Urban Design Center – A Pioneering Experience
By: Bob Grewe, AICP, Southern Region Representative, APA Indiana Chapter
“The pioneers get the arrows and the settlers get the land.” This was an old adage that my first boss, Dick Henderson, former Director of IN 15 RPC, shared with me. He would share this quip when a group was pursuing something new and different. It was not so much a negative spin on the particular endeavor as it was recognition of the cost and value of pursing something that will impact future generations.
Recently, I have had the good fortune of being associated with the pioneering efforts to establish an Urban Design Center for the Evansville, IN-Henderson, KY region. Thankfully, this new endeavor has very few “arrows” associated with it.
The opportunity to create an Urban Design Center stems from the Evansville Metropolitan Planning Organization being provided a Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant that is funded through HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities.
Philip Hooper, Executive Director of the Evansville Department of Metropolitan Development suggested this initiative noting that design centers have served as effective platforms that other cities have successfully utilized to further their urban redevelopment plans.
The Urban Design Center is located at 58 Adams Avenue at the center of the Haynie’s Corner Art District and adjacent to the Historical Alhambra Theater. The building is owned by the Evansville Brownfields Corporation, who structured a generous rental arrangement for the space. On top of the generous rent, Brownfields Corp. made a number of improvements to the space that was necessary to accommodate events and gatherings.
We quickly learned that walk-in traffic was limited, so efforts were initiated to host brown bag lunch and learn events every week. Programs have ranged from urban redevelopment case studies to re-thinking transit operations. A number of lunch and learn events utilized the resources of the Sustainable Communities Learning Network. The Network is a repository of video presentations from grantee workshops developed for the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant program.
The Urban Design Center (UDC) has also been utilized for unveiling specific redevelopment projects. The large front windows have provided the opportunity to exhibit static displays of projects and upcoming events. Most recently, an open house event was held to share information on the specific initiatives proposed for the Haynie’s Corner Art District.
One of the more important but less measurable benefits of the UDC is networking. Hosting regular events at the UDC has brought together not for profits, volunteers, private sector developers and government agencies in a neutral space, which seems to provide for more open discussion and sharing of ideas.
One of the priority projects for the Haynie’s Corner Art District is to increase gallery space. Taking this recommendation to heart, the UDC will transition to the Urban Living Center and Theater Gallery in 2014. The Theater Gallery will be a perfect complement to the adjacent Alhambra Theater. In fact, there is dialogue about physically connecting the two buildings to create a performing arts and gallery complex. The Theater Gallery will provide high quality gallery space in the heart of the Art District and will also provide resources to promote urban living.
This synergistic arrangement will provide much needed gallery space and also provide resources to help citizens understand and appreciate the new housing choices becoming available as a result of the City of
For information on community design centers, visit the Association of Community Design at http://www.communitydesign.org/.