that current patterns of development destroy wealth. Consider the average contemporary subdivision, which has approximately 30 homes per mile of street. Resurfacing that mile of street is an essential civic service, but it’s only a service for 30 households. On the other hand, resurfacing a mile of street in a neighborhood with a traditional compact town form has the same costs but typically serves non-residential land uses in addition to more than 100 households. The same comparison holds true for each mile of sewer or water pipe, or any other hard infrastructure the city provides. Traditional development delivers more for the same investment. This traditional model of city growth stands in stark contrast with contemporary development because the strong town model is incremental and successional. Whereas low-density suburban development leapfrogs undeveloped property with low rates of return on infrastructure investments, towns built infrastructure incrementally out from a central zone of commerce. Growth was incrementally financed in modules of continuous blocks and parcels, and wealth was accretive and distributed among numerous local actors. The precise mix of residential, office, retail and other uses is subject to market forces, but the general condition is these land uses occur in both horizontal and vertical proximity to one another. The downtown, too, was replaced incrementally with taller, more durable buildings, reflecting the community’s measured continued on page 76

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This TRADITIONAL MODEL of city growth stands in stark contrast with CONTEMPORARY DEVELOPMENT because the strong town model is INCREMENTAL and SUCCESSIONAL.

COURTESY UACDC

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 75


the strong TOWN MOVEMENT

The correct infrastructure investment will build prosperity.

process of wealth accretion over time. Successive stages in a town’s maturation were based on infill and value-added investments without a ballooning expansion in infrastructure. Recall that even New York and London began as a collection of villages. On the other hand, today’s uneven land speculation forces development to over-scale projects and capture a disproportionate share of the market’s demand for space, delaying otherwise feasible incremental development. You’ve seen it for yourself in Arkansas downtowns characterized by an isolated tower or two amid numerous vacant lots standing out like so many missing teeth. Incremental and successional growth processes foster the emergence of social and economic complexity where cities pay less for new growth with greater co-benefits.

DOING THE COST BENEFITS ANALYSIS It’s the fair analysis of options that shows the economic superiority of traditional town growth. Let’s compare two real pieces of property, both in any given city or town. One is a successful big box department store; the other is a mixed-use, two-story building. The department store is relatively new construction, and the other is a remnant of the city’s past, perhaps run down. If only the total revenue is examined, the big box brings in more property and sales taxes. But if a standard measure is used—revenue per acre— the conclusion is much different because it factors municipal resources. Let’s do the math, using assessor’s data, corporate filing statements and business registry records. First, count tax revenue. The big box brings in about $55,000 in combined sales and property taxes per acre. The smaller, mixeduse building? More than $80,000 per acre in property taxes alone. It’s not even necessary to count the sales taxes from the included bar, bodega and event venue to determine the winner. Next, count jobs. There are 12 employees per acre at the big box, and twice that

76 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

in the mixed-use building. Now, count residents. The downtown building has about 35 residents per acre. The big box? Zero. Finally, count maintenance costs. When it comes to municipal expenses, the downtown building requires maintenance of about 100 feet of water lines, sewer pipe, sidewalk and pavement. The big box requires maintenance of more than 1,500 feet of the same, spreading out the required coverage area for safety services. Moreover, the big box retailer chose the site because the city and state highway department had built a new five lane arterial roadway. It was built under the assumption it would develop as a strong commercial corridor—after all, the corridor would be anchored by the big box. Today, the corridor is mostly empty and it is already scheduled for major maintenance. It was a speculative bet that didn’t pay off in time. Now, it costs the city far more than it generates.

IT WAS JUST AN EXPERIMENT It’s the same story across the state. Since the 1950s, many cities have developed land at a rate as much as three times faster than their population growth. No other statistic illustrates the speculative nature of premature investment so well. The correct infrastructure investment will build prosperity. Marohn reminds us that, “roads move people between places while streets provide a framework for capturing value within a place.” Instead of lamenting our looming budget crises, let’s reframe the recent past as an experiment. It was an experiment worth conducting, but now it is clear that speculative infrastructure is a failed fiscal model. For literally thousands of years, humans built prosperous communities incrementally, and it is time to return to that approach. Changing course may not be simple, but if leaders are willing to make a fair comparison of all their options, our cities will succeed again.


