Two Houston-based AR projects are among the winners of the newly announced 2021 APA Texas Chapter awards for best planning projects, advocates, and communities. AR also won APA nods in September from the Minnesota Chapter for two impactful projects in the Cities of St. Louis Park and Minnetonka.
American Planning Association – MN
AR won our first APA – Minnesota Chapter awards with two of our first projects in the state!
The Historic Walker Lake District Revitalization Plan, completed with the City of St. Louis Park and our project partner SRF, received a Success Stories in Implementation award, which seeks to honor projects that are currently serving as on-the-ground proof of good planning.
This plan addresses the challenges facing small businesses including development pressure, incompatible zoning standards, aging buildings, poor connectivity, opposing use patterns, and robust parking requirements. Since the plan’s adoption, public and private investment has been occurring in the area, including the redesign of Walker Street, Lake Street and Library Lane; a newly adopted zoning ordinance and design guidelines; installation of wayfinding signage; and the creation of a low-interest loan program and a façade grant program from the city to help fund building improvements in the area. The project was managed by Zakcq Lockrem with deputy project manager support from Meghan Skornia.
“Walker Lake stands out as a place where business owners and community members had already developed a strong vision for the future, but was struggling with the necessary steps to take to reach that vision,” Lockrem said. “Working closely with stakeholders on the specific trades offs that were necessary to achieve that vision laid the necessary groundwork to make the regulatory and programmatic changes that were needed to see implementation on the ground.”
The City of Minnetonka’s Opus Area Placemaking and Urban Design Implementation Plan, completed by AR and WSB, got a runner-up nod in the Planning in Context award category, focusing on local government’s ability to tailor a plan within its given context. While all plans should, and do, take their surroundings into account, this award recognizes plans that go above and beyond in the level of sensitivity of their surroundings, as well as the ability to embrace and take advantage of past, present or predicted aspects.
“It was clear from our first visit that Opus was a very different place that required very different thinking. Designed as a sort of development experiment in the 1960s, our goal was to elevate the existing design rather than replace it, all while making accommodations for changing land uses and the introduction of a new light rail station,” Lockrem added.
For this project, AR created a guide to leverage redevelopment opportunities at an office park originally envisioned as an ecologically-oriented live-work community. This guide includes a branding and wayfinding strategy for the trail system that will support future programming, from passive design to community meals using edible harvests from ecologically appropriate landscaping. Zakcq was supported by Kadence Novak and former AR employee Abi Phillips.
American Planning Association – Texas
The City of Houston’s Vision Zero Action Plan was awarded top honors (Gold!) in the Implementation category. This award recognizes efforts that demonstrate a significant achievement for an area in accomplishing positive changes as a result of planning.
The Vision Zero Action Plan was born from a desire for safer and more accessible streets and sidewalks. The City of Houston committed to ending traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030; the Vision Zero Action Plan is an effort of collaboration and leadership in engineering, enforcement, education, evaluation, and equity for mobility improvements.
The plan aims to provide guidance in street design by prioritizing safety and accessibility for people of all ages and abilities. Additionally, it is an implementation manual that instructs phasing, partnerships, and metrics. The City turned to AR, in collaboration with Core Design Studio, to provide graphic services including project branding, report design, and map creation. The goal was to make the plan reader friendly and effectively instruct future implementation. principal-in-charge Brendan Wittstruck and Project Manager Wei Xiao led the 5-month project, and the final plan is now an official City document which will be utilized for future uses.
“This is an action plan that all Houstonians need,” Xiao said. “I’m thrilled to be part of it, and I look forward to seeing Houston streets safer and more accessible to everyone. ”
The Montrose Livable Center Study won Silver in the Best Practice award category, a category that emphasizes results and demonstrates how innovative and state-of-the-art planning methods and practices help to create communities of lasting value.
This study was an 9-month process that created the first comprehensive, stakeholder-driven plan for Houston’s Montrose neighborhood that leverages past and current infrastructure improvements, improves pedestrian and bike infrastructure, access to transit, greenspace amenities, and housing and economic development into a unified vision and implementation plan.
Asakura Robinson, along with our sub-consultants UP Art Studio and Walter P. Moore, addressed ways the neighborhood could utilize street rights-of-way to provide multiple forms of benefits, including mobility, resilience, and recreation. The timeline of the project took place entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic and team members utilized a number of virtual engagement methods throughout the study. Former Principal Katie Coyne served as the project manager, with Wei Xiao as deputy PM and Zakcq Lockrem as the principal-in-charge.
“The Montrose Livable Centers Study was a chance for our team to dive into what we do best – thinking about and leveraging all of the unique and intersecting qualities that make neighborhoods thrive from mobility and green space, to affordable housing and arts and culture,” Coyne said. “Whatsmore, we were able to do this work for a neighborhood known for being the center of Houston’s counterculture and LGBTQ+ community, making this work even more personally impactful for many on our team and the community as a whole.”
The Texas Planning Awards Program recognizes outstanding efforts in planning achievements and planning leadership in Texas. These awards represent the state’s highest planning honors. The announcement of the Texas Planning Awards is one of the ways APA recognizes National Community Planning Month each October, a month-long event celebrating the accomplishments of the many residents, leaders, officials, and professionals who contribute to making great communities through the planning process.
For more information about AR projects, please visit our website at www.asakurarobinson.com. If you would like to talk about how we can work together, reach out to Marketing Manager Amanda Wheeless at firstname.lastname@example.org.