We’re excited to see phase three of the Robina Plaza project underway in the city of Berkley. For the past two years, we’ve partnered with the community to explore their vision of transforming the intersection of Robina at 12 Mile into a more pedestrian-friendly plaza. Learn more about the 2014 pop-up visioning here, and the 2015 design feedback project here.

pumpkinsRobina Plaza came about during the community’s master plan update process a few years ago. Through resident engagement and research, the intersection was identified as a potential catalyst for development; it could become “the place” people think of when they picture downtown Berkley and give people a place to hang out, host events, eat take out, run into friends, or just enjoy some quiet time.

Over the past few years, there has been positive support for converting the space into a pedestrian-only plaza, so this fall, the city temporarily closed the road and is testing traffic flow, parking, deliveries, how people use the space, and local business performance. The city closed one north and south block of Robina (keeping 12 Mile open, of course) on September 19 and is re-opening the road on November 18. Information the city and DDA collect during this time will inform what comes next for the space.

animal-showPop-up activity and testing out closures like this are crucial steps a community should take before making a big, long-term, and expensive decision to close a road permanently. We commend the city and local leaders for being open to this sort of creativity and really doing their research before making a final decision.

The Berkley Parks & Recreation department has taken the lead on activating the space. They put out furniture and decorations (some of which was rented from the League’s PlacePOP program) and are hosting numerous events throughout the closure.

Parks & Recreation Director Theresa McArleton said her department hosts about 15 major events each year in their community building and parks across the city. She said being right downtown in Robina Plaza supports a different and exciting vibe that has made their fall programming incredibly successful.

“The space is easily walkable from multiple neighborhoods, and kids from all elementary schools have participated in events,” McArleton said. “You can see parents excited to see each other and just relax in the seating we put out, while kids run around safely in this new fun hang out space. Seeing people use the space in these ways has been very gratifying.”

Collecting feedback

craftingThrough each event, organizers are doing their best to collect comments, feedback, concerns, and new ideas for the space. One of the biggest issues that has come up is who will maintain the plaza – who will keep the space clean, plants watered, and furniture tidy? Some nearby business owners are also concerned with who will be using the space during non-event times, how they’ll accept deliveries in the adjacent alley, and how the plaza will impact their business. All concerns they’re able to test out during this temporary closure.

Some residents are also having a hard time picturing what the space could look like in the future. The furniture and activities Berkley is using is a little make-shifty – which is low cost, fun, and eclectic – but also concerns some residents that the permanent changes would be similar.

To help future communities on this front, pop-up experts at Better Block just announced Wikiblock, a free, open-source toolkit of designs for benches, chairs, planters, stages, fences, and kiosks. If you don’t have a great carpenter in your community who has the time an energy to build all this from scratch, Better Block’s designs can be downloaded and taken to a makerspace where a CNC router (a computer programmed cutting machine) can cut them out of sheets of plywood in minutes.

Lessons

the-spaceSince McArleton and her team are doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the plaza, I asked her what tips she could share with other communities interested in doing a similar project:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to prepare – Berkley’s prep-period was a bit short because by the time they decided they wanted to test the closure this year, it was already late August. With more time upfront, communities can build an inclusive steering committee to help generate ideas, do outreach, and host events, which can make staff commitments lighter and possibly lead to better implementation.
  • Have a big launch party – Get people in the space right away so people know about the project and come back on their own. Fun and social launch parties with food tend to bring a crowd!
  • Make it family-friendly – If kids are happy, parents are happy. Programming kid-friendly events will be sure to get families in the space, but make sure parents and adults without kids are also welcome – because they’re the ones who will likely be spending money at the nearby businesses!
  • Be realistic & flexible – Like anything else, expect some people to dislike the activities, designs, and project as a whole. Try to pay attention to naysayers and dig deeper into the specific issues they’re having that can better inform the project’s implementation. Similarly, when people offer new ideas, really take them into consideration. If you can, test out the new idea and see what everyone else thinks.

After this test period is over in mid-November, the community will determine clear next steps and we’ll be sure to share updates on the project here on our placemaking page.

Grandmont-Rosedale-Baskin-Robbins-150x125 Grandmont-Rosedale-Cregars-150x125 Grandmont-Rosedale-I-Hop-150x125
Baskin-Robbins Cregar’s Pickwick House Restaurant IHOP

What??? You don’t see Baskin-Robbins, IHOP, and Cregar’s Pickwick House Restaurant in these photos??? I do!

