APA: When Arts and Culture Take Center Stage

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Planning on the ground

By Christine Kreyling
November 4, 2015

Every community has its own history and character, physical fabric, and socioeconomic issues. The CMAP toolkit presents techniques that mean communities aren’t reinventing the wheel in their arts and culture planning. But putting a plan on the ground requires a nuanced approach tailored to the context.
Colorado’s recently announced initiative in affordable housing and workspace for artists and arts organizations, for instance, is geared to the state’s rural areas, where the economy has weakened because of declines in agricultural exports and crop, livestock, and energy prices. Nashville’s Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, on the other hand, constructed Ryman Lofts in 2013 — a $5.5 million, 60-unit, artist-preference affordable rental housing block — on the edge of a booming downtown where land values and rents are soaring.
Then there’s Wynwood. This 205-acre, 50-city-block area in Miami’s urban core was in the last century the city’s garment district and an enclave for Caribbean immigrants. A decade of business exodus left behind a surplus of vacant factories and warehouses. Their windowless concrete walls became the canvases for spontaneous “street art” that attracted artists from all over to create their own installations. The art magnetized developers, who acquired dilapidated properties that became galleries, performance spaces, creative offices, restaurants, cafes, and other adaptive reuses.
To take Wynwood to the next level, the city-chartered Wynwood Business Improvement District commissioned PlusUrbia Design to craft a comprehensive zoning plan as well as redevelopment guidelines for what is now the Wynwood Neighborhood Revitalization District. While the plan and guidelines contain many elements typical of current urban design practice, a central intent is the preservation and enrichment of the street art culture that instigated the neighborhood’s renaissance.
To preserve mural walls and encourage new infill receptive to street art, the plan creates a transfer of development rights program that allows warehouse owners and infill developers to sell their air rights, reducing the pressure for over-scale development.
Zoning changes focus on allowing more residential development, in particular micro-units and live/work spaces to preserve affordability. The zoning revisions also permit artisan manufacturing, including the breweries, distilleries, and coffee roasting facilities that were nonconforming under the old code, with an attached retail component.
Another gesture toward affordability is the reduction of on-site parking requirements, which also enables development more suitable to Wynwood’s often small lots. To discourage gaps in street walls made by surface parking, the plan creates a system for developers to pay into a fund to build centralized garages. And if property owners want to boost their allowable density, they can contribute to a fund dedicated to parks, open space, and other infrastructure improvements within Wynwood’s boundaries. A design review board composed of Wynwood stakeholders will advise the city’s planners on the compatibility of new development.
Pedestrian ambiance is enhanced by a sidewalk width expansion from five to 10 feet in new developments, with public cut-throughs called paseos to break up long blocks. A street-calming device is the introduction into alleys of woonerfs, the Dutch-derived, curbless streets that intermingle vehicular and pedestrian traffic on surfaces such as cobblestones that promote slow driving.
When asked if he thought his firm’s recipe for Wynwood could serve as a model for other cities, PlusUrbia’s Juan Mullerat laughs. “I don’t know if I’d dare apply to another city what we’ve done in Wynwood. It was a very bottom-up process instigated by Wynwood property owners and very labor intensive. We listened to anyone who had an idea about what should happen, did research lot by lot. Plus, Wynwood is a pretty unique place.”
Christine Kreyling is the author of The Plan of Nashville and coauthor of the recently released Shaping the Healthy Community: The Nashville Plan. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and The Sea Ranch, California.
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