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“A Design that Celebrates the People”: Normal, IL Traffic Circle Wins Smart Growth Award as New Civic Space

Earlier this month, EPA announced the winners of the 2011 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement.  We are excited to report that Normal, Illinois is the recipient of the award in the Civic Places category for their traffic roundabout.

We’ve written before about how the town’s new traffic circle has successfully managed traffic flow at a busy five-way intersection, diverted thousands of gallons of untreated stormwater away from the nearby creek, and become the town center by bringing residents together in an attractive public space.  The more recent news is how the traffic roundabout is spurring local economic development with the construction of a multimodal transportation station adjacent to the circle, courtesy of a U.S. Department of Transportation grant.  Both the transportation hub, which will eventually have high-speed rail service and create an estimated 400-500 new jobs, and the circle take advantage of the town’s existing infrastructure, bus service, and the historic central business district to attract even more residents to the new town center.

The one-third-acre roundabout does much more than move cars. It invites pedestrians with shade trees, benches, lighting, bike parking, green space, and a water feature. People have lunch, read, and play music, and the open space invites community gatherings such as a holiday caroling event. It is the anchor for a community-wide revitalization and is part of Uptown Normal’s LEED-ND Silver recognition.

A popular rails-to-trails conversion, the Constitution Trail, leads to and around the roundabout, helping both to revitalize Normal and to bring people from surrounding areas to Normal’s central district. A new Children’s Discovery Museum on the edge of the roundabout already receives over 140,000 visitors per year, and a hotel and conference enter have recently opened nearby. One indication of the success of the redevelopment is that property values in the district have increased by about 30 percent since 2004.

According to the short video, this traffic circle was almost banned to pedestrians.  It’s a good thing town officials fought back.

Read more about the project here, as well as the other winners from the 2011 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement.

From all of us at City Parks Blog, thanks for reading, commenting and inspiring us this past year with all of your park stories and successes.  We look forward to hearing how park development and redevelopment is changing your city.  Happy New Year and all the best in 2012 :-)

Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza: A Historic Step Toward Urban Excellence

Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza. Credit: Coleen Gentles.

The Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence has named the Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza as a 2011 Silver Medal recipient. The Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza emerged from a 15-year community effort to shape the form and content of the city’s last major redevelopment area, and is a testament to the power of civic involvement in the realization of great urban spaces.

When Santa Fe’s 50-acre rail yard was threatened by private development in the early 1990s, the city mobilized to purchase and protect the historic site for a local vision. With involvement from over 6,000 community members, a master plan was developed and implemented over the next decade through a unique partnership between the newly created nonprofit Santa Fe Railyard Community Corporation (SFRCC) and The Trust for Public Land.

The plan called for redevelopment that would protect the integrity of adjoining historic neighborhoods, retain the railyard’s “authentic, gritty, rugged” architectural quality, encourage alternative modes of transportation, create a pedestrian-oriented environment, and provide significant amounts of park and open space. The project – exclusive of the park and open space – was developed and managed by SFRCC, while the Railyard Park Stewards group was formed to care for the park and provide enhanced programming.

The result is a 12-acre vibrant, multi-use park and public plaza in the heart of Santa Fe. Many dimensions of Santa Fe converge here: history, water use, local agriculture, transportation, education, arts and culture, and community. There are commercial and cultural facilities, the twice-weekly Santa Fe Farmers Market, a pedestrian and bicycle path, and a commuter rail connection for Northern New Mexico within the Railyard’s historic depot. As the “family room” of Santa Fe, the Railyard complements the city’s “living room” in the historic Santa Fe Plaza by providing additional space for arts, festivals, and day-to-day life. The new pedestrian and bicycle path parallels the tracks deep into Santa Fe’s southern neighborhoods – the first of several pathways that will link the park and plaza to districts throughout the city and beyond.

Other 2011 Silver Medal recipients of The Rudy Bruner Award include Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York, a community-initiated, 85-acre park that preserves 1.3 miles of riverfront for public use; Civic Space Park, a vitalizing public space in downtown Phoenix, made possible through an innovative town-and-gown partnership; and Gary Comer Youth Center and Gary Comer College Prep, which support education and youth programs that bring new opportunities to Chicago’s Grand Crossing neighborhood. The 2011 Gold Medal recipient is The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center in Dallas, Texas, which provides shelter and services to help clients transition to sustained independence.

Established in 1986 and now in its 13th award cycle, The Rudy Bruner Award has recognized more than 65 projects that demonstrate excellence in urban placemaking. The Award was created by Simeon Bruner, in honor of his late father, to foster a better understanding of the role of architecture in the urban environment and has become one of America’s leading forums for the discussion of issues related to urban architecture, planning, and revitalization. The Rudy Bruner Award has been recognized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Environmental Design Research Associates.

