Empty store fronts are a drag on Main Street. They break up the flow of the Main Street commercial district, and studies show that they discourage shoppers from exploring downtown. But, what can be done? Well, how about turning empty store fronts into canvases for local artists? Check out this video to see the artistic creativity now on display in South Boston’s empty storefronts. And, watch the Destination Downtown South Boston website for more information about the fire hydrants painted like local historic figures that was mentioned in the video.
Cityworks (X)po, a conference and festival about creating energetic places in small cities, will take place in Roanoke on October 27-30.
The event, spearheaded by entrepreneur and placemaker Ed Walker, will highlight best practices in creating, governing and participating in a vibrant cultural life in small cities. Some of the nationally-recognized speakers and performers include James Howard Kunstler, Kennedy Smith and Theaster Gates.
Register online, or email info@CityWorksXpo.com for student discounts.
Filed under: Design, Downtown, Economic Restructuring, Historic Preservation, Performing and Visual Arts | Tagged: CityWorks (X)po, James Howard Kunstler, Kennedy Smith, placemaking, Roanoke, Theaster Gates | Leave a Comment »
Five Designated Virginia Main Street (VMS) Communities have been awarded 2011 Downtown Improvment Grants. This year, VMS communities served by CSX Transportation rail lines were eligible for a match of up to $5,000 from the corporation, pushing the awards from $2,500 to a total of $7,500.
Waynesboro and Winchester will receive CSX Transportation VMS Downtown Improvement Grants. Communities receiving VMS Downtown Improvement Grants are Berryville, Blackstone and Marion. The discrete projects must be completed by December of this year and were selected due to their capacity for impact, the level of volunteer involvement and the degree to which they leverage additional resources. The following projects were selected from among the 17 submitted:
Waynesboro: A downtown riverside observation deck along a key section of the South River will strengthen the connection between the community, the district, regional outdoor recreation and quality of life strategies. Several river access facilities and greenway trail resources intersect at the site. ($7,500)
Winchester: A flexible staging platform will be developed and purchased as part of a coordinated events strategy for Old Town Winchester. The professional staging system will create an enhanced audience experience at community events and performances. ($7,500)
Berryville: A downtown design improvements project furthers recommendations by the Virginia Main Street architect to engage property owners in simple district improvements. Grant products will include planters, a door improvement contest and a wayfinding kiosk. ($2,500)
Blackstone: A historical markers project engages property owners, local historians and the Town in identifying and communicating the stories of the historical assets that shape this historic commercial district. ($2,500)
Marion: A largely volunteer based “Big Surprise” façade improvement program will dramatically improve the appearances of three buildings, two of which are owned by local nonprofits. In a quick burst of activity, old facades will be removed, with basic improvements begun over the weekend. ($2,500)
Filed under: Design, Economic Restructuring, Historic Preservation, Performing and Visual Arts, VMS | Tagged: Berryville, Blackstone, CSX Transportation, DIG, downtown improvement grants, marion, Waynesboro, Winchester | Leave a Comment »
Heartwood: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway is now open. The facility welcomes visitors to the region and connects lifelong residents with the artisans and musicians that surround them in the 19-county region of Southwest Virginia.
Perched on a knoll adjacent to I-81 on the campus of Abingdon’s Virginia Highlands Community College, the unique structure, by Roanoke’s Spectrum Design, should attract curious out-of-state drivers. But it’s much more than a convenient place to take a break from behind the wheel. It is the centerpiece of a regional downtown revitalization strategy coordinated by the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Commission.
The wood- and light-filled exhibition and performance space includes a retail gallery, a restaurant, a coffee and wine bar and lots of technological and personal assistance available for planning a trip around the region. Video stories of artisans, musicians and communities introduce visitors to the people and places of Southwest Virginia. And that’s just a taste of the place. For a full experience, Heartwood encourages personal explorations into the communities and their historic downtowns that make Southwest Virginia truly ”Authentic, Distinctive, Alive.”
Designated Virginia Main Street Communities of Abingdon, Marion and Radford are participating in the regional cultural heritage strategy. DHCD Commercial District Affiliates in the region are: Bluefield, Bristol, Floyd, Galax, Gate City, Haysi, Hillsville, Honaker, Independence, Jonesville, Pearisburg, Pennington Gap, Pound, Pulaski, Richlands, Saltville, St. Paul, Stuart, Tazewell and Wise.
Community members working to revitalize their downtown often reminisce of Saturdays when residents poured into the streets. Frequently the movies are part of those recollections, and the black and white photos show it to be the case. People crowd the sidewalks, and on the marquee above them: Double Indemnity, Singing in the Rain, Some Like it Hot.
