CityBuilding Express #CBX2018
Why spend 4 days on a tour bus with 50 mayors, developers, city council members, staff planners, supervisors, city managers, urban designers, town architects, economic development experts? For the annual CityBuilding Express (#CBX2018) event of course! There is never a dull moment with this inquisitive outspoken crowd!
Nathan Norris photo
Riding with 50 others on a tour bus loaded with urbanist nerds may not be your cup of tea, but for people working to make their towns and cities better through progressive economic development and creative urban placemaking – it’s a heady, exciting and dynamic time. Imagine “kicking the tires” of numerous revitalization and development projects with the best and brightest urban professionals. We talked, cajoled, prodded, agreed and disagreed about economic development and urban placemaking as we rolled across the urban South.The tour started in Memphis at Harbortown, an early Traditional Neighborhood Development. If you look closely you will find Howard Blackson, the talented urbanist that led the Downtown Oxnard Vision Plan Charrette early in 2016.
All photos by Roy Prince unless noted
We then moved to the very well planned and designed Memphis Crosstown development. A 1 million square foot, long abandoned, Sears warehouse repurposed into a very well designed mixed-use civic space. Retail and community services on the lower levels and office and light manufacturing (the repairing and making of small things) above and finally housing on the upper levels. The amazing and creative aspect of the design was that the developer removed the center of the building, ie the doughnut hole, to bring natural light deep into the lower floors of the building.
At another Memphis location, we found a roadway intersection with a canopy of blue ribbon, covering the triangular streetscape, defining the space below. And shop doors and walls in the neighborhood were painted with objects that revealed what was happening inside. Auto repair, musical instrument making, and repair etc.
In downtown, Huntsville was a hidden space that became a music venue, an alive and well brewpub scene, and new galleries fronting on parking garages with small popup like retail spaces carved out of the first floor of parking garages and open for business. Uninteresting and under-used streets and sidewalks in the downtown were alive with walkers and shoppers.
Oxnard could take the ground floor parking spaces fronting on a dead B Street sidewalk in the 4 story parking garage and remake them into a smart busy shopping area serving City Hall, other nearby civic buildings, and the public library with attractive and lively shops and eateries.
The Beltline project in Atlanta was an abandoned railroad track, that has been repurposed into a bike and walking path winding its way completely around central Atlanta. It’s a work in progress with only sections being completed at the moment. The section we walked along, near the Krog City Market, where we stopped for lunch (kinda like the “Annex” in The Collection, although bigger and more diverse), was enhanced by public art and public notices chalked into the walkway. Lively and fun, lots of people are using this delightful car-less path through Atlanta.
The Atlanta “Beltline” leads me to the completion of the Pacific Coast Bikeway through Southern Ventura County and Oxnard connecting the Malibu area (Santa Monica) through Point Magu, Oxnard, Ventura and on up the Coast to Santa Barbara. These kinds of people serving amenities bring tourists and the potential for substantial economic development. With the ever-present potential for making the Ormond Beach Wetlands a birding and nature lovers paradise and stop along the way. Serious potential for Oxnard and Ventura County here!
I fell in love with Greenville, SC! A relatively small town with a thriving 2-5 story downtown main street that was walkable, opened into a civic plaza in one area and crossed the river (with easy river access directly from the main street). The downtown street with canopy trees and protected sidewalks seemed to go on forever, block after block, with mixed-use buildings all built right up to the sidewalks. An unexpected marvel of excellent urbanism.
If there are takeaways and threads that run through these projects it is that none of them happened overnight or by accident. All the projects we visited were the result of dedication, love for place, solid urban design, economic development, and civic attention and pride.
Having a champion with ability and vision was also a part of the placemaking success for many of the places we visited. The champions were developers or mayors, or economic development professionals with the experience and training to create smart successful places.
I can think of no better investment for Oxnard’s civic leaders than to learn from and be inspired by, urban design professionals at the top of their game, and the wonderful successful civic places they create. One can only hope that next years planning budget will have a CBX line item.