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Arkansas’ COMPANY TOWN Top-down visioning toward holistic planning PHOTOS BY SARA REEVES

M

oving along the Arkansas Delta’s Great River Road in southern Mississippi County amid extensive farmlands, one happens upon a crystalline expression of urbanism in the small town of Wilson. Like a welcoming oasis, the town is organized around a shaded and exquisitely proportioned New England-like village green framed by Tudor Revival-style commercial and civic buildings. Opposite this genteel town green across U.S. Highway 61 stands another equally picturesque town-like fabric, an industrial complex that once functioned as a regional processing center for a sprawling commodities empire in the early 20th century delta. Despite a current population of just under 1,000 today, Wilson was planned as a distinct urban form—a company town. Like many company towns, Wilson projects an organic unity. Its plan marries a state-of-the-art production landscape on one side, with a model town akin to a garden suburb on the other. In Wilson’s case, the latter included the equitable accommodation of different classes and races during a tumultuous post-Reconstruction era. Yet it was built by one man to house his company’s employees. How did such a progressive urban vision emerge from a topdown process; and moreover, how has it been sustained?

THE COMPANY TOWN AS A COMPLETE COMMUNITY Wilson was founded as a company town in 1886 by Robert E. Lee Wilson, a man who carved an agribusiness empire from swamplands eventually encompassing more than 80 square miles.

The company employed more than 2,500 workers and, by the time of Wilson’s death in 1933, was the South’s largest cotton producer. While present-day city planning bureaucracies fashionably insist that the best plans emerge from extensive citizen participation, Wilson demonstrates that top-down planning can yield exemplary, even progressive, community design. The company town was a particular urban form employed by 19th century industrialists to combine the control of labor and capital resources (production facilities, distribution and rail facilities, land, natural resources, and in Lee Wilson’s case levees for flood control, etc.). While company towns have been obsolete since the 1920s, they leave an instructive legacy of holistic planning upon which the town of Wilson is revitalizing itself today. America’s best known company town is Pullman, Illinois, now a suburb of Chicago. Pullman was built to house the employees of the famed railroad car company, the Pullman Palace Car Company. Industrialists like Pullman and Wilson owned the housing and the stores in which their employees lived and shopped, even minting their own currencies for use in company stores. It would be incorrect, for example, to perceive Bentonville and Fayetteville as company towns. Despite the dominance of Walmart and the University of Arkansas neither employer owns their towns nor controls the housing tenure of their employees. For most industrialists, the company town was a totalizing instrument of labor management in a time marked by widespread labor strife when corporations were aggressively rationalizing their bottom lines. For most capitalists like Pullman, the cradle-to-grave accommodation of employees was essentially continued on page 80

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The seven-acre Wilson Gardens, a commercial urban food-growing operation for locally-sourced organic vegetables, herbs and cut flowers, builds upon the town’s agricultural heritage.

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 79


Arkansas’ COMPANY TOWN a regimented form of paternalism to de-radicalize labor. But for Lee Wilson & Company the company town offered progressive solutions for meeting the social challenges of a post-Reconstruction South.

PROGRESSIVE ERA INFLUENCES IN THE DELTA The town of Wilson marks perhaps the most socially progressive experiment in the lower Mississippi River Valley. While Lee Wilson built satellite company towns in Mississippi County including Keiser, Armorel, Victoria, Marie and Evadale, the town of Wilson was the home of his central operations. His empire reflected an early form of the vertically integrated corporation beginning with timbering and eventually expanding to short-line railroading, cotton and rice production, processing, value-added manufacturing, meatpacking, merchandising, production and sale of electricity, and even banking. The Bank of Wilson issued shares of stock to raise capital in 1908, originating loans for local development. Such capitalist formations, which Wilson funded through venture equity from the North, were unique to this region. But labor shortages plagued the post-Reconstruction South. This was compounded by the African American migration north to manufacturing centers where blacks expected employment opportunities and more socially welcoming environments. It is within this context that town planning was adopted by Wilson to create the environment necessary for retaining both unskilled labor and executives in a region suffering chronic conflict over scarce resources. Just like today, good place-making that couples high standards of livability with economic rationality was an antidote to labor turnover. The town of Wilson set the standards for livability in the Delta, offering exemplary housing, healthcare and contemporary schools for white and black families alike. Historian Jeannie Whayne, in her recent book Delta Empire: Lee Wilson and the Transformation of Agriculture in the New South, recounts the uniqueness of Lee Wilson’s Progressive Era leanings. Though his record on labor management is not spotless, he was reliably fair. From cottages to mansions, varieties of housing types along tree-lined streets were recognized as among the best in the nation for agricultural labor. Housing was within walking distance of the town green, stores and important services. Wilson had a health clinic staffed by doctors and nurses to which residents had access at a time when most citizens of the Delta had none. Department stores, theaters and community meeting space common in towns of all sizes in preWWII America provided shared experiences for residents. Blacks enjoyed additional protection from harassment pervasive throughout the region. The town of Wilson served as a protected space for African American residents especially from corrupt area law enforcement. While the town consistently operated at a financial loss to Lee Wilson & Company, it underwrote a level of livability and harmony indispensible to the long-term prosperity enjoyed by the Wilson family and their employees.

