Letter to our Clients Concerning President Trump’s Proposed 2018 Budget

100_2711This week we got our first look at the new federal budget proposed by the Trump Administration, and like many other businesses and organizations, have concerns about many of the critical federal programs being eliminated.  Recent focus on deregulation, the executive order reorganizing the federal oversight structure, and now the proposed elimination of so many critical funding programs that local communities leverage in their work causes us great concern, both as a small business as well as members of the communities where we work and live. As we look across our list of current projects, we see many projects that would not be occurring without these key funding programs, and we see many Indiana and Kentucky cities and towns that would lose the ability to do the things that are so vital to their ongoing efforts to improve their communities.  Like others, we are still trying to understand the details of this proposed budget and we will work to contact our local and congressional representatives to ensure that they have a full understanding of the detrimental impacts that will result if the budget passes as proposed.   Below are statements released by the American Planning Association and the American Society of Landscape Architects that detail the areas of concern which are being raised by the planning and landscape architecture professions.  We encourage our clients to spend the time necessary to understand these impacts and to work with their local and state representatives to ensure that Kentucky and Indiana’s congressional delegations understand how important these programs are to local communities.

APA Statement on FY 2018 Federal Budget Proposal

American Planning Association, Washington DC

The federal budget proposal released today utterly fails to meet the needs of the nation’s communities. If the proposed cuts to essential community development, housing, and transportation programs are enacted, communities across the nation would face serious threats to economic growth and prosperity. At a time when cities and towns face significant challenges to infrastructure investment, affordable housing, and economic development, the elimination of critical and proven federal programs is damaging and unacceptable.

The budget sent to Congress today would eliminate several critical programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, including Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), HOME, and Choice Neighborhoods. In addition, the budget would end support for New Starts transit funding, TIGER grants for key transportation projects, and the Economic Development Administration.

These programs are the foundation of locally led efforts to build stronger, more just, and more prosperous communities. They not only have a proven track record of success and bipartisan support but also act as tools for leveraging private sector investments. The irresponsible cuts in this budget also make our communities more vulnerable and less safe with cuts to coastal mapping and resiliency efforts and the elimination of pre-disaster mitigation planning grants.

Simply put, the scope of these cuts places jobs, development projects, and public health at risk. Further, the proposed changes threaten to undermine expressed priorities of President Trump, ranging from infrastructure investment to boosting growth and jobs.

Planners stand ready to work with Congress and the Administration on policies and programs that will strengthen communities. This budget would take the country in the opposite direction. The elimination of federal programs that help communities plan and prosper will harm essential local housing, transportation, and economic development priorities. They will weaken job creation, hinder private sector growth and investment, and slow efforts to expand opportunity.

APA opposes efforts in this budget that undermine local community development. In particular, APA strongly rejects any effort to eliminate key programs like CDBG, HOME, Choice Neighborhoods, TIGER grants, and transit assistance. Now is the time for federal partners to assist communities in creating stronger and more economically vibrant places. However, this budget moves the nation in the opposite direction. APA calls on Congress to reject these cuts and support essential investments in the future of our communities.

ASLA Statement on Trump Administration FY2018 Budget Blueprint

American Society of Landscape Architects- Washington, DC

On March 16, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) released this statement in response to President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal:

“We are disappointed with President Trump’s budget blueprint, which calls for dramatic cuts to many of the federal programs and resources that strengthen our nation’s infrastructure and economic development.

President Trump’s recommendation to completely eliminate two critical community development programs, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and the Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants program, is short-sighted. TIGER has been one of the most successful and popular programs with policymakers, communities and transportation planners like landscape architects – the number of applications far exceeding the amount of available funding.

ASLA is also extremely concerned that President Trump’s proposal would drastically reduce funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by a staggering 31 percent, thereby severely crippling key air and water quality programs and critical climate change research and resources. The budget recommendation purports to increase funding for EPA’s Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds by $4 million.  However, the budget also eliminates $498 million from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Water and Wastewater loan and grant program and instead recommends that rural communities access EPA’s State Revolving Funds, thus leaving State Revolving Funds with a $494 million reduction in funding. 