I grew up in the North Rosedale Park neighborhood of Detroit’s Grandmont Rosedale area. The section of Grand River Avenue between Warwick and Evergreen was my commercial playground. In my mind’s eye, my friends and I are riding our bikes up to Baskin-Robbins – almost every day the first summer it opened. After school, we’re walking over to Cregar’s Pickwick House Restaurant and ordering up a Coke and fries at the counter. And on Saturday mornings, we’re heading to IHOP with our families to try out all their scrumptious varieties of pancakes and syrup.

2016-4-15-Charette-audience-300x200That’s what I was thinking about as I attended the April 15 kick-off of the CNU Legacy Charette for Grandmont Rosedale. It was held at Bushnell Congregational Church – where I enjoyed many junior high dances with Kathy, Joann, Zachary and all my other Cooke School friends. Some of the people in attendance remembered those days, but all were interested in making that stretch of Grand River Avenue vibrant again.

2016-4-15-Charrette-presenters-300x200More than 50 residents and business owners attended the session, which began with a presentation by two urban planners from Florida-based Dover, Kohl & Partners. The project called “Making Grand River Avenue more walkable, bikeable and accessible” was lead by Dover, Kohl & Partners and local support came from Design Team Plus, Hall Planning & Engineering Inc. The project sponsor was the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation and CNU.

The first order of business was to gauge the type of commercial corridor street design that appealed to the audience. The planners presented photos of a variety of street scenes, which people could vote on with electronic clickers. Not surprisingly, streets with attractive storefronts, lush landscaping, wide sidewalks, and safe crosswalks were the hands-down winners.

Next, the participants met in small groups to discuss their desires for Grand River Avenue. With large aerial maps of the area at each table, the men and women got busy sketching out ideas and creating lists of their top five priorities. After an hour, each group presented their priority lists, which contained a lot of similarities. Among the most common themes were:

  • Calming measures for Grand River, such as a boulevard or angled parking in the median
  • Safe, well-marked crosswalks
  • Attractive storefronts and interesting businesses to draw people to the area
  • Wide sidewalks
  • Beautification features, such as landscaping and public art

The public design workshop continued throughout the weekend. Now, the planners from Dover, Kohl & Partners will review all the input they gathered and presented a more refined plan at CNU 24 in June.

As the weather turned warmer and sunnier late this week, Theresa Zajac knew she had trouble on her hands. As Vice President of the Southwest Detroit Business Association, she was working to convene a group of neighborhood residents, business owners and other interested parties to discuss housing needs and redevelopment of vacant land on Friday evening, as part of the Congress for the New Urbanism’s Legacy Charrette program. The event was scheduled to take place at a local high school, but she was afraid the weather would make it unlikely that many people would choose to be inside on a beautiful summer-like Friday night. So she thought on her feet, reaching out to local business owners and invited guests to change the plan: the neighborhood meeting would be outdoors, on the patio of a local favorite bar.

Her last-minute change worked. A multiethnic, multigenerational and multilingual group of people who care about Southwest Detroit gathered in a casual, fun setting and got down to business. The topics they covered weren’t light: environmental justice, crime and low income housing, predatory housing speculators, immigration policy, the state system of funding cities, to name a few. But the setting andIMG_3421 the camaraderie enabled the group to tackle them with enthusiasm and optimism.

It’s an example of community engagement done well, a tricky accomplishment in today’s world of distractions competing for our time. The League has observed and participated in many of these efforts and we can say the same old public meeting, Monday night at city hall, often doesn’t work. It’s important to think differently if you truly want to get community conversations going. So be like Theresa and improvise a bit. And you can’t or don’t have time, ask your target audience to plan the party. Just don’t be surprised when they show up.

This work, called “Building affordable and market rate housing in Southwest without displacement,” is being done as a lead up to CNU24. The project was led by Dhiru Thadani from Washington D.C. with support from NederveldZimmerman/Volk Associates and City Form Detroit.

 

Designer Vinayak Bharne talks with Hazel Park residents about ways to improve their community as part of a CNU Legacy Project Tuesday.

Team Leader Vinayak Bharne of Moule & Polyzoides Archtects & Urbanisms talks with Hazel Park residents about ways to improve their community as part of a CNU Legacy Project Tuesday.

Hazel Park residents, city leaders and business owners got good news from an urban planner during a special design charrette kick-off meeting Tuesday. The news – Hazel Park has a tremendous market potential for restaurant growth and retail development.

