Every city wants to be more vibrant, sustainable, and equitable, with healthy and happy citizens and a flourishing economy. However, often the built environment in a community is not conducive to meeting these goals. Commercial corridors — characterized by many traffic lanes, fast speeds, narrow or missing sidewalks, and strip malls — are found in nearly every city and community in the U.S. and can create challenges to physical, mental, social, economic, and environmental health.
A two-year project spearheaded by ULI, and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Colorado Health Foundation, is taking an in-depth look at Demonstration Corridors in four U.S. cities—Boise, Idaho; Denver; Los Angeles; and Nashville. The Healthy Corridors project puts the health of the surrounding community front and center when looking to redesign, reconfigure, and redevelop these corridors, with the overarching goals of identifying approaches that work for spurring real changes on the ground and growing a community of practice around effective approaches to creating holistically healthy corridors.
Expert Visits Help Guide Demonstration Corridors towards a Healthier Future
In January and February of 2016, the four Demonstration Corridors held 3-day National Study Visits, where experts in fields including transportation, economic development, health, planning, and design—as well as members of the other Corridors’ Local Leadership Groups—provided recommendations for key issues facing each corridor’s quest to become a healthier place. The key issue questions were developed by each Local Leadership Group based on the summer 2015 Local Workshops and other activities that have occurred over the past year.
The participant groups, joined by Local Leadership Group members, were briefed on activities that the local groups had undertaken over the past year, toured each corridor, conducted interviews with local stakeholders, and presented a set of recommendations to help each Demonstration Corridor move forward with implementation activities.
- How do we promote health along Charlotte Avenue?
- How do we bring together champions for change, and keep people engaged over the long haul?
- How can/should corridor improvements be funded and financed?
- What are quick wins/opportunities for immediate action?
The participants recognized that there is urgency in developing a comprehensively healthy strategy for Charlotte Avenue due to development pressures and obsolete infrastructure, and that addressing challenges—including a current emphasis on the automobile, limited options for fresh food, and insufficient infrastructure—would be easier to address prior to or concurrent with expected new development. Recommendations put forward by the participants include: a process for creating an entity (such as a Business Improvement District) that could manage the corridor redevelopment; enhancing connectivity along the corridor through strategies such as adding pedestrian and bike infrastructure, improving the current Bus Rapid Transit system, and utilize the current greenway plan to connect neighborhoods across the corridor; creating opportunities for new restaurants, grocery stores, and food education to bring healthy food to the corridor; and potential funding strategies, including private sector seed investment in the corridor organizing entity.
View final presentation.
- How can the three jurisdictions work together, specifically to promote health?
- What are the opportunities for new retail along the corridor?
- What types of funding and partnership strategies would be best?
- How can concerns about gentrification be addressed?
- What is the lead role for each stakeholder entity?
Participants recommended coalescing development around four activity nodes located at key intersections: one in the city of Denver, two in Adams County, and one in the city of Westminster. These nodes can be places to coordinate public investment and concentrate private development, craft unique identities, improve the retail opportunities along the corridor, and enhance the built environment. Other recommendations include: leveraging existing development and anchor institutions to better serve existing residents; using new infrastructure—such as medians, an enhanced roadway edge, and new connections to existing trails—to connect neighborhoods across the corridor; reducing traffic speeds to improve safety; addressing water capacity constraints with a comprehensive approach and upfront capital; and a dual-level approach to partnerships, critical with multiple jurisdictions involved, where elected officials set policy and a technical group focuses on implementation.
View final presentation.
Los Angeles, Van Nuys Boulevard. Creating a healthy Van Nuys, located in the LA neighborhood of Pacoima, through a focus on economic development and programming along the corridors is a critical concern of the local team. The questions the participants addressed included:
- In an economically and environmentally challenged, but culturally rich area, such as Pacoima, what are opportunities for improving the health and economic needs of the community, whether through providing jobs, services, or goods?
- How can Van Nuys Blvd property owners take advantage of the imminent opportunity presented by a proposed new transit line, and other investment in the corridor, in order to develop businesses now and prevent displacement in the future?
The participant team reviewed the assets and challenges of Van Nuys Boulevard; taking the corridor assets into account, the participants created a three pronged value structure for a Healthy Van Nuys Boulevard that highlights the strong arts and culture in the community, opportunity for change, and the diversity of the area. The team provided recommendations in three overarching categories: community health and development, economic development, and marketing strategies (“getting people to the boulevard”), with the value structure underlying specific recommendations, including programming ideas, the need to expand opportunities for local businesses through training and an organizational structure, and embracing social media and the arts to bring people to the corridor.
View final presentation.
Boise, Vista Avenue. Vista Avenue runs from the airport to downtown, and serves as a de facto “gateway,” which the local team is interested in capitalizing on to create a stronger identity for the surrounding neighborhoods. The key questions posed to the study visit participants included:
- How can the Vista corridor public infrastructure be re-configured to improve health & enhance the corridor’s function as a gateway?
- What are key place-making strategies that will create activity and drive on-going re-investment?
- What are successful processes to create and implement a corridor vision plan?
- How can corridor programming and improvements be funded or financed?
- What is the best organizational structure to champion this effort now and over the long haul?
The participant team discussed a set of recommendations to help emphasize the corridor’s role as a gateway and to create a healthier and more vibrant district. Infrastructure, land use, economic development, and a focus on culture, social connectivity, and health are all critical to achieve these goals. Key recommendations included reducing the number of travel lanes from five to three, implementing a form based code to regulate the design and placement of new and redevelopment businesses, and tackling quick wins to engage the community, such as public art or projects to help demonstrate corridor walkability.
View final presentation.