Many of the leaders in the downtown business community and officials from City Hall spent the better part of three days last week sharpening and shaping a sense of place for the heart of the city – and its connections to the rest of the community.
The workshop, ‘The Power of Place in Community Planning and Sustainability,” was staged by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Project for Public Spaces, with which it is a frequent partner.
The Tupelo workshop was a national demonstration project, secured in a competition with other cities which also sought assistance in transforming, improving and growing their downtowns.
A team from PPS and officials from the National Trust’s Main Street Center spent the week in Tupelo working with DTMSA’s and the city’s leaders planning enhancements for the Main Street corridor from downtown to the Elvis Presley birthplace in the neighborhood universally known as East Tupelo.
Leaders and participants (about 90) worked side-by-side surveying, discussing and examining elements of the corridor that hold potential for enhancements that could attract and hold people to the whole city’s advantage.
While the background of the work includes a proposed redesign of Main Street’s traffic flows in heart of downtown, that work was not directly addressed. Instead, the workshop focused on other elements including the Tupelo Farmers’ Market on South Spring Street, Railroad Park along the Kansas City Southern tracks on Front Street, courthouse square sidewalks, alleys, and the Fairpark District.
The scope of suggested enhancements seems both financially realistic and, in retrospect, almost obvious:
• Landscaping that is both ornamental and protective of pedestrians;
• Comfortable benches placed where people would like to sit;
• Movable chairs to encourage comfortable gatherings;
• Water features to enhance some existing buildings;
• Cooperation among the business and arts communities with the public sector for a wide range of events;
• Changes in regulations to encourage mobile street vendors for art, crafts and food;
• Redevelopment of additional existing spaces for upper floor residences.
The workshop leaders refreshingly recommend integrating all the previous studies about how to enliven downtown, pulling together the best elements – with immediate work to set priorities and take action.
In sum, the placemakers called on Tupelo to act outside the box of convention to seize opportunity.
The Project for Public Spaces’ website describes what it wants communities like Tupelo to do:
“Placemaking is central to many of the powerful trends shaping the world today. The stumbling global economy, a vulnerable energy supply, and loss of confidence in far-flung markets are balanced by an upsurge of interest in things local: producing local food; promoting local businesses; preserving local character; protecting local open space and public places; finding meaningful ways to belong to a local community. For an in-depth examination of these trends, see Steve Davies’s report, ‘Think Global, Buy Local.’”
That descriptive both reflects the heyday of downtowns, including Tupelo’s, and the practical ideal for what underdeveloped downtowns can become.
Tupelo obviously has taken a big step with the Fairpark redevelopment, a thriving, successful ongoing project, but even Fairpark can gain from the idea that every place should be able to attract people every day – virtually 24/7, and certainly more than 9-5, Monday through Friday.
NEMS Daily Journal