There's more than one way to skin a cat, they say (admittedly an abhorrent image that raises a lot of questions about motivation.) And last week's Granary District Charrette, organized by the nonprofit Kentlands Initiative, shows that there's more than one way to plan a city.
Recent news has been all about the opening of downtown's new City Creek Mall, a vast development owned by the LDS church, run by its rules and leased to the most mainstream businesses–the kind that thrive in every mall across America. City Creek was planned from the top down by the combined forces of Taubman, and the church and result is a little piece of suburbia implanted in the middle of downtown.
(Both the City Creek space and the Granary District are privately owned–City Creek by a single entity, the Granary District by dozens.)
If you don't know, this is the Granary District.
The streets are lined with old warehouses, some being used as artist's studios (Captain, Captain and The Pickle Company). Jorge Fiero opened Frida Bistro over there; it's the area's biggest pioneer success story. Right now, the district makes a perfect "before" picture.
Last week's charrette (a word referring to any collaborative session in which a group of designers, architects, planners, people drafts a solution to a design problem) came together to work on the "after" picture of the Granary District. The goal was to "crowd source" a broad vision for its future.
I stopped by Monday evening to hear what they came up with.
After a week of workshops, guest facilitator Michael Watkins, AIA (town architect for Kentlands, the oldest new urban community in US. and former director of town planning for Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, Duany being Andres Duany, so-called father of new urbanism) presented a series of slides, drawings, conclusions and proposals taking into account cultural assets, urban growth patterns, economic development transportation systems that include bicycles and pedestrians, and specific requests from neighborhood stakeholders. Like dog parks and coffee houses.
Some things they considered:
Since the end of World War II, the average American home has ballooned to over double its size, while the typical American household has shrunk to half its previous size.
Surveys show that 77 percent of the 90 million-strong Y Generation, prefer living downtown to living in the suburbs. As a recent City Weekly editorial put it, "Suburbs are for suckers." They want to walk or use public transit, they don't want enormous dwellings, they're sensitive to environmental issues, and they drink a lot of coffee.
"Gritty, diverse and grounded" were the descriptive guidelines the charrette worked with, and the designs they came up with included shops and buildings made out of shipping containers, cut-through walks and bikeways to carve up Salt Lake's massive city blocks, parks with play equipment made out of industrial leftovers and New Urbanist basics like residents living over shops and high density housing surrounding shared open space.
It looks pretty cool and pretty do-able. There are lots of hurdles–money, obviously, and zoning restrictions which were drafted for suburbs and don't fit urban living. But it was exciting to see how excited so many people were about designing their own neighborhood, instead of a developer doing it.
The 21st Conference for New Urbanism will be held in Salt Lake City in sping of 2013–the proposed goal is to finish out a block of the Granary District using the crowd-sourced ideas by then.
And to give an idea of how cool urban living could be, everyone adjourned to a party in an empty lot berhind The Pickle Company, catered by Frida Bistro
complete with a bar adorned with old fenders,
a live band (Spell Talk)
and an ad hoc fire pit.
Gritty. Diverse. Greounded.