Article by Claudia Ray of GAI Consultants
In evolving districts of St. Petersburg, FL, GAI’s Community Solutions Group engages with local stakeholders to craft a vision for the community’s future.
If a project’s goal is to make a community more livable, the best and most sustainable ideas for improvement can often come from the community itself. When the City of St. Petersburg, FL contracted GAI’s Community Solutions Group (CSG) to create an enhanced streetscape and neighborhood plan for its Warehouse Arts District and Deuces Live Main Street, we looked for guidance from the people who live in, work in, and visit the areas.
Developing districts in need of improved infrastructure
The Warehouse Arts District is a historically industrial area that has seen growing activity by local artists and independent businesses including galleries, distilleries, breweries, and light industry. Deuces Live Main Street (a nine-block stretch of the city’s 22nd Street South) is an adjoining commercial thoroughfare dotted with restaurants, small businesses, churches, and community services.
Originally configured to serve rail and truck traffic, the Warehouse Arts District needs to better accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, and transit, including a growing influx of visitors attracted by popular events such as the district’s monthly ‘ArtWalk.’ The Deuces Live Main Street needs infrastructure enhancement to revitalize the corridor, preserve its heritage as a center of the local African American community, and better serve businesses, consumers, and visitors. The improved streets and neighborhood plan needs to offer both areas safer circulation for people within their respective footprints and better connection to the larger community.
Giving the people what they want
Seeking public input and consensus is a results-driven approach that GAI’s CSG follows in our community planning projects. While some planning firms design in the isolation of an office and then present a completed proposal to possibly unreceptive community stakeholders, we work directly with the community from the start.
The joint streetscape, open space, and neighborhood enhancement plan for the Warehouse Arts District and Deuces Live Main Street used a series of public engagement meetings to gather community members’ impressions of the current state of the project area, identify opportunities for improvement, and determine how to make those improvement ideas into reality.
Streetscape and public space plan emerges
Our first step is analysis to define the project area—this includes taking measurements, photographing buildings and public spaces, stakeholder interviews and walking tours, and detailed Geographic Information System (GIS) inventory of various assets. Then we start the ‘listening and understanding’ phase of our work in which we present the data we’ve assembled to a committee of community members and gather their input on ways to move ahead.
The first task of the community committee is to adopt ‘guiding principles’ that the plan will follow—this framework keeps the process on track and defines the project focus and goals.
The committee then works together to determine what elements of the project area they value most, what must be improved, what should be preserved, and where there are opportunities to transform. During the Warehouse Arts District/Deuces Live Main Street meetings, these opinions were represented visually in the form of red and green stickers on various photos and maps of the project area as well as relevant examples from other cities. We also worked with the community to select designs for elements like benches, trees, signage, lighting fixtures, bike stands, and more.
A picture of community goals and opportunities begins to emerge from these exercises, and additional meetings including bus and walking tours strengthen consensus by helping participants clearly visualize where and how the proposed transformations will exist in the real-world environment.
Growing a cohesive community from the inside out
This inclusive process has enabled GAI’s CSG to create a streetscape/public space action plan for Warehouse Arts District and Deuces Live Main Street that is shaped by the community and honed by our professional guidance and expertise.
The action plan includes park space and tree-lined streets with pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, cycling lanes, and improved on-street parking. The plan also preserves and features signature buildings like the Manhattan Casino and Royal Theater and enhances the project area’s connection with the Pinellas Trail, a signature St. Petersburg cycling trail and public space that winds through the community for several blocks. The plan also discusses the urban form of the area and how to guide incremental change over time, so that each measure of investment (public or private) can build toward the vision. The Warehouse Arts District/Deuces Live Main Street action plan concludes with detailed guidelines for project implementation.
A formula for sustainable success
The joint Warehouse Arts District/Deuces Live Main Street streetscape and public space action plan responds to neighborhood perspectives about the past, present, and future. The plan identifies more than 30 public-realm infrastructure projects and programs that will support the community’s upward social, cultural, and economic potential while building a more livable physical environment.
Our inclusive approach to planning considers a community’s heritage, history, and unique sense of place while positioning a complex urban district for future growth, ongoing sustainability, and improved livability for all who call the community home.
Contact Urban Designer Claudia Ray, 321.319.3094, for more information about the GAI Community Solutions Group’s urban design and planning, landscape architecture, and economics and strategy services.
GAI Wins American Planning Association Award for Warehouse Arts District/Deuces Live Action Plan
On May 9, 2018, GAI’s work for the City of St. Petersburg, FL was recognized with the APA Florida Sun Coast section’s Public Outreach and Engagement Award for 2018.
GAI Urban Designer Claudia Ray (center) and Warehouse Arts/Deuces Live Main Street project contributors accept the APA Florida award. L-r: Fathy Abdalla, Kisinger Campo & Associates; Veatrice Farrell, Deuces Live; Hannah Sowinski, Kisinger Campo & Associates; Gina Marie Fonti, Raw Studios; Claudia Ray, GAI; Mary Jane Park, Warehouse Arts District Association; Brian Caper, City of St. Petersburg