Farmington project emphasizes pedestrian experience

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center’s project for Farmington, “Townscaping an Automobile-Oriented Fabric,” has won a 2013 Honor Award in the Analysis and Planning category from the American Society of Landscape Architects. It is the center’s fifth ASLA award and the fourth that they have received in this category.

The awards honor the top public places, residential designs, campuses, parks and urban planning projects from across the United States and around the world. Thirty-three award-winning projects were selected from more than 534 entries.

The project will be published in the October issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine. It also will be featured at the 2013 ASLA Annual Conference and Expo in Boston in November.

The Community Design Center’s project involved restoring pedestrian use to Farmington, an automobile-focused town bordering Fayetteville in Washington County, through transformation of its five-lane commercial highway into a multiway boulevard. The boulevard’s right-of-way would feature “urban agricultural” components or edible landscapes, combining a demand for food security with traditions of civic street design to “retrofit suburbia,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center and a Distinguished Professor of architecture in the Fay Jones School of Architecture.

The townscape plan proposes a new town green with a year-round farmers market, tree-lined sidewalks that promote outdoor dining, traffic circles, and large-scale public art projects that recall Farmington’s agricultural legacy – all delivering more urban and ecological services along U.S. 62, he said.

In the last 80 years, streets have been engineered exclusively to serve motorists, Luoni said, “when, historically, streets sponsored so many other non-traffic functions.” The goal was to transform this “traffic sewer” – where the only level of service is defined by the number of cars moved per lane per hour – and return important measures of livability through great public space and a sense of place.

Roads are the largest category of public space, though most people consider them a mere utility, he said.

“It’s the public space that determines the health of a community, and precisely what we aimed to restore in this context-sensitive highway design,” he said.

“While our work in Farmington has received recognition from the architecture and urban planning professions, we are especially pleased that the landscape architecture profession has awarded this project since our solutions are interdisciplinary and aim to solve for multiple challenges in the built environment,” Luoni said. “We hope that this kind of affirmation will give the next Farmington administration the confidence to eventually move forward with this model project, which has extensive community support.”

The UACDC received a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to work on this design scenario.

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center was founded in 1995 as part of the Fay Jones School of Architecture. The center advances creative development in Arkansas through education, research and design solutions that enhance the physical environment. It has provided design and planning services to more than 45 communities and organizations across Arkansas, helping them to secure nearly $65 million in grant funding to enact suggested improvements.

In addition to revitalizing historic downtowns, the center addresses new challenges in affordable housing, urban sprawl, environmental planning, and management of regional growth or decline. The center’s professional staff members are nationally recognized for their expertise in urban and public-interest design, and their work has received more than 90 design awards.

AuthorMatthew Petty