The Society recently released recommendations for updating and strengthening all forms of infrastructure, including enhancing the Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants program, expanding State Revolving Funds, increasing funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and others. Together, these recommendations will help provide communities with the much-needed infrastructure upgrades to become more livable and resilient places to live, work and recreate.  Unfortunately, if enacted, this Trump budget proposal would leave many communities vulnerable.

We understand that this proposal is the start of a long legislative process. The Society will continue to work with legislators to ensure that funding is available for sound infrastructure solutions that American communities are demanding.”

A Special Message to our Families, Clients and Colleagues on TSWDG’s 5th Anniversary

ben wedding and tswdg holiday 2015 085Today, Taylor Siefker Williams Design Group is celebrating our 5th Anniversary and we wanted to take a moment to reflect and to thank our staff, family, friends, and colleagues who have supported us and  helped to make the firm a success.  We started this endeavor five years ago with the notion that we could make a difference in the communities where we work and live.  We believed that our creative and collaborative approach to planning and design would be welcomed in communities across Indiana and Kentucky and  that we could truly help to improve the quality of life in communities.  We wanted to be engaged in our local communities, invested in the places we lived, and to be active leaders in our home communities.  And we wanted  the firm to be a place that fostered new ideas and creativity, attracted bright and creative individuals, and garnered credibility and recognition based upon our investment, passion, and engagement.  As we take an opportunity to look back over the last five years, we would like to believe that we are off to a successful start in many of the things we had hoped to do when we started TSWDG.

Some of our notable accomplishments over the last five years include:

  • In the past five years, we have worked in over 30 communities in Indiana and Kentucky.
  • We have focused our marketing efforts on projects that truly impact the communities where we work, and we have developed clients we’re proud to partner with.
  • We have worked on over 45 projects in the last five years and have had several repeat clients or several projects from the same client.
  • Our work has spanned the urban design and planning spectrum from community comprehensive plans, to master planning, to design and construction.
  • We have grown from one office in a business incubator in Louisville to two fully-functional offices in Louisville and Indianapolis and are about to expand again with membership in Current Blend, a work co-op space in Huntingburg to support the stellar efforts there.
  • We have doubled in size from three to six employees, and anticipate additional growth in the coming weeks.
  • Our sales and revenues have steadily grown in each of the years since our inception, building to a record high in 2016.
  • And we have received recognitions and awards for both our projects and our personnel.

We are proud of what has been accomplished over our short five years, and are excited by what we see happening with the firm as we begin our 6th year.  To date, 2016 is proving to be our best year ever:

  • Our relationship building is resulting in continual repeat commissions with several clients demonstrating that the relationships we continue to build are leveraging strong and lastinngn relationships.
  • The approval of our Fourth Street project in Huntingburg last week was our largest sale to date for the firm (unseating the Indy Greenways Master Plan).
  • In 2016, we have nearly doubled our sales from 2015 (get ready to get busy!).
  • We have continued to be recognized with design awards and other recognitions that have solidified our place within the industry and made the firm a credible contender in many of our areas of practice. We also were recently nominated for the Inc.Credible Awards from Greater Louisville, Inc. recognizing up and coming businesses in the Louisville area.
  • Our staff continues to be recognized for their professional distinctions including Haley’s recent inclusion in the “45 most influential members of the Young Professionals Association of Louisville’s Insider 502 program,” Scott’s upcoming election to Fellowship with the American Society of Landscape Architects, and Liz receiving her landscape architecture license just this week (BTW- that means we also have  doubled our number of licensed landscape architects in the firm).
  • And we have continued to develop and deliver creative and sound solutions and products on all of our work.

