What We Get When We Embrace the Artisans

The multi-year process of rewriting the city’s development code caused a significant amount of sturm und drang, especially among the downtown folks, but here on Business Loop, we saw some new avenues open up. Under the new codes, activities on mixed-use corridors such as ours have been expanded to include uses previously prohibited but now recognized as creative ways to spark vitality and economic development.

One category that caught our eye was something called “artisan industries.” Artisan industries are defined as small-scale fabrication, preparation, or production of arts, crafts, foods, and beverages. This can include welding, sculpting, arts and crafts, pottery, and carpentry as well as local, small-batch bakeries, candy shops, cheese shops, craft breweries, and micro-distilleries. Sounds pretty good, right?

As the “shop local” and maker’s movements gain steam, cities across the country are opening their doors to small-scale artisans and their production facilities. I’ve toured many artisan shops and have never failed to be impressed — from Shark Tank” contestants Mango Mango cooking up preserves in downtown Hampton, Virginia, to Old California Lighting handcrafting fixtures for historic buildings in my home town of Orange, California.

Few Spirits in Evanston, Illinois, is another prime example of how artisan industry can find success. The small shop has barrels stacked to the rafters and a gleaming copper still standing in the middle of the chaos. Located at the end of an alley, visitors to Few spill outside as they listen to music and sample the gins and whiskeys. It’s abundantly clear these small-bore industries bring more than just tax revenue to a city; they bring the flavor.

Although this category is new to the city’s code, it actually reflects activity already happening here in Columbia. From cabinet makers and metalworkers to small-batch coffee roasters and chocolatiers, our city is home to many of these artisans. We have our own growing ranks of brewers and distilleries well. The success of Few Spirits is mirrored by the growth of our very own DogMaster Distillery, Logboat Brewing, and Bur Oak Brewing Companies.

One change we did advocate for during the rezoning process was ensuring that retail sales would be allowed within this category. This was largely inspired by a Chamber of Commerce trip to Ft. Collins where we visited New Belgium Brewing and saw almost as many people buying T-shirts, pint glasses, and bike accessories as buying beer. It makes perfect sense — who could visit a brewery, chocolatier, or bakery and leave empty handed?

As we move forward with our corridor plan—beautifying the street, improving infrastructure, and creating a welcoming entrance into Columbia—we’ll also be focusing on how to best encourage these types of uses on private property. We’ve already got a strong DIY attitude on the street and we’re ready to open our doors to even more of the doers, builders, and makers out there just waiting to show off their craft.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

On the Merits of Roundabouts

I grew up in Orange, California, a city that decided to forgo the traditional town square in favor of a circle. The Orange Circle is a two-lane roundabout surrounding a park and a fountain that was funded, I kid you not, back in 1886 through local bake sales. Every teenager in town learned to drive through it — if your high school football team won, you were required to cruise around it multiple times with your friends hanging out the windows cheering. Waving school pennants earned you extra points.

Proof that bakes sales work.

Given such fond memories, there was no one more pleased than I when MoDOT announced their plan to improve the West Boulevard exit off I-70 with not one but two new roundabouts. And it wasn’t just a case of personal nostalgia — roundabouts are better than traditional intersections in many ways. They decrease crashes, keep traffic flowing better, and, frankly, are usually more attractive than a typical intersection.

Now to use a little traffic lingo. A traditional intersection has 32 potential vehicle conflicts and 24 pedestrian–vehicle ones. In contrast, a roundabout has only 8 potential vehicle conflicts and 8 pedestrian–vehicle ones. Collisions on a roundabout are also more likely to be minor fender benders than dangerous and costly T-bone collisions. Overall, the Federal Highway Administration has found roundabouts reduce injury crashes by 75 percent and fatal crashes by a whopping 90 percent. Because roundabouts slow vehicle traffic down considerably, any collision with a pedestrian is less likely to be fatal.

Traffic also flows better when you don’t make cars wait for a light to change. Stop-and-go traffic can be frustrating, and all too often, rushed drivers try to avoid red lights by cutting through parking lots, which is also dangerous for unsuspecting pedestrians and drivers. Because roundabouts keep traffic moving, its common to see at least a 20% reduction in delays — and safer parking lots too.

Perhaps the best reason for roundabouts is that it allows us to recapture precious public space that we lost to the road decades ago. In my hometown, the Circle is a community space. It’s where the city holds the International Street Fair on Labor Day weekend each year; it’s where we celebrated when runners brought the Olympic Torch through town on the way to Los Angeles; it’s where we hang our holiday decorations come November.

Cars and pedestrians managing just fine.

We may not be able to fit a park and fountain in the middle of our roundabouts, but beautification, landscaping, and public art are all options. Just imagine a piece of public art surrounded by native flowers, welcoming visitors off I-70 into our city. Parents dropping their kids off at college would have a pleasant entrance into town, road-weary travelers would see it as sign that Columbia is a good place to stop for the night, and families would welcome it as the first glimpse of home after a long journey.

Mike Heimos goes on trips and sends me photos of roundabouts.

Here’s another one he found in Ft. Collins. Notice there are more plants than signs.