These classic films are also listed on the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. Begun in 1989, the list grows by 25 titles each year, reaching 550 this month. No matter what your film preference, you’ll find a favorite on the list: B films and musicals, mysteries and animated features, documentaries and melodramas. One will be there that changed your view of the world. (For me it was Number 360: Paths of Glory.) Film still matters, and it still matters downtown.
In Culpeper, the 1938 art deco State Theatre is undergoing a $10 million dollar renovation. This Designated Virginia Main Street Community is teaming The State with another community asset: the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center at the nearby Packard Campus of Library of Congress. Already drawing film buffs from around the Mid-Atlantic, Culpeper is uniquely positioned to spotlight film as part of our shared downtown experience.
They are not alone: a number of Virginia’s traditional commercial districts still have active movie palaces, and many more have jewels with the potential for restoration and use as multi-function community facilities. But with so many home viewing options available to film lovers, the challenge is to engage movie-goers in a different way by hosting film festivals, special screenings, panel discussions, and showings for targeted audiences.
Try partnering with a local film club or community college in developing programs. Introduce each screening and greet the audience. Use it to start a community discussion. The goal can’t just be to bring people downtown: use this resource as another opportunity to create community among those sitting together in the dark.
Bedford’s arts-and-antiques strategy to give Centertown a retail identity builds on the community’s existing assets–the entrepreneurs who have establisthed retail and restaurant businesses in the district.
Earlier this month Lynchburg’s News and Advance featured the district in a story, “Downtown Bedford venues add life to arts scene“, profiling artists at work at the Electric Company studio spaces, diners at the Artisan Cafe, and the gallery of Goose Creek Studio.
It also talked strategy, one that includes billboards and participation in a regional arts tourism campaign to lure drivers from nearby US 460, a series of Second Friday events bringing consistent after-hours activity, and the development of a mural near the center of the district.
Bedford Main Street committees and board members have been central to the work of developing a strategic framework that encourages creative and entrepreneurial merchant participation. Efforts like this build over time and only with the energy of individual leaders, but this historic commercial district is building some momentum. Visit Bedford to see what emerges next.
Fast Company recently highlighted the award designed for this year’s graduating class at the top Dutch design school. Instead of a simple hood or diploma, The Design Academy Eindhoven has a special graduating trophy each year. This year, the trophy was actually a set of medallions–one for each of the graduates–that created a pig’s head when stacked.
It’s not as undignified as it sounds–not for this group: the Netherlands have a tradition of pig farming and designers by nature and nurture enjoy creating unusual responses to traditional challenges. One might say they wallow in it.
In your downtown events, celebrations, and problem solving, the local traditions you draw upon and the collective community creativity you employ will produce authentic, unique models that may only work in your district. You’ll draw from other communities, but in the end, you’ve got to make it yours.
If you want to lure residents downtown, you’ve got to have basic amenities, like access to groceries and green spaces. Those green spaces are important, because as, one luxury apartment developer in Roanoke discovered, if folks move downtown, they’ll bring their pets with them. With at least one dog in every new condo of this particular building, the few downtown green spaces were suddenly at a premium.
Doggie clean up stands and trash cans quickly emerged. Read about living downtown with dogs in this Roanoke Times article from a couple of years ago. While picking up doggie doo in decomposable city-provided Mutt Mitts and throwing it away is one solution, an urban dog park in Cambridge is promoting a more sustainable approach.
Park Spark, a digester that turns the debris into methane gas, was unveiled this week. The digester fuels a lamppost, shown here at fastcompany.com. Soon they hope to try the same project with other ammentities such as a popcorn stand. It’s an art project, it’s an environmental statement, and it will make for a much cleaner dogpark.
It’s yet another example of how, with a little creativity–and maybe even a sense of play–we can rethink our approaches to widely shared challenges.
At the Virginia Main Street (VMS) Summer Toolkit, a team from Glave and Holmes Architecture walked participants through the creation of a quick 3-D rendering using Google SketchUp. This free, easy to-use software is being promoted by the National Trust Main Street Center as a community visioning tool, and judging by the response of participants, we can see why. About 2/3 of participants showed interest in attending a half-day hands-on VMS workshop. So keep an eye out for the announcement.
In Halifax County, the designated Virginia Main Street community of South Boston is benefitting from a county-wide SketchUp effort. The Industrial Development Authority (IDA) and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC) enlisted interns from the Business of Art & Design program to work with the software. Read the News and Record article on the project.
Has your community tried SketchUp to show a property owner what a building could look like? To show stakeholders how an infill project would change the streetscape? Let us know and we’ll share your examples with other communities.