The Santa Fe Railyard Park and Plaza, along with three fellow Silver Medalists, will receive a $10,000 prize. The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center in Dallas, this year’s Gold Medal recipient, will receive a $50,000 prize.

Case studies of the 2011 award winners will be published this fall. Past publications are available online here.

Visions of Closing Roads and Creating Parks

A previous post highlighted a few cities that closed roads through parks to increase pedestrian and non-motorized use. We’ve recently learned about a proposal to temporarily close streets to traffic during weekends and holidays in Buenos Aires and bring in portable playground equipment and benches to turn these roads into parks. A video of this concept is below:

The “Plaza Movil Street Park” was one of three winners of the Philips Livable Cities Award, a global initiative designed to generate innovative, meaningful and achievable ideas to improve the health and wellbeing of city-dwellers across the world. The creator of the Plaza Movil Street Park received a grant of €25,000 to help translate his concept into reality.

Also worth viewing is the video of one of the five finalists, who brings a plan a little closer to home. The “Design Your Own Park Competition” in Binghamton, NY would turn neglected, urban spaces into parks by having neighborhood residents and groups submit designs in a contest, with the winning vision ultimately created and maintained as a public park.

Award-Winning Parks Projects From Hollywood to New York

At first glance, Cahuenga Peak, the backdrop to the Hollywood sign, might seem more like a supporting actor than a bona fide star. But it got its moment in the spotlight last year as The Trust for Public Land helped save it from becoming a luxury housing development. Now it has been named “Best New Park” by TheDailyGreen.com’s 2011 Heart of Green Editor’s Choice Award.

The untouched Santa Monica Mountains behind the famous H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D sign were saved in 2010 by a very public and successful Trust for Public Land campaign to prevent development on the 138 acres behind and beside the “H.”  Cahuenga Peak has been added to 4,100-acre Griffith Park.

The awards also recognized New York City as the “Greenest City,” particularly due to its ambitious master plan, called PlaNYC.

Named by the NDRC as a Smarter City for Transportation in 2011 and a Smarter City for Energy in 2010, New York City is following a plan, released by Mayor Bloomberg on Earth Day 2007, to reduce its carbon footprint – and its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% – and improve its environs by 2030. PlaNYC encompasses improvements in land, water, transportation, energy, air and climate change impacts. Notable accomplishments in the last year include making Times Square into a pedestrian-friendly causeway, planting thousands of trees and fighting to get hybrid taxis on the streets.  

Though perhaps overshadowed by PlaNYC, New York also recently released Vision 2020, a comprehensive plan to reshape its substantial waterfront. It may come as a surprise to many that New York’s waterfront, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the sixth borough, is larger than that of Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Portland combined. Recognizing that the task of reshaping 520 miles of shoreline may seem incomprehensibly large, New York’s planning department also released the Waterfront Action Agenda, which outlines 130 specific projects to be started in the next three years.

That report was preceded by a manual produced by the Design Trust for Public Space called “High Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC.” It contains best practices for park design and plant selection, guidelines for implementing the goals of PlaNYC, and suggestions on how parks can better promote cycling and walking.

Both of these high-profile cities, though in opposite corners of the country, share a commitment to improving livability through the development, protection, and rejuvenation of parks. We offer our congratulations for their newest green credentials.

Cahuenga Peak Nominated for “2011 Heart of Green” Award

The Hollywood sign draped to read SAVE THE PEAK from Gower Avenue in Los Angeles. Credit: Rich Reid

The famous Hollywood sign has stood for decades in regal solitude on Cahuenga Peak, gazing out over Los Angeles. When the land surrounding the “H” was threatened by a luxury housing development in 2009, The Trust for Public Land stepped forward to lead the effort to purchase the 138 acres surrounding the iconic letters.

The year-long campaign, which culminated in April 2010, involved thousands of donors – including some high-profile figures like Hugh Hefner and Governor Schwarzenegger, who announced “I am proud we were able to come together and create a public-private partnership to protect this historic symbol that will continue to welcome dreamers, artists and Austrian bodybuilders for generations to come.” The land is not just a pretty backdrop for the sign that beckons aspiring stars; it is a popular hiking area and wildlife corridor.

Now the 138-acre addition to Griffith Park has been nominated for The Daily Green’s 2011 Heart of Green Award in the Best New Parks category. Go here to vote, and take a moment to check out some of the other urban parks success stories from the past year. While there, feel free to vote for your favorite Best New Trail as well.

Voting is ongoing through March 27th, and winners will be announced on April 4th.

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