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stop 11 – paving the way in Squirrel Hill

Concrete has been used as a paving surface for more than a century. Within that long history, many different finishes, colors, and patterns have been employed to make the paving more stylized and distinctive. Unfortunately in many communities, the breadth and depth of concrete’s versatility is put aside in favor of functional needs or just plain simplicity. Some could argue that the casual patron of a downtown is not concerned with the aesthetic of the sidewalk. But rather, only its function. As long as the sidewalk is smooth, wide, and clear of obstructions, there is no problem.

That sentiment is generally true. But when there is something unique about the sidewalk, it only stands to amplify the experience. The best example may be Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame. It’s just a sidewalk with one minor exception – a series of terrazzo stars with the names and signatures of film and TV stars.

Walk the sidewalks in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh and you won’t see stars. You will see another unique shape that makes the sidewalk rise above its neighbors. Alternating along their business district sidewalks are segments scored in a honeycomb pattern. All at once the pattern is attractive and functional. This hexagonal shape is unlike any concrete walk you are used to seeing in downtowns. And where work has occurred and patching is necessary, the angular lines allow for easy incorporation of the patch, thereby accentuating the pattern and creating more visual interest.

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Have you started your own boards for collecting downtown images, ideas, and inspiration? Now may be a great time  to start and we know where you can find some images for your collection – here!

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Stop 10 – wide open space in the heart of Greensburg

For aristocratic Europe, park spaces were private areas available only to the very wealthiest of the community. The gardens of Versailles or the Villa D’Este were green spaces for their homeowners. That paradigm shifted dramatically during  the early formation of United States’ cities thanks in part to Frederick Law Olmstead (the father of landscape architecture).  Central Park in New York, the Emerald Necklace in Boston, or more broadly any National Park, have shown the value that America places on public open space and further reinforce the inherit value in the availability of such space.

Many Pennsylvania towns have remarkable public spaces of all shapes and sizes that host events and activities large and small. Just steps from the site of this year’s National Main Street Conference is one of Pittsburgh’s fine examples in Point State Park. To see another truly exceptional version, visit Greensburg.

Greensburg has no shortage of topography, which can be problematic in snowy weather. That topography and the views it produces are harnessed to create St. Clair Park. The park is anchored by a band shell and historic log cabin, but the surrounding pastoral park space provides for a host of passive recreation opportunities, scenic vistas, and great spots to sit and rest. All within the confines of the downtown area.

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Moving right along and looking forward to seeing everyone in Pittsburgh!

Step back in time and revisit our journey thus far, any time, on Pinterest.

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Stop 9 – branding in the neighborhood in Latrobe

Knowing who you are is vastly important to building brand longevity. For most Pennsylvania communities, it would be very easy to lean on history to inform a brand or identity, because our communities are much older than some of our Midwestern or West Coast peers. It would also be easy to lean on natural amenities for identity. Whether it’s the ridges, valleys, rivers, lakes, or seasonal changes, the natural beauty of Pennsylvania also offers an accessible avenue to build a brand.

But for some of Pennsylvania’s communities, there are genuinely unique and specific elements to build a brand around.

Mention Latrobe to even the most casual sports fan and an image of Arnold Palmer comes to mind. To the Penn State grad of any year prior to 2001, an image of Rolling Rock beer comes to mind. But mention Latrobe to almost anyone in western Pennsylvania, and an image of an older gentleman in a cardigan sweater materializes and memory produces the sound of a trolley…

Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers to most of us) and his trolley have their roots in Latrobe and that legacy will not be lost on any visitor to downtown. The image of the trolley has become symbolic in the community and represents a unique attribute of the community. It also brings a unifying and timeless element to the downtown, elevating the overall Latrobe brand and wrapping it in memory.

As you strive to create or enhance your community brand and your own neighborhood, let the words of Mister Rogers further motivate you:

We live in a world where we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ”˜It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” spoken in 1994, as quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

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Getting closer and closer to Pittsburgh on the Lincoln Highway! Remember, you can always retrace our steps here  or on the blog at www.derckandedson.com.

