Sustainable Cities Design Academy 16: Recap

AAF’s Center for Design & the City held its 16th Sustainable Cities Design Academy August 3 – 5 in Washington, DC. During the two and a half day long charrette, teams from Baltimore, MD; Canajoharie, NY; Fresno, CA; and Wichita, KS collaborated with a resource team of multi-disciplinary design professionals to provide technical assistance on their local sustainable development projects.

Baltimore’s Pigtown Main Street East Gateway

A pedestrian’s eye view of the intersection of Washington Boulevard and S. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, facing west, toward Pigtown’s East Gateway.

The Baltimore Team—composed of Ben Hyman and Nick Rudolph of Pigtown Main Street, Tom McGilloway of Mahan Rykiel Associates, Inc., and Valorie LaCour and Graham Young from the Baltimore City Department of Transportation—took an in-depth look at how to bring more people into the neighborhood and improve its connection to the rest of the city. To accomplish these goals, they focused on improving the intersection of Washington Boulevard (Pigtown’s Main Street) with South Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard—the ‘East Gateway’ to the neighborhood. The intersection is currently dominated by South Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, a six-lane road that funnels cars off the nearby Interstate 395 ramp at high speed, splitting the urban grids that lie on either side of it apart, and both physically and mentally separating Pigtown from the economic engines to its east, presenting pedestrians with an approximately 132 foot (half the length of a football field) trek from curb to curb.

The team’s plan for “Pigtown Plaza” (note: North is pointing downward).

To address these issues, the team developed a new plan for the intersection, dubbed “Pigtown Plaza.” This plan redesigns the intersection to be multimodal, incorporating improved pedestrian infrastructure across the intersection including high-visibility crosswalks, plaza seating and other landscape improvements on the islands on South Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, a bike share station, flexible café seating on the Pigtown side of the intersection, a bikeway to the stadium, and a contraflow bike lane that connects across the boulevard into the Ridgely’s Delight neighborhood. These improvements, as well as implementing the commissioned Pigtown Weathervane sculpture and a mural on a privately owned commercial building that abuts the intersection will drastically change the intersection and restore historical connections from Pigtown to Ridgely’s Delight and greater Baltimore.


Canajoharie’s Beech-Nut Factory Redevelopment

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View of the Beech-Nut factory (the white complex, near the center of the photo), showing its proximity to the Mohawk River.

Montgomery County, New York representatives Matthew L. Ossenfort, William Roehr, and Meghan Manion and Village of Canajoharie advisor John McGlone investigated the redevelopment of the former Beech-Nut Factory. This teamused the charrette to figure out how to deal with a site that looms large—spatially and culturally—in the village. The 125 year old former Beech-Nut Factory comprises 800,000 square feet within a village of 2,229 residents and is adjacent to the New York State Throughway. After the Beech-Nut Company moved to a new location in a neighboring community, the original factory complex fell into disrepair , and thus the Canajoharie team was left feeling like the fate of the Village depended on getting this project right.

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Matthew L. Ossenfort shares the Canajoharie team’s new plans at SCDA 16.

By rehabilitating the west portion of the Beech-Nut complex—the historic office building—the team realized that they will not only have an opportunity to reuse an iconic historic structure towering  adjacent to the New York Thruway to potentially draw in record numbers of visitors, but they’ll also have a versatile new space to support the growth of local and regional businesses. Potential uses for the rehabilitated building include a pop-up market for the local Amish population to use, live/work space, and/or a local satellite facility for the State University of New York system. What started out as a problem emerged as an opportunity to create an economic hub for Canajoharie that recognizes and respects the community and region’s industrial past. So, despite the appeal of the (relative) ease of razing the site and starting over, the Canajoharie team came away with a plan to realize the potential of the Beech-Nut site in a larger network of regional cultural and recreational resources based on its proximity to both the Mohawk River and an existing bike trail that connects different historic sites.



Fresno’s Mariposa Plaza Revitalization

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A view of Mariposa Mall from the northwest side of the neighboring Pacific Southwest Building.

Downtown Fresno has many changes right around the corner and as they quickly become a reality, Mariposa Plaza—a prominent public space that is surrounded on all sides by new construction projects for Fulton Mall, the High Speed Rail station and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) station— risks being left behind. To keep this from happening, Gretchen Moore from Downtown Fresno Partnership, Jenna Chilingerian from the Office of Community and Economic Development at Fresno State, Sheila Hakimipour from Urban Diversity Design, and Lupe Perez from the City of Fresno brought the project to SCDA. With BRT and High Speed Rail coming to the immediate vicinity by 2018, and recommendations from a 2012 SCDA charrette  beginning to be implemented, the project team realized that Mariposa Plaza would become a very noticeably dilapidated public space if a design or programming plan isn’t put in place.

An overlay showing Mariposa Plaza’s various elements.

