Cities’ conferees sport sunglasses
again, it wasn’t without a sense of irony that the conference’s
guest speaker was an economist named Richard Florida, who has written
a book the state government, which sponsored the conference on Thursday,
is using as its bible: “The Rise of the Creative Class.”
Wiener, Lansing’s representative for the cool cities initiative,
believes that land use is part of the reason Lansing is considered less
attractive. After returning from a weekend trip to Ann Arbor, the executive
assistant to Mayor Tony Benavides said that he realized how much more
concentrated Ann Arbor is. “We started at the Farmer’s Market,
then we walked around, and ended up going to a vegetarian restaurant,”
he said, “Finally we went to another restaurant, and after that
we went to a jazz bar. It’s all right there, all in walking distance.
We don’t have that in Lansing.”
How to redesign neighborhoods and adopt a more thoughtful approach to planning was a central theme of the conference. Gene Townsend, an environmental-minded Lansing builder, told me many construction projects in Lansing were conducted with the interests of developers and government workers in mind, but not with the interests of the residents.
In one of the conference’s 18 workshops, attendees were taken on a photo tour of Michigan cities that have redesigned their downtown areas. In their presentation, titled “Design Tools for Improving Downtown,” Jack Williamson, founder of the Community Design Advisory Program in Bloomfield Hills, and Jeffry Corbin, founder of Corbin Design in Traverse City, argued that cities are often flooded with visual information, such as traffic signs, awnings, billboards and store signs. “Often you can’t find what you are looking for,” Williamson said. The landscape architect suggested reducing the amounts of signage, and removing signs from the sides of buildings, and from above the roofline.
Williamson said it’s important to direct drivers’ eyes toward blockscapes. He suggests repainting the sides of freestanding or corner buildings in the same color, to increase a sense of mass and volume. Following simple aesthetic guidelines can be cost effective, help create harmony and overcome the appearance of dilapidation and urban sprawl. Corbin suggested using “cooler” colors such as blue or gray on west- and south-facing blocks, which are more exposed to the sun, and warmer colors such as red or brown, on the more shaded, north- and east-facing blocks.
Corbin also emphasized the importance of creating a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape. He showed examples of a neighborhood commercial district in Rochester Hills that was transformed into a more walkable and green neighborhood. “The difficulty is when there are large structures and spaces between the buildings that don’t really operate as part of an identifiable commercial district,” Corbin said. He suggested planting trees.
pointed out that Michigan cities frequently suffer from five-lane state
highways crossing their downtown areas, making the creation of a more
walkable community impossible. In Howell, for instance, he suggested
implementing a system for pedestrian movement at intersections similar
to the one used in Denver, in which all traffic stops for 45 seconds
every three minutes. “As a result it’s quiet, and you can
cross the street, you can walk diagonal, or even dance.” Corbin
said Michigan’s Department of Transportation has never adopted
a pedestrian-friendly traffic system. “It would be interesting
to give it a try.”
a Capital Area District Library board member, said that extending the
hours of downtown businesses would be the most effective tool to draw
more people. As a result of being open later at the Silver Bells evening
event, the library drew an extra 1,200 people to its downtown branch,
she said. The board was so encouraged that it decided to keep the downtown
library open an hour later beginning Jan. 2. (The new hours will be
9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and
Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.)
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