While we are proud of these successes,   we are particularly proud of the investment TSWDG and its staff have all made in our communities.  We are investing in our communities through volunteer service such as Kris’ artistic endeavors with Indy Parks and the City of Indianapolis, and Liz’s work with Relay for Life and the Bone Marrow Registry.  We are investing in community programs with efforts such as our sponsorship of Northside Soccer in Indianapolis, our ongoing conversations with the Indianapolis Parks Foundation about programming for the elderly and disadvantaged on Indy’s greenways, our membership with One Southern Indiana, and our sponsorship of the Southern Indiana Mayor’s Roundtable.  And we are invested in our professions with  engagement such  Haley’s involvement with YPAL, Amy’s leadership in APA and the Friends of the Ohio River Greenways, and Liz and Kris’s service on the INASLA Executive Committee. Each member of the firm  brings a passion that reflects the type of success and character we want to be known for, and we are proud to be so engaged in the communities where we work and live.

Over the past five years, we have been privileged to work with some amazing communities, wonderful clients, and creative landscape architects and planners. Thanks to all of our families, clients and colleagues for your support over the last five years. As we move into year six, we continue to be excited about the firm and about the opportunities that still await all of us.

10 Parks that Changed Indianapolis

The new PBS series “10 that Changed America” is a whirlwind tour of America’s architectural treasures: including great homes like Fallingwater and Monticello, masterpieces of landscape architecture like Central Park and the High Line, and triumphs of town planning like Philadelphia and Portland. Each episode stops by 10 places that changed the nation. With the upcoming premier of 10 Parks that Changed America, we asked our landscape architects and planners at Taylor Siefker Williams Design Group to identify the 10 significant parks in Indianapolis that helped, shaped or changed the City. See if you agree.  Here they are (in no particular order):

Garfield Park

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The oldest park in the Indy Parks system, it was the city’s first step in creating public open space. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Monon Rail-Trail

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While not the first trail built as part of the Indy Greenways system, development of this trail certainly put Indy Greenways on the map.

Eagle Creek Park

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Eagle Creek remains one of the largest municipal park in the country and provides residents with an experience usually reserved for larger state or national parks.

Martin Luther King Jr. Park

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Forever linked to a specific point in history, the park is significant because of Robert Kennedy’s speech on the day of the Martin Luther King assassination.  The events that day in this park prevented the city of Indianapolis from the unrest seen across the United States.

White River State Park

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This urban state park reintroduced Indianapolis to the White River and created a new model for urban civic parks.

Kessler Park and Boulevard System

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George Kessler’s plan for the creation of a parks and parkways plan put into place an enduring series of greenspaces, providing opportunities to access the city’s waterways.

Riverside Park

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One of Indianapolis’ oldest civic destinations, Riverside Park has a rich history and was a key park in the growing Indianapolis Parks system.

Indianapolis Cultural Trail

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While not technically a “park,” the cultural Trail established a new approach to the use of public open space within the city’s established rights-of-way.

Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park

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The transition of Fort Benjamin Harrison from active army base to state park serves as an example of how these types of properties can be reused.

Indy Greenways Full Circle Plan

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We took the liberty of adding “future greenways” to the park discussion. The new vision for Indy Greenways outlines over 250 miles of trail development through Marion County and will continue to transform how we move around Indianapolis.

10 Parks that Changed Louisville

The new PBS series “10 that Changed America” is a whirlwind tour of America’s architectural treasures: including great homes like Fallingwater and Monticello, masterpieces of landscape architecture like Central Park and the High Line, and triumphs of town planning like Philadelphia and Portland. Each episode in the series stops by 10 places that changed the nation. With the upcoming premier of 10 Parks that Changed America, we asked our landscape architects and planners at Taylor Siefker Williams Design Group to identify the 10 significant parks in Louisville that they felt helped, shaped or changed the City. Here they are (in no particular order):

Olmsted Parkways

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Olmsted’s influence cannot be ignored in Louisville. The parkway system he planned there, one of the more intact systems still in place, represents the forward social thinking he brought to the City.