There’s a long history here in Columbia of cruising The Loop — just ask any former Kewpie. Still, we could learn something from the kids coasting around the Orange Circle. And now that we’ve got our roundabouts, I’d be happy to serve as the pace car some Friday night after the game.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

City Shots

Our graffiti abatement program is absolutely toothless.

City Shots

A Winnipeg gaming cafe (with full bar and popcorn) is packed on a Saturday night.

Vacant Lot? More Like a Park in Waiting.

One thing we heard loud and clear at our planning open house for The Loop was the desire for more public space. I heard Gertrude Stein paraphrased a number of times as people joked, “There is no there there.”

Public spaces are taken for granted in a downtown area, where parks and squares are common threads in the urban fabric. When engineers of yesteryear were building cross-state highways, though, no one really thought about spaces for people to linger. Sure, Highway 40 (now The Loop) had its share of motels, services stations, and honky-tonks, but they were all private spaces designed for people who arrived in automobiles.

Cosmo Park can serve as our very own Central Park, but we still need other public spaces along the length of the corridor. If we truly want to revitalize the Business Loop and make it a place everyone feels welcome, we need to find some creative solutions to carving out space for the community.

A number of cities are forgoing the traditional courthouse squares or urban parks and creating new, creative gathering places. One increasingly common option is pop-up parks — temporary public spaces created to activate vacant lots or unused parking areas.

The Plot, in Norfolk, Virginia, is a great example of this. When a development project in a key area of downtown fell through, hundreds of volunteers stepped up to raise money, build paths, and plant flowers on the dirt lot. The result was a temporary park with seating, a small stage, and free Wi-Fi.

Downtowners immediately began gathering there to eat lunch or meet friends after work. The project was so successful in bringing attention to the space that the land was purchased for a hotel. No worries though — the volunteers simply packed up the chairs and the stage and moved it all to a new location.

Other cities are letting the public space take the lead in the planning process, rather than treating it as an afterthought. Makers Quarter in San Diego took a “pre-development” approach where, with just a touch of chutzpah, they built a public gathering space before any of the area’s proposed development projects were off the ground.

The Silo, at Makers Quarter, is a gravel lot enlivened by graffiti-inspired murals and presided over by an old water tower. Picnic tables and a few strings of lights round out the amenities. Food trucks, beer tastings, live music, and outdoor movies draw crowds to the area despite the lack of traditional restaurant and retail options. Not only does The Silo draw attention to the area, but it also helps developers figure out what people want the area to become — people are voting with their feet.

We have plenty of underutilized space here on The Loop, and we certainly want to create more room for restaurants, retailers, offices, and even artisan industries. Along the way, though, we’ll be sure to set aside some space for the public that’s creative, engaging, and, of course, welcoming.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

City Shots – Great American Eclipse Edition

As Vox pointed out:

The path of the total eclipse across the country, which sliced diagonally from Oregon to South Carolina, was remarkable in that it avoided most major cities entirely, with the exception of Nashville, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Instead, it graced hundreds of small towns in 14 states…

We were lucky to be one of those towns in the middle of America and I was lucky enough to have friend that was handy with a camera while I stood in awe.

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Designing Cities

In urban development circles, it’s common to talk about public art as a way to create a strong identity for an area. For hundreds of years, cites have placed works of art in their public squares and that tradition continues today.

What we tend to overlook is the power of graphic design in our cities—using images, words, or graphic forms to convey a message or an identity. Perhaps we don’t think of graphic art as “real art” or the impact of graphics is too subtle to spark our imagination. Whatever the reason, it’s time we all took a second look at how smart graphic design can help transform an area in unexpected ways.

A great example is parking garages. Visitors need to quickly understand where to park, where to pay, and how to find the exit. They also need to remember where they left the car after a day of shopping. The traditional public works approach is to add signs. If people are confused, add more signs.

A graphic designer, on the other hand, will use color, images, and forms to convey this information. Ponce City Market—a rehabbed Sears & Roebuck warehouse in Atlanta now home to retail, restaurants and creative offices—does a fantastic job of using graphics to enhance the visitor experience. In their parking garage, a playful image of a car points drivers to the correct ramp while the image of a bike lets everyone know where the bike parking is located. Colorful arrows and welcoming messages guide visitors through the garage to the adjacent shops.

But the parking garage is just the beginning. Ponce City Market also integrates graphic design into the overall architecture of the building. The bright orange graphics are so playful a visitor may not notice they are being purposefully directed through the building. These graphics not only convey information, they express the market’s identity. To attract high end creative workers, the work spaces themselves need to reflect this creativity. Employees of architectural firms, tech startups, and online marketing companies aren’t going to be interested in working out of a plain white box of an office. Ponce City Market knows that, and they use graphic design to get an edge in attracting these employees.

Ponce City Market is not alone in their efforts. Cities are increasingly using graphic design for urban planning—as a substitute for traditional signage, as a way to enliven a street, or even to bring attention to the planning process itself.

One key selling point of our new urban design team Arcturis was their understanding of the power of graphic design to quickly create an identity for The Loop. For a project that will be primarily focused on infrastructure improvements, it’s important to remember that turning lanes and sidewalks while important, aren’t enough to convey a sense of place. Smart graphic design elements will help us convey a message, guide visitors, and manage interactions. But most importantly, it can help us tell the story of The Loop.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

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Such interesting architecture in Sioux City.

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