I just returned from the Fall Roundtable of the National Town Builders Association (NTBA) in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. The NTBA is a great group of Town Founders and Developers who work hard to built walkable traditional neighborhoods and places. This is not always an easy task compared to conventional suburban sprawl oriented development, but it is worth it. I highly recommend this group to all my clients, there is a lot to learn from each other and their projects which helps everyone, including us architects and planners. Visit their website for more information at https://ntba.net
This Roundtable was focused on building urban retail. Retail is somewhat of black art that follows certain rules that you really need to know about, especially on the design & planning side. We spent three and a half days touring a wide range of projects, having interesting presentations and doing peer review of current projects.
First up was a tour and presentation about a New Urbanist project outside Louisville called Norton Commons. This is a large DPZ designed project that has been building for awhile now and has a strong urban town center with a good mix of retail, office and residential. Their vision and investment in the town center has been valuable to the developer on its own as well as really helping to define the value of the larger community and raise the value of the single family residential area. http://nortoncommons.com
Many of our presentations and case studies focused on commentary from Robert Gibbs from Gibbs Planning Group. http://www.gibbsplanning.com Bob is widely considered a leading expect on urban retail especially with in the New Urbanist development world. Bob has a great book out that breaks down the do’s and don’ts for retail planning and design. I’ve worked with Bob on a few projects over the years and I’ve learned a lot about the design needs of retail from him. I highly recommend his book if you haven't read it.
One of the most interesting points of our tours was a walking tour and presentation about the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati. The ORT area was a historically dense part of the city but has really struggled in the last 20 years leaving the area in extremely poor shape and crime ridden. This is a great case study in the public-private relationships needed to pull an area this bad pack into one of the hot markets in Cincinnati (more on this later). A presentation by the public redevelopment group, 3CDC was telling and tells an amazing story of a building by building struggle. It also high lights the need for the great corporate business community to really take charge of their city and lead by example. I truly think relying on City government to rebuild and re-plan plighted areas by itself is wishful thinking. The best city plans have always come from (sponsored by) the business community historically.
We also visited the Mariemont Neighborhood which is a planned street car neighborhood designed by the legendary planner John Nolan. Mariemont is an interesting study in design, balancing nature and green space with a walkable town center and neighborhood plan. Also interesting was the new development which (surprisingly for me) was very respectful in terms of its architecture. It clearly wasn't a bad copy of the traditional architecture of the time of the original Nolan plan (English picturesque) but kept the language of the neighborhood while moving it forward in a tasteful way.
Lastly, we spend time studying a brand new Town Center project, Liberty Center. This is a new style large retail driven project that also had some office space and a limited about of multifamily units. This is a sharp contrast to the gritty Over-The-Rhine area and I am going to talk about some lessons learned in a separate blog post soon.