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Stop 8 – taking a seat in Ligonier

Consistency is overrated. Finding a comfortable seat  is not. Especially when the person to whom you’re related by marriage browses just one more store

Many downtown master plans will identify a consistent street furnishing palette as a critical element in enhancing the sense of place in a core downtown. There is certainly value in that consistent approach, but when you spend time in Ligonier, you get a rare opportunity to see an exception to the rule. Ligonier is charming and full of great shopping and dining, but a consistent palette of site furniture is not there.

It doesn’t matter though because you never have to look for the furniture or a seat. In Ligonier, there is value placed on providing benches for the patrons of the community and while the form, color, material, size, and location may vary, the most important constant is the presence of the bench. Any time you feel compelled to rest your feet in Ligonier, there will be a bench. On the Diamond, they are wooden and painted a classic pale green. If you leave the library, they are teak and weathering nicely. And if you just had lunch at Table 105, they are metal.

There is an urban myth that you won’t walk more than 20’ at Disneyland without seeing a trash can. I cannot confirm the exact spacing there, but that is not the essence of the myth. The essence speaks to a goal ”“ to have a clean park.

Likewise, in Ligonier, the goal is to create a welcoming and comfortable downtown. The benches, regardless of color and style, go a long way to support that goal.

If the trash cans and benches are where people want them, then the sense of place is enhanced whether or not they are all the same color and style.

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For a recap of our last 8 stops along the road to Main Street, visit our Pinterest boards, here.

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Stop 7 – putting Bedford on the map

A map is a  great way to show people where they want to go. And without exception,  communities want people to know where they are and possible destinations to explore.

But this is a very narrow acknowledgment of the value of maps. For downtown revitalization, maps can be the most versatile tool in your belt.

As a manager of revitalization efforts in a community, there are countless features that can and should be mapped. There are obvious physical elements like roads, buildings, trees, and utilities. With these elements mapped, you can efficiently plan for special events, holiday decorating, maintenance activities, and volunteer activities. If you begin to map other metrics like ownership, code compliance, condition, and vacancy, you can understand where to direct resources. Mapping occupancy, size, and availability can be an effective economic development resource for cultivating new businesses.

If you look beyond the core downtown, you can begin to map walking routes, drive-sheds, and trade areas. These resources can be effective marketing tools for your existing businesses as well as recruiting resources for those you’re looking to bring into your town.

Traditional maps are a great resource in your downtown. Exploring beyond the traditional is a great exercise for enhancing the value of mapping in your community.

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Need to catch up on our travels? Check out images from all the communities we visited along the way, here.

Stop 6 – art smart in McConnellsburg

You probably have a photo in an album or on your phone where members of your family are posing in front of some piece of public art. Maybe it’s the LOVE sculpture in Philly’s JFK plaza. Maybe it’s smaller or more site specific like Marilyn Monroe in Kennett Square or the pretzel in Lititz. Perhaps you enjoy the board game pieces in Philly or that shiny kidney bean in Chicago.

No matter what that element is, it provides that visual tag to remind you of that place. You may not remember the artist, the exact materials, or even the reason the art is there. You will however remember the experience of being in that place, with that piece of art, taking that picture, with those people.

Maybe, if the art is just right, it will be a reason to visit the place again to create a collection of those photos (just ask any Penn Stater how many generations of photos they have on a stone lion in central PA).

For the art to be embraced in this way, it has to be exceptional in some way. The quilt patterns that adorn barns, buildings, and banners in and around McConnellsburg are that unique element that causes the casual patron to stop and ponder. The diversity of locations, sizes, and styles of the squares make this particular public art installation imminently repeatable and distinctive for Fulton County.

Want to learn more, visit these links:

  • Frontier Barn Quilt Trail to see how downtown McConnellsburg’s quilts cover the downtown and blanket the county
  • See our growing  collection of photos along the road to the National Main Street Conference, here.
  • And to get you even more excited about your time in Pittsburgh, check out this inspiration, shared by Preservation Pennsylvania:

“Check out the trailer for “Through the Place,” a beautiful, fascinating documentary film that is, all at once, a love letter to Pittsburgh and a celebration of the passion for preservation that has driven transformative grassroots efforts across the country over the past 50 years. The film was produced for the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and was awarded Best Architecture Film at the 2016 New Urbanism Film Festival in Los Angeles.”