Cherokee Park

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One of Olmsted’s flagship parks, this park continues to provide a natural presence in the heart of Louisville’s eastside neighborhoods.

Iroquois Park

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This Olmsted-designed park on the City’s south side provides a “scenic reservation of forested hillsides and breathtaking vistas.”

Shawnee Park

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This Olmsted riverfront park still provides the open space and picnic grounds for residents in the northwestern portion of the City.

Waterfront Park

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This downtown reclaimed waterfront park provides the setting for many of Louisville’s largest and most impressive events.

Portland Wharf Park

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This historic open space preserves the ruins of the Portland community, an historic portage village south of the Falls of the Ohio.

Louisville Loop

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Louisville’s planned 100+ mile trail system will link the community’s neighborhoods, parks, cultural facilities, natural areas, and other unique environments.

The Parklands of Floyds Fork

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This eastside park represents a new model for development and operations of significant parks and open space.

Big Four Bridge

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While not technically a park, the conversion of the Big Four Railroad bridge opens pedestrian and recreational connections between Louisville and southern Indiana, greatly expanding the potential experiences of the region.

Jefferson Memorial Forest

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The nation’s largest municipal forest provides unique recreational opportunities usually only available in larger state or national parks.

The Case for Implementing the Indy Greenways Full Circle Plan

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Earlier this year, the city of Indianapolis adopted the Indy Greenways Full Circle Plan, the new master plan and vision for greenway development in the city of Indianapolis. Its recommendations are comprehensive and will have a significant impact on the City, providing access to underserved neighborhoods, providing connections to the city’s emerging neighborhood centers, providing new active transportation routes throughout the city, and providing regional transportation options through its connections to the planned mass transit lines, on-street bike facilities, and planned regional trail networks. The plan connects the city like no other plan has, and the list of recommendations, if implemented, would truly establish Indy Greenways as one of the nation’s premier systems.

The plan is bold. It calls for a system of over 250 total miles of greenway trails throughout the city. Its routes weave through natural corridors, utility easements, dense neighborhoods, developed and undeveloped land, and community commercial centers. The plan is comprehensive. Its adoption comes at a time of heightened priority and demand for pedestrian and bicycle facilities in Indianapolis. But it also comes at a time of limited city budgets, competing infrastructure needs, and numerous other community priorities. How then, does one make a case for the level of investment needed to fuel the implementation of such a wide-reaching plan?

Background

Renowned landscape architect George Kessler first understood the impact of these types of linear connections in his parkways and boulevards plan in the early 1900s. His plan laid out a series of linear parks, the predecessor to the greenway system, through the core of the city along its waterways, and created a series of boulevards to connect the linear parks resulting in an interconnected system of pedestrian ways and pleasure drives. After Kessler’s death, Lawrence Sheridan’s plan of 1938 further established those linkages beyond the Kessler system by extending those connections beyond the central city to the reaches of Marion County. Like the Kessler plan before it, Sheridan’s plan laid the blueprint for the development of Indy’s network of potential greenways.

It wasn’t until 1994 that Indianapolis created its first Greenways Master Plan. That plan expanded the system beyond Kessler’s parkways and into new corridors and portions of the city. For the next twenty years, the city worked to implement that plan, mostly on the north, more developed portions of the city where the existing streams and creeks provided the needed greenspace to create continuous stretches of pathways. From this plan emerged the now iconic Monon Rail-Trail which extended the concept of greenways beyond the water. The Monon, perhaps, is the torch bearer that truly earned priority status for further development of the greenway system. Today, as a result of the 1994 plan (and the 2002 update) there are over 60 miles of greenways in place in the city.

During this time, there were many other things changing in the city. There was a resurgence of neighborhood development with residents moving back into older neighborhoods at the same time as new housing was expanding into the suburbs. There was increased awareness of the need for better protection and use of our waterways as a resource. There was a growing bicycle culture that developed within the city emphasizing the desire for transportation routes and alternatives. New mass transit routes were studied to better connect the region, and more and more emphasis was placed on providing bike and pedestrian facilities throughout the county.

