cohort

co ·hort   noun /ˈkōhôrt/   – a group of people banded together or treated as a group.

“Affordable” and “housing” are two words that, when paired together, routinely cause upheaval in the context of community planning. Affordable housing immediately conjures imagery of dense, poorly cared for, federally subsidized housing projects of the prior century. What if I told you affordable housing was not only important, but potentially catalytic for neighborhood revitalization?

Jamestown houses

A range of housing types that accommodate multi-generational, economically diverse cohorts is an asset to a community and its diverse economy. These developments, when executed with a modicum of creativity and design, strengthen the existing residential and developed fabric of the region. During a discussion of affordable housing in Bradford, City officials pointed us to a recent success in nearby Jamestown, New York (birthplace of Lucille Ball ~ a model of her Jamestown home is recreated on the Paramount Studio in Hollywood, in case you were curious). What we found on the east side of the City was a remarkable cluster of affordable housing.

What made this development remarkable were three particular points. First, they were designed. I know this is a simple, possibly snooty comment, but it’s true. The units all had a style to them that added drama to the façade, created social spaces, and added aesthetic value to the neighborhoods around them. They were not sterile, socialistic compounds aimed at efficiently occupying physical space.

Second, they created a streetscape environment fostering neighbor to neighbor interactions by building to the setback line and keeping parking effectively confined to the backs of the units.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the feedback from residents of the community celebrated the success of this development. The residential cohorts we encountered included a single resident under 30, a young couple, a retired couple, and several families. These residents were racially diverse, economically diverse, and each expressed that they took a great deal of pride in their homes, because they were new when they arrived, they were well conceived, and they were diverse, or specifically in their words “it’s not just all one type of person here.”

With an aging housing stock across the state and a paradigm shift inflating rental occupancy, does affordable housing have a place in your community? It just might.

panorama

pan ·o ·ram ·a   /panɒˈramÉ’/   noun  –   an unbroken view of the whole region surrounding an observer

The City of Erie has many things to be proud of, not the least of which is the culmination of their two-year bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812. Of the many unique, special, and memorable aspects of Pennsylvania’s northern most metropolitan area, perhaps the most immediately obvious is their frontage on Lake Erie.

Erie - view

Nestled in the historic west side neighborhood are some of the best views of the lake from Bayview Park and the adjacent Bayfront Promenade. This City park offers panoramic views of Lake Erie and more specifically Presque Isle State Park and a vast array of lake-effect weather systems. The surrounding neighbors and City residents take great pride in this space because of its inherent beauty. In other words, it’s hard not to feel good about a space which has the backdrop of the setting sun over a Great Lake. As the City finishes celebrating the 200th anniversary of this historic event, they should celebrate the planning decisions that created and maintain this public space on ground that could easily have been gentrified many times over the years. Instead, the City is giving their residents (and visitors like me) a direct connection to both recreation and the natural beauty of their own amenities.

Across the state, communities have their own unique amenities that should be celebrated. Is it the river, the mountains, the windmills, the mansions, the bridge, the airport, the resort, or simply just the town square? Whatever it is, are you taking advantage of it, are you celebrating it every day?

rejuvenate ~ by guest blogger Erin Hammerstedt, Preservation PA

re ·ju ·ve ·nate  ri-ˈjü-vÉ’-ËŒnÄt   verb

to make young or youthful again : give new vigor to

Historic preservation is essential to having a strong, healthy downtown. But many think of preservation as something that is limiting or even stifling. Charleston, South Carolina, which is often heralded as one of the nation’s best examples of a city that truly embraces historic preservation, proves that doesn’t have to be the case. What I found when I spent a few days this summer wandering around Charleston, taking in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this historic city, is that Charleston is an amazing place because it rejuvenates, not just preserves.

Charleston

Charleston is full of wonderfully preserved historic buildings, from downtown commercial buildings, beautiful houses and waterfront warehouses and custom houses. It has several narrow cobble stone and brick streets that are enhanced by street trees and window boxes full of flowers. While it is preserved, the city is far from a static time capsule. It is vigorous and brisk.

Charleston’s beauty and richness lie in its layers, which reflect sensitive change that has occurred over centuries. Old masonry buildings have been covered in stucco and painted, with shutters and porches applied. There is texture and tradition in the fabric of the city, but also color and life.   Nothing is stagnant. Everything is alive.   People are working and playing, plants are growing, fountains are bubbling, and the buildings are standing, quietly telling the stories of those that came before while housing modern lives.

The city recognizes its antebellum architecture, Gullah culture, and more as an asset and utilizes those assets to rejuvenate the city. As a result, Charleston is one of the most visited cities in the world, and a thriving historic destination.

