Creative Corridor for Little Rock’s Main Street also earns award

A collaboration between the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, the Fay Jones School of Architecture, the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, and Peter Rich Architects took the Grand Prize, the top professional honor, in the 2013 Charter Awards, sponsored by the Congress for the New Urbanism.The Congress is the leading international organization promoting walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development, and sustainable communities. The Charter Awards recognize excellence in urban design.

Building Neighborhoods that Build Social and Economic Prosperity: Manual for a Complete Neighborhood – a holistic design approach for a neighborhood in Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali – received a $5,000 award, sponsored by Target.

The Community Design Center, an outreach program of the Fay Jones School, was also a collaborator, with Marlon Blackwell Architect, for design ofThe Creative Corridor: A Main Street Revitalization for Little Rock. The project won a Charter Award in the Neighborhood, District and Corridor category of the awards program.

Winning projects fulfill and advance the principles of the Charter of the New Urbanism, which defines the essential qualities of walkable, sustainable places from the scale of the region down to those of the neighborhood and the building.

The 13th annual awards program attracted a competitive field from around the world, and 14 projects from a pool of more than 100 submissions were recognized with awards and honorable mentions.

The Kigali project, which features a proposed design for the Kimichanga neighborhood at 200 units per hectare, doubles as an instructional manual on hillside development for the Ministry of Infrastructure in Kigali. The challenge facing the ministry is to transition land settlement from informal patterns to formal neighborhood patterns based on closed-loop, sustainable principles responsive to low-resource environments, alternative energy production, regenerative landscapes, waste recycling and local food production. Urban redevelopment during Rwanda’s recovery since 1994 has been underwritten by foreign entities based on suburban and capital-intensive models unsympathetic to local settlement patterns.

The Charter Awards jury praised this project for the way it approached Kigali’s challenging terrain, where most of the city’s population lives in informal hillside settlements. “The landscape prohibited a simple block format,” said architect and jury member Vanessa September, also a resident of Africa. “So they were very creative and innovative in the way they took that form and rolled it over the landscape of Kigali.” The frames of the buildings are designed to be modular, with modules that can be arranged and modified to fit the needs of the users. The project also provides general tactics for hillside development applicable to the city as a whole.

Jury member Jason McLennon noted the project’s sophisticated treatment of infrastructure such as transportation and water. Careful project siting and features such as vertical gardens and solar chimneys are elements of an approach that emphasizes distributed, multi-use infrastructure. The jury concluded that the project exemplifies how developing countries like Rwanda, one of the world’s poorest nations, “can transition from informal to formal settlement patterns with an eye towards resiliency, sustainability, and local social vitality.”

“We are so pleased to have been recognized with CNU’s coveted top honor and trust that this strengthens our team’s case for implementing place-based development that better serves Rwanda’s interests,” said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center.

The Little Rock Creative Corridor proposal retrofits a four-block segment of endangered historic downtown Main Street through redevelopment catalyzed by the cultural arts rather than Main Street’s traditional retail base. Knowing that developers will build large infill structures based on contemporary aesthetics rather than historical Main Street styles, the retrofit creates compatibility through unique townscaping structures that frame a new, land-use ecology of residential, tourism, work and the cultural arts – a new identity for Main Street.

The initial design planning for this project was sponsored in part by a $150,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2011. In developing the plan, designers worked with more than 30 organizations, including real estate developers, art institutions, local businesses and public agencies.

Jury member Colleen Carey praised the project for exemplifying how urbanists can work with areas larger than a block but smaller than an entire neighborhood. While focused on particular public realm enhancements, each enhancement is rooted in this larger transformation of the area’s function in the city.

Jury members appreciated that the plan focused on incrementalism, acknowledging the complex community and market realities of fostering change in an existing neighborhood. The proposal provides for discrete phases, each of which brings positive benefits to the area.

“The design framework taps into many years of diligent work and focused community organization by the city of Little Rock,” Luoni said. “The Creative Corridor is now seeing tens of millions of dollars in new investments from both the public and private sectors, which is terribly exciting. Little Rock has the chance to create a national model demonstrating the centrality of the arts in broad-based economic and social development.”

These award-winning projects were featured at CNU 21, the organization’s annual congress, held in May in Salt Lake City. Award winners and honorable mentions, along with full project descriptions and images, are listed on the CNU 21 website. CNU will also publish a book of award-winning projects.

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AuthorMatthew Petty