With this context in mind, this master plan required a fresh look at the city, how people used the greenways, how the system functioned, and how Indy Greenways could address these new emerging issues in Indianapolis. This plan outlines how the function of the greenways can be interwoven through all of the contextual issues.

Public Driven Planning Process

The planning process for this master plan was truly driven by public input and engagement. It engaged residents and invited them to lend direction to the plan, identify potential routes, and determine amenities that should be included in the design of new greenways. Since the first greenways plan was completed in 1994, local attitudes about trails and greenways have shifted, and that shift was notable during this planning process. The NIMBY attitudes of 1994 have largely been replaced with an awareness of the positive neighborhood impacts that come from having a greenway nearby. Throughout this current planning process, residents were encouraged to engage in discussions concerning the greenways and were made part of the process. The planning effort included:

  • 14 public meetings and over 30 different presentations to various neighborhood and stakeholder groups.
  • Special events including the Mayor’s Polar Pedal bike rides, National Bike to Work Day, and the Greenways Day at City Market.
  • Presentations to the Indy Parks Board and the Greenways Development Commission that were televised locally.
  • Distribution of project materials and FAQs to community centers, libraries, and other public facilities.
  • Use of social media platforms including project blog/website, project Facebook page, and Survey Monkey.
  • Use of a project office in the old Boulevard Station train depot along the Monon Trail with weekly office hours to meet with groups, stakeholders and the general public.

This planning process gave residents unprecedented access to the planning process and project team and resulted in a plan that was adopted with wide-spread community support and no opposition.

The Full Circle Plan

The Full Circle Plan is the resulting long-term vision identified for Indy Greenways through the process. It addresses the needs of recreation, access, connectivity, transportation, economic impact, and environmental stewardship while putting into place a level of inter-agency coordination to oversee the system. The plan outlines a system of 252 miles of greenways with over 139 miles (on top of the previous planned system) of new trail development for the city of Indianapolis, much of which reaches into areas of the county that have long been underserved by the greenway system. The plan is broken into four distinct parts:

  • Completing the Existing System- This portion of the plan examines the current trails and greenways and identifies needed improvements, upgrades, enhancements, or reconstruction. Its focus is completing the portions of the existing routes that aren’t already constructed.
  • Connections to the City Center- The plan also recognizes the significance of having direct routes from the perimeter of the county to downtown in terms of providing direct connections, commuter routes, neighborhood connections, and economic development potential. The plan recommends four new routes to the center of Indianapolis from the ring townships.
  • The Circle- Perhaps one of the more progressive recommendations, the plan outlines east-west and north-south connections in the ring townships using the four major destination parks (Eagle Creek Park, Southwestway Park, Southeastway Park, and Fort Harrison State Park) in each corner of the city as the organizational structure. The result is a continuous 64-mile shared-use greenway that circles the city.  While the circle concept provides an intriguing aspect to the plan, this portion of the plan is really about providing greenway options in each of the nine townships surrounding downtown. This concept goes beyond providing routes just to the downtown, and provides opportunities for greenway development within each township.
  • The Connectors- These corridors provide opportunities to link together key greenway segments and provide a “layered” effect to the greenway system, in many cases providing multiple opportunities for greenway development and use and providing key connections to regional trail systems.

Together, these four parts constitute a system that is truly embedded within the fabric of the city and connected in a way never before seen here. When the current bikeways, township connectivity plans, and the new mass transit initiatives are overlaid with the new Full Circle system, the resulting connectivity becomes quickly apparent (and impressive).