Building on the highly successful and widely popular Mabel Gray restaurant could result in the economic boost Hazel Park leaders are seeking for the section of John R Road traversing through the heart of the southeastern Michigan city, said Bob Gibbs, urban planning and retail consultant director for Gibbs Planning Group of Birmingham.

This message came during the first of three days of an intensive design and planning charrette being done in Hazel Park by the Congress of the New Urbanism (CNU). It’s one of four such charrettes happening in southeast Michigan this week in conjunction with the international CNU 24 conference coming to Detroit in June.

Hazel Park residents participate in a CNU24 design charrette.

Hazel Park residents participate in a CNU24 design charrette.

The other three charrettes are April 15-17 in Pontiac and in two Detroit neighborhoods – Grandmont-Rosedale and Vernor Crossing. The work done at the charrettes will be presented to planners, architects, urban designers and municipal leaders at the CNU 24 in Detroit June 8-11, 2016 in what are being called Congress Legacy Projects. For details on the conference go to CNU24.org.

Gibbs’ market study was used as part of a much larger urban design strategy prepared by the lead design team from Moule & Polyzoides Architects & Urbanists from Pasadena, Calif. The entire project, called “Creating a walkable and connected downtown for Hazel Park,” was directed by MPA’s Vinayak Bharne with support from Madison Patrizi. The was work was two-fold – an urban design project and economic development strategy.

The team met with about 50 Hazel Park residents and supporters Tuesday, April 12, 2016, and told them the good news about their community’s development. Hazel Park, Gibbs said, has about 70,000 households and 160,000 people living in its primary trade area and about 200,000 people living within a short drive to the city’s restaurant district. A market analysis showed Hazel Park could support 165,200 square feet of retail. Specifically it could support 11,100 square feet of limited service eating, 10,300 of apparel and shoe retail; 15,000 square feet of general merchandise retail, 5,600 square feet of full-service restaurants, 21,200 of department store goods retail, 35,400 square feet of grocery retail, such as an open-air market.

“I was in an Ohio community recently and did a market study like this and their potential was a gas station and three vending machines,” Gibbs told the crowd Tuesday night. “Not all these market studies turn out as strong as this one in Hazel Park. It’s nice to know this community, in my own backyard, has such a large potential. Will this happen overnight? No. But it’s better to know you have the potential than no potential.”

Gibbs said main obstacles to creating this development is a lack of parking and the four-lane, pedestrian-unfriendly John R Road that goes through Hazel Park, Gibbs said.

Designer Bob Gibbs speaks about ways to improve Hazel Park during a CNU24 design charrette Tuesday.

Designer Bob Gibbs speaks about ways to improve Hazel Park during a CNU24 design charrette Tuesday.

To capitalize on this high density and potential customer base, Gibbs suggested the city look at narrowing John R – or putting it on a “road diet” – to allow for additional on-street parking much like Ferndale officials did on West 9 Mile in the early 1990s.

Designers, residents, business owners and city leaders will continue to spend today and Thursday working on the design plan that will be presented at the CNU conference in Detroit in June, said William Herbig, program director for CNU.

Hazel Park city leaders will also take the plan to help them make informed decisions on moving the city forward, said Hazel Park City Manager Ed Klobucher.

“This is about our quality of life here and improving our quality of life and believing that we deserve this,” said Jeff Campbell, assistant city manager and planning director.

Ten-year Hazel Park resident Jennifer Jackson is actively participating in the charrette and was inspired and excited at the end of the first day of work.

Hazel Park Congress Legacy Project in action.

Hazel Park Congress Legacy Project in action.

“Today was fun and it was nice to see someone else’s vision for a city similar to ours,” Jackson said referencing Gibbs’ presentation that showed the design worked implemented and planned in other communities, such as Petoskey and Marquette. “I really want to see Hazel Park become a destination and be able to service our residents more appropriately. Right now to do any type of entertaining or clothing shopping or going out to dinner we have to leave the city limits and go elsewhere. We go to Detroit, Ferndale, Royal Oak, but I’d like to be able to stay in my own community and spend our money here.”

Jackson was particularly excited to see the correlation of creating a more vibrant community to an increase in housing values, job creation and tax revenues.

“I liked being able to envision having a vibrant downtown in Hazel Park,” said Jackson, who is working with another woman to start up a farmers market in the city. “I liked the idea of the road diet because it would require traffic and people to slow down and stop and take a look at what’s around.”

For more information about placemaking go to placemaking.mml.org and for details on the CNU24 go to cnu24.org. (View additional photos here).

Matt Bach is director of media relations. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and (734) 669-6317.