 

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Stop 5 – ready, willing, and able to succeed in Chambersburg

What does it take to make a project succeed? Certainly resources are  helpful. Great leadership is most definitely necessary, as is a solid idea or vision. But what may be most important is volunteerism. Notice we did not specifically say volunteers, but rather volunteerism ”“ the  spirit and passion for helping out or lending a hand. While it is true that a dedicated group of volunteers can be valuable for revitalization, there is no discounting the value of a community that is ready, willing, and able to come out to build, paint, sweep, clean, move, or simply cheer.

If you had driven through Chambersburg this summer, you may have been lucky enough to see true volunteerism at work. For a few days in July, a blank wall became a virtual dance floor for a choreographed routine of painting and tile application to create more than 700 square feet of mosaic mural art adjacent to Fort Chambers Park. (see their mural time lapse and volunteer videos  here)

Make no mistake, this community has great leadership and this idea was part of a downtown master plan. They also had a group of generous supporters who provided resources. But it was the volunteerism that made the project so remarkable and what can make similar efforts possible in other communities.

For a few other views of Chambersburg, check out the images shared below  or  pinned here.

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stop 4 – covering Gettysburg

It is often said that you can’t judge a book by its cover. That may be true, but there is a reason why book cover design is still alive and well in the Kindle age. That cover is the first thing someone sees whether it’s in the library, the book store, or on their electronic device screen.   The style, color, forms, and images of the book cover help convey a message and hopefully entice the reader to open the book and explore its contents.

Downtown architecture and building styles are the book covers of the Main Street world. While it is true that you can’t necessarily judge an establishment by the building form or style, the opposite may be true. The style and form of the architecture can be the thing that draws you in to explore and experience the space.

Gettysburg’s core downtown is continuing to embody this reality. Look at any segment of the Lincoln Highway through downtown Gettysburg and it is like looking at a beautiful book shelf full of unique and colorful design details. Each building with its materials, windows, signage, lighting, and doors provides glimpses of what might be inside. The facade is not the true value of the building, but it goes a long way in attracting the initial interest and enticing patrons to explore a bit deeper.

For some cover shots of Gettysburg, go here.

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Stop 3 – green space not out of place in York

Green is good.

It is really that simple when it comes to flora in the urban environment. The vision of landscape in the streetscape is frequently limited to expected concepts of planting street trees and potted plants.

However, we contend that creative placement of plant material is absolutely necessary in any downtown. Vacant spaces, excessively wide sidewalks, alleys, parking lots, and plazas are all obvious (though not always exploited) locations to add plants. Less obvious locations are facades, roof tops, light poles, or parking meters.

If you are familiar with the City of York, you likely know that public art installations have become the location for plants in that community. York has turned the notion of potted plants into a literal and figurative work of art. The sculptures that adorn intersections in York exhibit a steampunk vibe with pipes, gears, and vessels welded into unique forms. Within each vessel are installations of landscape materials that bring green to the pedestrian spaces in unexpected ways.

Yes, green is good. And creative placement of green can make it even better.

(to see these planters in their glory, visit  http://salvagingcreativity.com/outdoor/)

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Stop 2 – mix it up in Downingtown

Euclidean zoning is the term that describes the type of zoning ordinances that are most prevalent in Pennsylvania. This approach is commonly known as single-use zoning where districts are created to provide for similar uses in very specific locations within a community. Very broadly, residential zones are denoted with R’s, while C’s represent commercial, and I’s for industrial. Most Main Street communities will find themselves in some type of commercial zone; however, what a healthy and sustainable downtown looks like is well beyond a single-use description.

Mixed-use is the token zoning phrase that gets applied to areas of development that do not fit neatly into a single-use classification, however, not many communities have a mixed-use district on their zoning maps. Downingtown has found ways to utilize overlays (a more common zoning tool) to promote a mixed-use development pattern in and around their historic community core. Typically an office park and a historic downtown would seem like disparate development patterns. Yet with thoughtful planning and zoning procedures in place, Downingtown has created a truly mixed-use environment where the two projects co-exist. They actually do more than just exist, they create a unique sense of place and synergy beside high-quality green space, walkable streets, and adaptive re-use of classic buildings.

To see what we saw when we mixed it up in Downingtown, click  here.

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