Other Plan Elements

In addition to the new trails and greenways, the plan also included several additional tools to assist the city in the implementation of the plan. These additional tools included:

  • A complete set of Design Standards that outline the standards for all new trail development and facilities in Indy Greenways. These standards included application standards, construction standards, regulatory standards, and enhancement standards for all new facilities.
  • An Economic Impact Review of each existing and proposed greenway segment to identify the potential economic impacts that should be expected as each of the new trail segments are constructed.
  • Detailed Implementation Strategies for both physical and policy recommendations of the plan.
  • Action Plan Matrices for all new physical planning, construction, programming and policy implementation.
  • Maintenance Guidelines for expected levels of care of the proposed system.
  • Zoning Classification Map for reference in the new Indy Re-zone code update which allows the city to designate new trail implementation in developing areas.

The Results of the Full Circle Plan

The new vision as laid out in the Full Circle Plan is impressive. The Full Circle Plan:

  • Establishes a vision of over 250 miles of greenways throughout the city of Indianapolis.
  • Outlines an expansion of the greenways system into the ring townships that have been underserved by greenway development.
  • Identifies improvements, access, and new connections along the existing greenways in the system.
  • Establishes nine new greenway corridors.
  • Provides four new greenway routes from the outer townships to the downtown area.
  • Provides east-west and north-south connectivity in the ring townships, creating more localized connections within each township.
  • Provides multi-modal connections between the four flagship parks in the corners of the city—Eagle Creek Park, Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park, Southeastway Park and Southwestway Park. These connections provide a 64 mile shared-use path that circles the city .
  • Provides greenway connections to over 80 Indy Parks facilities.
  • Provides regional connections to eleven trail systems beyond Marion County.
  • Provides administrative and policy recommendations for future operations of the greenways.
  • Establishes design standards for the overall system that address safety, accessibility, and funding eligibility.
  • Provides an overall network that is integrated into the other major transportation components of the city including the Indianapolis Bikeways Plan and the future Indy Connect bus rapid transit lines.

The results of implementing the Full Circle Plan would be quite significant.

The Case for Prioritizing Implementation

So back to our original question… the plan clearly outlines the tremendous impact this system would have on the city of Indianapolis, and there is a collective, growing demand for this system. But there are competing infrastructure needs and budget constraints that deserve equal consideration. How then, does one make a case for the level of investment needed to fuel the implementation of such a wide-reaching plan? What is the financial justification for implementation? What are the socioeconomic and environmental justice justifications? What are the connectivity and access justifications? And what are the resulting benefits that justify the expenditure needed to implement the system? The case can be made on several fronts. Over the next several weeks, we will explore this question by looking at the financial case, the justification based upon equitable connectivity and access, and the planned community impacts this system would have on the city and its neighborhoods.   The intent of this is to demonstrate the inherent value of the plan and to illustrate the justification for prioritizing implementation of the Indy Greenways system.

To learn more about the Indy Greenways Master Plan or to view the plan, visit www.indygreenwaysmasterplan.wordpress.com.

Ron L. Taylor, FASLA is a Principal at Taylor Siefker Williams Design Group and one of the authors of the Indy Greenways Full Circle Plan.

Taking it to the Streets: A Case Study in Creating a Sense of Community in Neighborhoods

Ron L. Taylor, ASLA, Principal                                 Taylor Siefker Williams Design Group

Sometimes you just know it. You step into a situation and you sense that this place is different and that something truly remarkable is happening here. Sometimes, you just know it! Such was the case with me on a recent weekend as I attended a concert in the Irvington neighborhood.  There I was in the role of dad, friend, and family guy going out with my family for an evening of fun and before I knew what happened, I turned back into urban designer, planner, and amateur cartographer in the events unfolding around me.

First, a bit of context…Irvington is an established and historic neighborhood about five miles east of downtown Indianapolis.  It was developed in the late 1870s as an early country “suburb” of the City.  The neighborhood is laid out in the style of the romantic-era with its curved, narrow streets flowing out of a central traffic circle and a small neighborhood park at its center. Historically, Irvington was a place where artists, industrialists, politicians and other elite members of Society could find respite in the grand houses far from the inner city.  Today, it’s part of the city, more urban than suburban, and while it still attracts many artists, its stately old homes have become a draw for young families wanting a unique urban experience in which to raise a family.

