Placemaking is going places: 20 years of transportation-related award winners
The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Charter Awards, which highlight the best in urban design in the United States and around the world, have celebrated good interdisciplinary design since 2001. As the Charter Awards head into their 20th year, a reflection on some of our past awards shows how transportation has played in 21stCentury urban design.
Transit-oriented development was a particularly important theme in the first decade of the Charter Awards—as the nation reconnected land use planning and rail transit. Examples include Rockville Town Center in Rockville, Maryland, built on the Washington, DC, Metro Red Line (2008 winner), and Del Mar Station in Pasadena, California, on Los Angeles’s Gold Line (2003 winner). These development accomplishments would not have been possible without the commitment and investment of dedicated transit planners and engineers.
The focus in the last 10 years has moved toward recognizing the placemaking potential of thoroughfares, which are the bones around which cities and towns are built. The projects CNU considers are often named for streets, a signal of how the street defines civic life and the public realm. One example of this is this year’s Upper King Street Gateway Development, built along the 300-year-old thoroughfare that forms the spine of the historic City of Charleston, South Carolina. Reimagining the major streets of our cities is necessary to enhance walkable urbanism. Because Charleston is one of the best-preserved historic cities in America, the project winners sought to extend the design excellence north, using a mixed-use development to help to transform King Street—while the project anchors a new greenway that will connect neighborhoods divided by Interstate 26 in the 1960s. In this way, Upper King Street represents another growing trend in transportation-related urbanism: projects to transform derelict or divisive and aging transportation infrastructure into new linear parks, paths, and connections to improve quality of life.
Sometimes, the transportation focus begins with bicycle infrastructure, such as the Monon Boulevard Corridor in Carmel, Indiana. A suburb of more than 90,000 people bordering on Indianapolis, Carmel is building a walkable urban downtown to fit its growing population and economy. The planners realized that a rails-to-trails corridor, buried in the center of blocks, could be “daylighted” as the median of a new boulevard. The $23 million boulevard—a complete street and public space—is already paying off, with $175 million in private sector redevelopment nearby, even before phase one is complete. The investment includes corporate offices and headquarters, apartment buildings, a distillery, restaurants, and other uses.
Transportation manuals, which set new directions for city streets and other corridors, have received awards over the years. In 2017, recognition was given to the innovative Guide to Placemaking for Mobility, which recognizes that streets make up the largest share of public space in Boston, Massachusetts—comprising tens of thousands of acres on more than 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) of thoroughfares.
The guide connects “infrastructure and transportation funding with projects and design initiatives that do more than just incrementally help people get around—we’re empowering ourselves to extend the impact of our investments into the city’s social, cultural, and civic vitality of our citizens and visitors,” noted Chris Osgood, chief of the streets, Transportation and Sanitation. Places that encourage social exchanges and connections between diverse people, cultural expression, and accessibility are highly valued by the resource, which provides metrics to analyze success—such as whether a place feels inviting and/or encourages social interaction.
Sometimes, removing a transportation facility is the decisive act in healing a ruptured downtown. The City of Milwaukee, waged a protracted battle to demolish a mile-long freeway spur, the Park East Freeway. The $25 million removal, a 2003 award recipient, since cleared the way for more than a billion dollars in redevelopment by opening up 26 full or partial blocks for mixed-use construction and public space.
In the last five years, small-scale tactical urbanism projects—usually focusing on streets—have been regular award recipients. The projects allow transportation planners, working with urban designers, to test out incremental changes to the public realm with maximum flexibility and limited cost and liability.A two-week project tested changes to five intersections in Hamilton, Ontario, to address a rising toll of pedestrian and cyclist deaths. The 2014 awardee cost just $4,000 for materials. Noting the effectiveness of temporary bumpouts at the difficult-to-cross Locke and Herkimer intersection, the city upgraded the corner and made similar changes to other problem intersections within several months.
CNU Charter Award applications are accepted each year from November through January. Get more information on the 2020 Charter Awards. Also, feel free to contact Lisa Schamass, CNU communications manager, directly.
A version of this article was published in the October 2019 issue of ITE Journal, published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.