I spent a few more days exploring the short blocks and tree-lined streets of historic Savannah and the riverfront area with family and headed home. Dreaming of returning to Savannah again in the near future. There is so much to see and learn.
I cannot overemphasize the value I find in CityBuildingExchange.com experiences. The CBE and CBX events are always a highlight of my year.
Roy Prince R.A. Architect
CNU – California Chapter
PO Box 6838
Oxnard, CA 93031
We started early on a Saturday morning in Harbor Town on the Mississippi in Memphis and wound our way, project by project, through the urban South to Savannah, GA.
Here is an abbreviated list of our explorations:
Memphis, TN – HarborTown (early TND) (harbortownmemphis.com)*
Memphis, TN – CrossTown/Midtown (adaptive reuse; Urban Magnets Theory) (crosstownconcourse.com)**
Memphis, TN – Medical District (organization; incremental development; tactical urbanism) (mdcollaborative.org)
Huntsville, AL – Downtown Huntsville (adaptive reuse; public-private partnerships; low-cost creative placemaking) (downtownhuntsville.org)**
Huntsville, AL – Village of Providence (commercial town center; integration of school into neighborhood) (villageofprovidence.com)*
Pisgah, AL (overlooking a pristine Tennessee River Valley) – Gorham’s Bluff (negative impacts of initial urban design; lodging/food/catering/events synergy) (gorhamsbluff.com/welcome)
Chattanooga, TN – Waterfront (North and South Shore of Tennessee River)*
Chattanooga, TN – Innovation District (formerly known as Downtown)*
Chattahoochee Hills, GA – Serenbe (agricultural urbanism; artistic infrastructure; community institute; land preservation; parking maximums) (www.serenbe.com) (www.serenbeinstitute.com)*
Atlanta, GA – Glenwood Park (T-5 infill; catalyst projects; street design) (glenwoodpark.com)**
Atlanta, GA – Krog City Market*/Inman Park/Beltline***/Ponce City Market (retail markets and public trails as catalyst projects; gentrification) (krogstreetmarket.com)* (beltline.org)* (poncecitymarket.com)
Greenville, SC – Downtown Greenville (downtown revitalization; government organization; public-private partnerships)***
Summerville, SC – Nexton (new greenfield production builder TND; gig neighborhood) (www.nexton.com)
Mt Pleasant, SC – I’On (execution; entitlements; landscape; integration of civic institutions) (ioncommunity.com)*
Charleston SC – Downtown Charleston (revitalization; retail; equity; architecture)**
Beaufort, SC – Habrsham (camouflaged multifamily, light imprint rainwater management; mixed-use phasing) (habershamsc.com)*
- favorite places ** x2 favorite places *** OT favorite places
Finally, we arrived on a bright Wednesday morning on the Atlantic in the beautiful city of Savannah for the beginning of the Congress for the New Urbanism’s annual conference. I experienced a day of talks and presentations by Andres Duany, Partner, DPZ CoDesign – Patrice Frey, President & CEO, Main Street America – Charles Marohn, President, Strong Towns – R. John Anderson, Principal Tolar | Anderson Kim Architecture with Bruce Tolar, Principal Tolar | Anderson Kim Architecture + Urban Design – and finally Jeff Speck, Principal, Speck & Associates LLC.
A description of the CBX event from the CityBuilding Express website (citybuildingexchange.com):
The CityBuilding Exchange is taking learning on the road May 12-16, 2018 with its first CityBuilding Express (CBX) (formerly known as the Magical Mystery Tour), an intensive tour of over 20 innovative neighborhoods/developments that highlight CityBuilding best practices and how to implement them (with the assistance of local experts and leading practitioners).
The CBX will start at the Mississippi River and end on the Atlantic Coast. Specifically, it will begin in Memphis, and speed its way to CNU 26 in Savannah with stops in Huntsville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Greenville, Charleston, and Beaufort.
After visiting each site, the participants will discuss and identify the lessons to learn from each place. This is the perfect learning environment for community leaders wanting to enhance their knowledge in a compressed amount of time.
A short video describing the details of the CBX can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/257172756