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Sep 30, 2020
Written by Matt Gullo 30th September 2020 Setting yourself up for a strategic rebound after COVID-19 and its associated recession could be the difference between success and stagnancy for cities and towns of all sizes. A well-designed long-term strategy is the key to paving a brighter future in times of economic downturn and hardship. Urban Planning is for Everyone Universities, towns, counties, developments and parks of all shapes and sizes work with urban planners to analyze their growth potential and outline obstacles when creating a strong long-range master plan. Considering a number of factors (land use, demographics, economic development, housing, transportation infrastructure and available facilities) is critical to frame the ways your city can adapt and grow. There is a common misconception that smaller or rural areas can’t benefit from urban planners – but urban planning is for everyone. America is filled with small towns with their own unique design challenges in need of innovative ideas. And there’s no template for a typical master plan. Each individual public or private space has its own intricacies and barriers. Often this investment of time and resources far outweighs the cost to allow civic leaders to focus on the meaningful attributes of their communities and chart a vision for the future. Realities of Recessions and Revitalization An updated master plan proves to developers and investors that your city supports progress. By clearly defining your goals for the future, a master plan becomes a marketing tool to spur development. History has shown us that in times of economic downturns; smart developers are on the lookout for new opportunities. Recessions and periods of economic instability are also traditionally followed by attractive incentives to initiate building and new growth. Investments in infrastructure haven proven to be popular to restart economies. By updating your long-range plan or developing a new master plan now, you set yourself up to capitalize on business and government leaders scrambling to chart a way forward post-pandemic. Luckett & Farley recently worked with two small towns in Indiana to create innovative master plans with some similarities and differences. Better Use for a Brownfield for Wabash The city of Wabash, Indiana needed to increase density without losing its small-town charm. Wabash officials wanted a master plan to foster an innovative and regenerative environment that promotes green space, multi-modal access and developments that will encourage population growth and stability. Their progressive approach redevelops an underutilized brownfield site that had long been a development challenge for the state of Indiana. A master plan for the Stitt Street brownfield envisions a mixed-use development with small live/work units, a large multi-use park with adjacent modern multi-family units, right-sized bungalows for people planning to downsize, and single-family residential areas overlooking pedestrian greenways that act as main thoroughfares through the site. Wabash’s holistic look at a master plan was rooted in environments that restore, renew and revitalize their own sources of energy and materials. By making sure that spaces are multi-purpose and a variety of sizes tailored to need, Wabash is positioning for success. Additional work into coordinating planning proper brownfield remediation and cleanup as well as advisement on Indiana’s brownfield programs will be valuable assets to developers and the city as they capitalize on opportunities. A New Model Community in Utica The town of Utica just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky has recently seen a surge in interest thanks to increased accessibility from a new interstate bridge and bypass. Maintaining the town’s quaint personality while providing an attractive and dense New Urbanist community was a delicate balance when creating this new master plan. The Utica Ridge site has the potential to become a new and innovative environment incorporating a small river town feel but using contemporary materials and planning principles. Utica’s thoughtful sustainable and environmentally sensitive site design considers climate, hydrology, soils, vegetation, materials and use. The town is now positioned to be a new model community where people will want to live and developers will want to invest. Varying elevations of the site had been viewed as an obstacle, but the natural terrain became a benefit that offers unique views, preserves natural beauty and highlights the aesthetics of the area. Instead of a typical cookie-cutter subdivision, a new-aged conservationist neighborhood protects the environment and promotes healthy lifestyles. Today’s modern family values a progressive attitude toward pedestrian-friendly infrastructure and accessibility. Multi-use connections will be critical for ongoing development and attractive for businesses and residents. These meaningful updates look to the future needs of Utica’s current population and embrace ideas that make positive impacts to create a sense of place and community. Making a Plan for Tomorrow You can dream about the possibilities for your city or town all day, but your long-range master plans will fail if it’s not based in reality. COVID-19 is just one of many uncertainties that will affect the abilities of cities and towns to grow going forward. Firms like Luckett & Farley work with development experts to ensure that master plans don’t promise what they can’t deliver. Every city or development has limitations to consider and gauge. Successful long-range plans based on up to date market information defines capabilities for places like Utica and Wabash and allows them to bank on whatever happens next. Take a look at your master plan and ask yourself if it depicts the future you want to build. Does it attract development? Will it fulfill the needs of your community? Will it sustain the businesses you want to keep? If not, now is the time to remaster your master plan. Matt Gullo, RLA, CLARB is an Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture Discipline Manager at Luckett & Farley, Kentucky’s oldest and largest architecture firm.