2013 director’s outlook
February 13, 2013
“The arrogance of success is to think that what we did yesterday is good enough for tomorrow.”
― William Pollard
In 2014, the City of Omaha’s Urban Design Element, created through a public-private partnership over a year-long process that began in 2003, will be 10 years old.
In terms of our community’s built and natural environments, a great deal of progress has been made during that time. We’ve seen the rise of two premier mixed use developments change the way their neighborhoods look, function and feel. We’ve seen local developers invest in older parts of the city by transforming neglected historic structures into modern housing options that serve as neighborhood hubs, all the while retaining their original character and charm. We’ve seen national retail and restaurant chains change their approach to local development projects by becoming context-appropriate neighborhood assets instead of eyesores.
We’ve seen the city’s planning department reinvest in its urban design division. We’ve seen neighborhood and civic groups form to advocate for green space and walkability and multi-modal transit. We’ve seen young Omahans base career choices, in part, on witnessing this progress firsthand, as evidenced by the introduction to this recent Project for Public Spaces blog entry.
We celebrate this growing current of urban design energy, this acceptance of the notion that the quality of a community’s built and natural environments directly affects its ability to recruit, retain and thrive. At the same time, we’re mindful of how easy it would be for complacency to set in, the “been there, done that” syndrome that allows you to think – in the words of William Pollard – that what you did yesterday is good enough for tomorrow.
Although many of Omaha’s Urban Design Element recommendations have become reality during the past decade, substantive items remain on the “to do” list. In addition, many of the recommendations outlined in the city’s new Envionmental Element – its vision for a sustainable future that fully embraces the urban design principles – remain to be tackled. More importantly, the institutionalization of this new way of doing business is still in process.
We’re here to help ensure the continuation of this process – to protect the urban design and environmental investment Omahans have made in their city and to educate those who are unfamiliar with the community’s vision for a sustainable future.
We’re also here to do what we do best – convene Omahans from all corners of the community to execute projects that will improve the quality of our built and natural environments so we can recruit, retain and thrive. A look at some of the items on the 2013 docket:
- We will – in partnership with the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency, the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resource District and the City of Omaha – develop a natural resources inventory for the region, which is useful for local government agencies in developing policies, informing land use decisions and identifying areas for natural resource conservation and management.
- We will develop a coalition to provide education and support for the creation and adoption of new redevelopment financing tools for Nebraska communities.
- We will promote the use of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) in the city’s existing business districts and neighborhoods; encourage city officials, employees and design consultants to obtain CPTED education and training; and work to include a CPTED certified individual in the city’s review process for public and private property.
- We will – in partnership with the City of Omaha – create a new historic Neighborhood Conservation Enhancement Overlay District provision that will provide the city’s historic neighborhoods with a mechanism for identifying those physical characteristics they feel are of special importance and creating form-based regulations to preserve and protect those features.
- We will provide leadership and program management to the Benson-Ames Alliance, a grassroots group of community leaders formed in 2005 to help revitalize its corner of the city.
- We will – in partnership with the Fontenelle View Neighborhood Association, the Benson-Ames Alliance and the City of Omaha – execute a residential curb appeal project on Ames Avenue. It will focus on rehabilitating the front facades and front yards of a block of single family homes across the street from Fontenelle Park.
- We will, in partnership with the Benson-Ames Alliance, seek additional funding for the planting and enhancement of downtown Benson’s east gateway, which will be constructed in 2013. The project will reconfigure the intersection where 58th Street, Northwest Radial Highway and Maple Street converge. The east gateway is part of an overall streetscape plan for the downtown Benson section of Maple Street launched by the Benson-Ames Alliance and its partners in 2008. The plan proposes changes in the design of the street that will make the district friendlier to pedestrians. It covers four areas—the street itself, public space, gateways and entrances, and sustainability.
- We will convene the Livability Roundtable, a regional group focused on transportation and housing initiatives that protect the environment, promote equitable development and help address the challenges of climate change. The group’s 2013 focus is on smart growth issues stemming from the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency’s Heartland 2050 planning process.
- We will continue to offer Place Game workshops free of charge to neighborhood and civic groups throughout the metro.
Our work plan is ambitious, but so are our friends, volunteers and donors. We know what we did yesterday isn’t good enough for tomorrow. Our city wants more, and we’re here to help make that happen.
- Connie Spellman