The team developed a vision that leverages Mariposa Plaza’s location at the center of the ongoing Fulton Mall and BRT redevelopment and upcoming HSR development to create a signature community gathering space at the crossroads of the area’s cultural spine—Fulton Street—and industrial spine—Mariposa Street. As part of their vision for this sustainable community space, the Fresno team wants to create both indoor and outdoor flexible gathering spaces to showcase the diversity of local Fresnan arts and cultures, create greening opportunities (e.g. increased tree canopy and community gardens), create a tangible connection to the Central Valley’s significant agricultural industry by planting fruit and nut trees, and incorporate sustainable technologies such as wind towers and solar collectors as appropriate. By doing this they hope to create a space that is inviting and attractive both during organized events and when ‘at rest’ and to start conversations between Fresno’s diverse communities through public art.


Wichita’s Project Downtown: Douglas & Market

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The Pop-Up Urban Park at the former location of “the Hole” in Downtown Wichita.

The team from Wichita, Kansas—composed of Jason Gregory of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Scott Knebel from the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department, Mike Ramsey from Bokeh Development, and Tyler Swehla from the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation—came to SCDA 16 with a goal of repopulating vacant and underused buildings and spaces and encouraging more live-work-play dynamics in Wichita’s downtown. With a successful public-private-partnership, the Wichita team has made great strides in taking a vacant lot (at one time affectionately referred to as “the Hole”) and turning it into a very popular pedestrian destination downtown. One of the most important issues for the team was how to replicate this successful pilot project at scale in the downtown, while also finally developing Wichita’s first Class A office new construction in decades.

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Two sketches of potential features for a more permanent urban park in the McAllister District.

At SCDA the team worked to come up with visions for more permanent public spaces downtown, as well as strategies to get more people out of their cars and moving through the downtown on foot. First and foremost, the team recognized that Wichita needs to be more competitive and attract more residents. One potential way to do this was to tap into local pride, via usage of the Wichita flag, which was designed by local artist Cecil McAllister. This led them to create the new name for the project area: ‘The McAllister District.’ Second, the team acknowledged the perceived limitations of Wichita’s existing public transit infrastructure: lack of system-wide funding, inadequate bus route configuration, and a system that doesn’t meet peoples’ needs. That, coupled with the abundance of free street parking throughout the downtown and the lack of traffic congestion, has created a culture of moving through the downtown by car, even between destinations that are only a few blocks apart. This culture, in turn, has divorced Wichitans from the intimacy that comes from walking through a downtown and interacting with city blocks at a more pedestrian scale. The team realized that one potential way to change the culture is through a pay-for-parking intervention which might encourage people to park once and walk or bike after that, which could help provide more active engagement with the downtown. In addition, they hope to help change the culture by hosting walkabouts and bikeabouts in the downtown.

The Sustainable Cities Design Academy was established in partnership with United Technologies Corp. (UTC) in 2009. AAF thanks UTC for its generosity as the presenting sponsor of this program.

AAF is dedicated to the vibrant social, economic, and environmental future of cities. To support this mission, click here. To  learn more about this session or for more information on the Sustainable Cities Design Academy, contact Center for Design and the City Director Elizabeth Okeke-Von Batten at or Program Manager Daniel Tana at

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Posted in: Affordable Housing, Center for Design & the City, Civic Leaders + Government, Community Engagement, Creative Placemaking, Design Leadership, Economic Development, Partnerships, Print, Sustainability, Sustainable Cities Design Academy

The American Architectural Foundation has been dedicated to advancing the role of architecture and design in American society since its founding in 1943 by the American Institute of Architects.

In its 75 years in existence the Foundation’s work has taken many forms — from educational programming and exhibitions in its early years to large-scale design initiatives and programs —all of which serve to create a rich legacy.

As the managing partner of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design for twenty years, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Conference of Mayors, the Foundation helped move the needle on design and cities. And, through its other signature programs like Save America’s Treasures in partnership with National Parks Service, the Sustainable Cities Design Academy, and Design for Learning, the Foundation has provided critical design leadership training and technical assistance to hundreds of elected officials, education leaders, business leaders, and other key decision makers in the design process.

In recent years, cities and civic leaders have embraced design and design thinking in a way that could not have been imagined when the Foundation begin its work back in 1943 — and AAF’s role in this transformation is a source of great pride for the Foundation. With this increased interest in the role of design in shaping our cities came a proliferation of new organizations to support and facilitate this cultural shift. These advances in the role of design in American society and changes in the nonprofit design sector, coupled with the departure of the organization’s longest-serving CEO, prompted the Foundation’s Board to embark on an intensive and lengthy process to examine the ongoing role and work of the Foundation.

As the Board of Regents reflected on the positive changes of the cultural value of design, the accomplishments of the Foundation, and how the legacy of the Foundation’s work is being carried out by its former staff in new roles and organizations across the country, they reached the conclusion that the American Architectural Foundation had accomplished what it set out to do. As a result, the Foundation began to complete its remaining programs and wind down its operations in the Summer of 2018 and the organization’s endowments have been distributed to allied organizations. The Foundation’s research and reports will remain available on its website as a resource to the field.

The Foundation’s work would not have been possible without the incredible talents of its many staff over the decades, the generous support of its funders, and the tireless dedication of its civic & design partners across the country. The Board remains deeply proud of the significant contributions Foundation has made in its 75-year history and would like to acknowledge that this would not have been possible without the efforts, dedication, and support from so many of you.