What about your town?   Are you rejuvenating historic places to help enliven your city?

dichotomy

di ·chot ·o ·my noun dÄ«-ˈkä-tÉ’-mÄ“ also dÉ’- – something with seemingly contradictory qualities

It was 34 ° and a wet snow was falling in the glass canyon created by the six (6) glass and steel office buildings that surround PPG Place in center city Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh PPG Place skating

In the summer, this space is dominated by corporate culture. With over 1.5 million square feet of office space and more than 70,000 square feet of retail, the plaza is typically humming with activity. Suits, ties, brief cases, taxis, and deliveries crisscross the plaza through most of the warmer months, but it’s in the winter when PPG Place shows its calmer, more playful qualities. The Rink at PPG Place is a temporary skating rink that appears each winter overtop the at grade fountains creating a most curious dichotomy in the urban fabric. This once monochromatic plaza is full of colorful snow suits, ice skates, and yellow-jacketed skating ambassadors ready and willing to play on the ice all day long.

One space, two very different and unique experiences. Pittsburgh, like much of Pennsylvania, has to face the reality that snow will fall and temperatures will lower through the winter months. They make a choice to see this inevitability as a reason to reinvent outdoor spaces and continue to add vibrancy to their downtown. You do not need to have a million square feet of office space nearby, or world famous architectural landmarks to find creative ways to add vibrancy to your community. Simply look for the seemingly contradictory opportunities in the spaces you have.

http://www.ppgplace.com/about/

merchandising

mer ·chan ·dis ·ing    mur-chuh n-dahy-zing noun – element of marketing concerned especially with the sale of goods and services to customers; often involves product display

An insurance company with an elaborate display of vintage housewares. A hair stylist’s storefront with an eclectic collection of fashion accessories artfully arranged. A massive wooden curlicue adorning the façade of a design collective. All this on a rainy day in Corning, New York’s Gaffer District.

Corning-IMG_2601.jpg

As I went from one store front to the next, I was simultaneously drawn in and blown away. Each establishment ~ whether retail or service ~ presented a visual treasure chest. Retail stores were often more product-focused, and rightly so. Service providers seemed to lean toward local history in their displays.

This feast for the eyes extended beyond window displays to the facades and signage. Whimsical blade signs and other elements ~ like the curlicue ~ drew my eyes up and around and back down again.

And then I saw it. The Gaffer District’s Visual Merchandising Program. Genius!

Corning-IMG_2606

“The visual merchandising program provides businesses with a free window-dressing program that incorporates merchandise, signage and professional props to provide an attractive welcome to visitors and customers.”   source http://www.gafferdistrict.com/grants.html

This is an on-going effort, with windows being re-dressed 6 or 7 times a year.

On the next rainy day in your town, it might be time to take a walk and see what draws your eye. Anything? Anyone? Bueller?

Who in your town could help? The community theatre? The high school stage crew? Local artists or crafters? This is the perfect opportunity for partnerships ~ financial and non-financial. As much as funds are always needed, so are hands-on helpers. Take advantage of this opportunity to tap into the talent and passion that already exists in your community.

Overall, consider what message is your merchandising sending and whether or not it is the message you want to relay.

intrepid

in ·trep ·id   adjective /inˈtrepid/- fearless, to act in a bold way

Coco Chanel is often remembered for saying that “a women needs just three things; a black dress, a black sweater, and, on her arm someone she loves.” Well, if you could alter that slightly to describe streetscape projects across the state, needing three things; a black light pole, a black bench, and someone to set the standard for these items.

Franklin lights

You will be hard pressed to argue the classic elegance and simplicity of black street furnishings and light poles. They are timeless and age gracefully. It takes an intrepid community to go their own way.

Franklin has gone that way for a long time and with some of the most attractive, memorable, and eye-catching results. The burgundy color palette established in their core community consistently impresses residents and visitors. The bold choice to avoid monochromatic and choose something from the Technicolor spectrum is a risk, but for Franklin, it is one that is paying off. It was a feature in their appearance on CBS Sunday Morning a few years ago when producers of that show opened the feature with imagery of their downtown, focusing on these exquisite burgundy fixtures.

Color your world, but be sure you’re ready to embrace that choice.

patina

pa ·ti ·na noun pÉ’-ˈtÄ“-nÉ’ –   a surface appearance of something grown beautiful especially with age or use

Fresh and new have their place in a great downtown and often the fresh and new draw great praise because they represent investment and growth. We should not overlook the weathered and old, however, because  the old and weathered aspects of communities  add depth of character and beauty; the patina that makes us nostalgic for places we’ve visited.

New Castle

In a recent winter trip to New Castle, Delaware, it was patina that stood out among the many unique characteristics of this small river town best known as the first American soil to touch William Penn’s loafers in 1682. The materials that make up the streets, sidewalks, curbs, walls, and alleys can aptly be described as weathered. Literally, streets are made of river stones subjected to centuries of pedestrian, carriage, and vehicular traffic still persist, yet they shimmer and shine with color and texture that is unlike any typical street. The bricks provide a rich contrast to the river stone and become the other predominant paving material in the downtown juxtaposing the more modern asphalt surfaces.