We weren’t there by chance. A friend of ours from the neighborhood plays in a band and there was a neighborhood concert in the park.  As it turns out, on one Saturday each month during the summer, the neighborhood closes the traffic circle and neighbors gather for a concert in the park.  They bring out their lawn chairs, coolers, and food and sit with other residents in the park listening to music and catching up with each other.  The traffic circle is closed to traffic, and the neighborhood kids quickly take over the street circling again and again on their bikes, tricycles, big wheels, scooters, skateboards or whatever other mode of wheeled movement they happened to bring with them. For several hours, the kids play, the parents socialize and dance, and the band fills the air with music.

To them, this isn’t a big deal—it’s just something their neighborhood does.  But as I sat there watching the people gather and the band warm up, I couldn’t help but take in all of the things that were happening around me, amazed at the authenticity and inspired by the simplicity.  We spend time on all of our planning projects working with clients and residents to identify things that help make a community more vibrant and more livable.  We help educate residents on taking ownership of their neighborhoods and creating opportunities to bring residents together.  Many communities struggle to ever achieve that vision.

But here, in Irvington, on this particular Saturday night, it was happening all around me.  Suddenly, I was no longer the music fan, but a junior William Whyte charting the movement of people, noting resident’s behavioral responses to the event, and observing all of the subtle interactions that were in play.  It was a perfect case study on how neighbors could come together and create a lasting, beneficial, and authentic experience completely unique to the neighborhood.  Within this context, here are a few things I observed:

  • Neighbors coming together- This wasn’t some large, corporate-sponsored event. This was simply residents coming together, spending time getting to know one another, and having a fun evening. It was pulling up a lawn chair and talking with the neighbor down the street.  It was the local neighborhood association selling popcorn.  It was the local band playing in front of the home crowd. Long after the music ended, residents remained on their front porches or in their front yards continuing their conversations longer into the night.
  • Taking ownership- Too often, a neighborhood’s own infrastructure limits what the community can do with its space.  Not tonight!  This was residents planting a flag in the center of their territory and proclaiming that this was their space.  Tonight, this place would serve a different function than usual for the benefit of the neighborhood. Tonight, this place was the heart of the neighborhood. The traffic circle was turned into the ultimate race track with kids of all ages (including adults) riding around the circle with others in tow.  While at first I was skeptical of how safe it would be letting my kid ride in the street, once I saw how the roads were closed and saw that residents were respecting the closure, I couldn’t help but think how awesome it would be to be a kid and to ride that circuit!  And they did…round and round and round…all night long! It was a great example of the neighborhood asserting their ownership of their neighborhood and their streets.
  • Engaged community policing– There were two police officers in the crowd throughout the evening.  But they didn’t just stand at the barricades or take up station in the park.  They mingled.  They walked around, shook hands with people, and talked with residents—and not just for short moments.  They engaged.  They took time to meet people, to talk to people, and to get to know residents.  One of my favorite stories from the night was when a small boy wrecked his bike and was sitting in the middle of the street crying.  One of the officers approached him, checked out his scrapes, and then with a “come on little man, let’s go find your mom,” carried the small boy through the park until they found his parents.  The boy went from crying to laughing in just a few minutes and the officer then spent time conversing with the family about the young kid.  It was impressive—the officers truly engaged the neighborhood and took the time to get to know the residents.

Overall, what I saw was residents invested in their neighborhood—whether organizing the event, setting up the stage, riding the race track, playing the music, or just talking with other people, the residents of this neighborhood were obviously invested in their community and that, perhaps, makes it a great case study in promoting a sense of community in a neighborhood.

Sometimes you just stumble into something that makes you say “yeah, this neighborhood gets it!”  The Irvington Saturday Night Concert in the Park, an unknown event for me up until recently, provides a great case study for creating a sense of community in a neighborhood and provides lessons on what residents can do to foster that sense of community.  What other local examples are out there and what are the lessons that can be learned from them?

