Southern Downtown's New Public Realm Plan
Revitalizing Downtown isn’t just accomplished with mega office developments and high-rise luxury apartments. Asakura Robinson hit the streets of Southern Downtown to discover ways the space between buildings can have a major impact on the area. The result: the Southern Downtown/CBD Public Realm Plan. The Downtown Houston Management District’s Angie Bertinot (center, between colleages Laura Van Ness and Bob Eury) tells us the area actually has a number of interesting spaces, small plazas, public art, and green space that aren’t well activated. But it also has many barriers, blank walls, vacant lots, and (most importantly, Asakura Robinson believes) a lot of uniformity.
The Public Realm Plan includes six strategies. 1) Mix it up a little—classify streets by predominant mode of travel and making improvements accordingly. Some roads might get separated bike lanes, and pedestrian-heavy routes might get more benches. Angie tells us one street is already getting updated—the District's Main Street Improvement project stretches down to Pierce and will begin early next year. 2) Program and design distinctive parks and open spaces. That includes developing a new park around the area of most residential development (Angie says it's still in early planning), and improving programmatic elements at existing spaces. 3) Beautify private corporate plazas. Asakura Robinson created a set of voluntary design guidelines to help architects and property managers get the most out of their public-private spaces.
4) Address vacant lots and blank walls. This is especially important in streets designated as pedestrian-priority, and includes landscaping, green walls, and public art to make the area livelier. 5) Connect beyond the borders. There’s activity in the Fourth Ward, Midtown, and EaDo, but southern Downtown is cut off from it all. 6) Get something going in the far southeastern corner of Downtown, which has yet to see development pressures like the rest of the CBD. The Public Realm Plan calls for temporary but productive land use in the meantime—like urban farming or public art—that would improve the perception of the area until development becomes more practical.