THE NEXT GENERATION OF SUSTAINABILITY Since its incorporation in 1959, Wilson’s population has held steady at under 1,000, down from its peak before the mechanization of farming. In the early 20th century close to 10,000 people lived in and around Wilson. Residents who always rented from the company were offered the option of purchasing their homes in the 1950s. Until recently, a Wilson was always the mayor. However, in 2010 the town of Wilson was sold making it one of the last company-owned towns in the United States. The town along with the company’s land was purchased for an estimated $110 million by the Lawrence Group, one of the nation’s largest family farming businesses. Wilson enters a new phase of investiture that ensures “the next generation of sustainability” as described by John Faulkner. Faulkner is Wilson’s town planner newly appointed by the Lawrence Group to oversee the town’s renaissance. continued on page 82

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The town of Wilson served as a PROTECTED space for African American residents especially from CORRUPT AREA LAW enforcement.

Wilson Gardens serves as the garden-to-table sourcing for the newly reopened Wilson CafĂŠ (below) . The town green in Wilson is surrounded by a collection of Tudor-style buildings. (Facing page) John Faulkner, Wilson town planner. Wilson was founded as a company town in in 1886.

BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING | 81


Arkansas’ COMPANY TOWN The Delta School’s administration will be located in Wildwood House, the town’s most historic building. Construction of The Delta School, slated to open in fall 2015, continues.

Though at first reluctant to assume stewardship of a town, Gaylon Lawrence Jr., a Nashville native who made the purchase, eventually came to recognize the incalculable value of a well-planned place. Lawrence not only consolidated a new headquarters for the Lawrence Group in Wilson, presently scattered across several states, but according to Faulkner is now developing a cultural infrastructure that extends the town’s legacy in setting regional livability standards. His vision encompasses an independent elementary school, new facilities for the Hampson Archeological Museum, a commercial garden to provide locally sourced foods, and an arts and theater district. All supported by utility upgrades, a health clinic and real estate development to accommodate up to 1,000 additional residents. Like Lee Wilson, Gaylon Lawrence prefers “to keep his feet in the soil” explains Faulkner. Of the first projects to be implemented, the Wilson Gardens builds upon the town’s agricultural heritage. The gardens bring to town a commercial urban food-growing operation for locally-sourced organic vegetables, herbs and cut flowers. Faulkner’s intention is to develop the garden complex as a destination point incorporating refurbished industrial structures once operated by Lee Wilson & Company. The seven-acre facility is a year-round operation with hoop houses for cold season growing and will soon include an indoor farm market open two days a week. The urban gardens are central to community life, serving as garden-to-table sourcing for the newly reopened Wilson Cafe on the town green, while offering CSA (community sourced agriculture) distribution to local consumers. Even more significant, the gardens will serve as a teaching tool for the soon to be launched school given its intended focus on food literacy and place-based agriculture. By triangulating creative thinking in education, urbanism and cultural entrepreneurialism, the commercial food gardens could catalyze an entirely new area of economic development in urban agriculture. The Delta School, an independent K-7 facility set to open in the historic Wildwood House next fall, follows the axiom that good 82 | BLOCK, STREET & BUILDING

schools are essential for retaining households with children in a community. According to Faulkner, himself an accomplished artist and educator, the school’s alternative curriculum is primarily organized around “maker movement” principles, a contemporary subculture focused on creative applications of do-it-yourself technologies. Complementing this is the proposed “school garden movement” curriculum that integrates concern for ecology with agricultural and urban development. The school’s project-based education highlights cultural entrepreneurship in learning practical skills while addressing community challenges through appreciative inquiries and innovation. Faulkner indicated that there will be extensive scholarship funding, with participation from the Lawrence Group, to ensure broad access among all income groups to the Delta School. The school has hired nationally acclaimed educator Jenifer Fox as founding head to implement its progressive vision. Recalling Progressive Era educator John Dewey and his learning-by-doing through performance and cooperation, Wilson reconnects with the social dynamics that historically made it a beacon of livability. Certainly Wilson’s company town beginnings complicate the traditional understanding between development obligations of the municipality—the public—and those of a private actor. Faulkner clarified that the Lawrence Group will oversee new real estate development using design guidelines covering a variety of southern house prototypes to ensure affordability. Wilson’s past and future are instructive for their holistic development approaches in delivering high standards of livability, especially in rural regions confronted with dwindling resources and the unavailability of basic services. Wilson challenges the conventional wisdom that public processes are superior to top-down planning. Indeed, compared to peer communities in the region, Wilson sustains a level of social and economic capital development unrivalled for communities of its size. Wilson handedly showcases the Delta’s ability to project refinement and urban order within a landscape where such cultural accomplishments are most needed.


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