Non-Traditional Strategies for a Non-Traditional Economy: “Where are the Fresh Approaches?”

Ron L. Taylor, ASLA, Principal                                  Taylor Siefker Williams Design Group

Albert Einstein is credited with saying that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Yet often we stay the course because conventional experience tells us that is the proven way.  But what happens when the apple cart is turned upside down?  What happens when we experience the worst economic conditions since the great depression?  And what happens when those traditional sources of solutions—whether they are ideas, funding, or other critical tools of our collective trades—are rendered obsolete by new and often frustrating conditions?  What are the non-traditional approaches to the new society?

Several years ago I conducted a strategic planning session.  We initiated a planning process that challenged everyone to look beyond their formal job expectations and define the passion that was the true root of their calling.  With that defined, we undertook a “fresh approaches” exercise where we challenged people to rethink how they did their jobs.  Were there new, creative ways to engage in their jobs that would re-energize them and speak to their professional passions? The responses we received from this exercise were across the board, from new approaches to the work week, to new methods of engaging with our communities. Each idea was presented in the form of a proposal, or rather a call to action.  In these proposals were the seeds of change that allowed a group of urban design and planning professionals to re-think and re-direct the larger strategies of our strategic plan.

When you look at the planning and design profession today, you quickly see that the practice is evolving at an accelerated pace—the context, in many cases, has rotated out of a traditional alignment. Many traditional funding sources are at risk.  Sources of some municipal revenue have been altered.  The traditional planning and design disciplines are becoming, quite frankly, quickly non-traditional.  So how do we adjust the practice to still provide communities the valuable services they need?  Is it big ideas that provide a major overhaul or the smaller ideas that help re-direct conventional thinking?

I am fascinated by the concept of a “little idea” that takes root and swells into something that simply cannot be smothered.  The Arab Spring revolution has been an extraordinary case study in this— watching a grass-roots movement swell and gain momentum to completely alter long-established governments to launch new standards of life.  Another example includes the recent “Occupy Wall Street” protests which began on Wall Street and have since gained traction in over 40 cities across the country.  Even the Tea Party movement, love it or hate it, is a good example of a small movement—a re-direction in thinking—that takes hold and becomes something more influential than ever imagined at its origin.  These “small ideas” illustrate the value and vibrancy of even the smallest thoughts.

So where are the next “fresh approaches?”  They are out there.  Some are underway.  Others are still ideas being worked out in someone’s mind who is aiming to make a change in their community.

One recent “fresh approach” is a group called Awesome Tampa Bay. The group is made up of 10 local “trustees of awesomeness” who have each donated $400 to the organization for community micro-grants.  The goal is to give out four $1,000 grants each year to community groups, entrepreneurs, or others to help get creative ideas off the ground.  While it might not seem like much money, the idea behind the micro-grants is to provide a funding source where none might currently exist.  T. Hampton Dohrman, one of the founders of Awesome Tampa Bay, told the Tampa Tribune, “It’s really a great, simple model. If there’s no money, it’s hard to make something happen. But $1,000 is enough to get something new off the ground. That’s what we are about.” (Tampa Tribune, September 21, 2011.  Full story can be found at:

http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/awesome-tampa-bay-to-fund-creativity-with-1000-micro-grants/1192585  ). Like other small ideas, this one began local dialogue and is growing.  Originally organized in Boston, the movement has spread with chapters now in several US cities and cities in Europe and Australia, with Tampa being one of the newest.

Does $1,000 really change the world?  In this non-traditional economy, it might just be the catalyst for the launch of the next Apple, the next major urban investment project, or as simple as the genesis of a new community campaign.  In any case, it does provide an idea that could very well spark something bigger than itself.

So where are the next “fresh approaches?” We are eager to hear your ideas.  To follow this conservation and others, like us on Facebook or email Ron Taylor at rtaylor@TSWDesignGroup.com .