You get the sense that the stones and bricks beneath your feet have experienced a rich history in this community and that history impacts the way you experience your visit, dinner, walk, coffee, or even your drive through town. The patina has a positive impact on the sense of place and although the materials are certainly old and in many cases weathered, they have grown beautiful with that age and continue to add value to the community.

sturdy ~ by guest blogger Julie Fitzpatrick, PDC

stur ·dy adjective ˈstÉ’r-dÄ“ – strongly and solidly built; showing confidence and determination; resolute

When thinking of downtown York, one might be reminded of a community that has had its share of bumps in its proverbial road.   A community with a storied past that spans the centuries; a community that has reinvented itself, time and time again.   York is sturdy.   It’s tenacious.   It’s tired of being compared to its sister city.   It’s making its come-back.   It’s a hard-working community with an industrial and agricultural heritage, developing an artistic future.   Not just any artistic future – one that is connected to the industries of today and of the past.

gearsimage courtesy of Downtown Inc.

As a way to capitalize on their assets, York County is branding itself with Creativity UnleashedAmerica’s Industrial Art and Design Capital.   As you walk along George and Beaver Streets, you are reminded of the local industries by the public art displayed on the sidewalks.   There are unique planters and trash cans that catch your eye, sturdy, well-built objects.

There are vendors at York Central Market who have located there for generations, sturdy farmers and purveyors who wouldn’t go anywhere else but York.   Currently, the Market is using food as a catalyst in developing cottage industries and the Market District has steadfastly built a destination district for boutiques and specialty foods.

There is a pride and resilience from the people of York, sturdy and determined to grow and prosper.   The downtown is changing, it is moving in that direction. No matter who you meet in York, they’ll share their vision for the future, a vision that is already here. Is your town determined to come back time and time again to reinvent itself?   Are you prepared to learn from the past as you move towards the future?

continuity

con ·ti ·nu ·i ·ty  noun kän-tÉ’-ˈnü-É’-tÄ“ – uninterrupted connection, succession, or union

The first summer season since Hurricane Sandy, shop owners and downtown officials worked hard to restore business-as-usual to Stone Harbor, New Jersey. Gentle reminders could be seen if you looked ”“ door jambs marked with simple water lines and “Sandy, October 2012.” In a few places, actual re-construction was still in process but even then, effort was made to keep disruption to an absolute minimum. And from the smiling faces, and ringing cash registers, the effort seemed to be paying off.

Above and beyond the reconstruction efforts, something new was basking in the summer sun.

Stone Harbor

At the main intersection as you enter town ”“ 96th Street and Third Avenue ”“ one of the three quadrants had long been vacant ~ the classic “missing tooth” in the downtown. For a few years, it was just an empty hardscrabble lot. Then there were small gestures made to create a park. Soon after, it was ringed in chain link fencing.

But now, the offerings in the downtown have been elevated by the opening of a brand new boutique hotel. The architecture is appropriate to the downtown setting and best of all, the development completes the streetscape, re-enlivening the entire stretch of 3rd Avenue by the bay.

Could another use have filled that gap earlier? Probably. But many times, the fastest solution is not the best solution. In this case, patience was a key planning tool allowing for continuity in the streetscape as well as continuity in the level of presentation and service that has been a hallmark for so long in this community.

If you are struggling with a “missing tooth” in your downtown, know that you are not alone. Revisit your planning tool kit and make sure patience is one of the many arrows in your quiver. It takes time to fill downtown gaps with the right uses but it is worth the wait!

expressive

ex ·pres ·sive adjective /ikˈspresiv/ -effectively conveying thought or feeling, conveying the specified quality or idea

Signage can be many things; bold, subtle, effective, confusing, large, small, light, dark, and occasionally, if we are lucky, it’s effective. On a very rare occasion, signage can be expressive. Think about your most memorable sign in your own community, chances are it is memorable for its ability to not only inform, but to also convey a quality or idea.

Grove City

Combining effective signage with parking needs in a core community can be the difference between a happy customer on your streets and a flustered drive-by missed opportunity. The obligatory white “P” on a blue background symbolizes parking, almost universally, so we often think this is the easiest way to define where people can park. While this is true, it’s the communities that push the envelope to create signage that celebrates who they are while directing patrons to public parking that should be celebrated.

The signs in Grove City give reason to pause to simply take in their layers of detail and sculptural charm, not to mention their occurrence at all public parking areas. What better way to express to a first time visitor where to park that to hang a right at the coffee cup sculpture that says “parking.”

There are countless ways to make signs expressive, and certainly Grove City used art and sculpture as their delivery. What methods are employed in your town and how can they be enhanced?