In planning, years can pass between the completion of a plan and the changes on the ground. This can be especially true when a recommendation requires major capital spending, as is the case with park, road or building projects. In our work, we seek to ensure that our clients’ capacity to implement projects, programs or policies matches our recommendations and that clear implementation strategies are identified. The past few months have been an exciting time for Asakura Robinson’s Planning Studio as several of our projects have moved forward with implementation. Communities in Austin, Houston, and the Twin Cities area are taking steps towards supporting local businesses, incorporating public benefits into redevelopment, increasing walkability and mixed-use development, and centering communities in revitalization efforts.
Souly Austin District Strategies
For several years, our team in Austin supported the City of Austin Economic Development Department’s Souly Austin program, which focuses on encouraging and supporting the establishment of merchant’s associations in Austin’s historic, local commercial corridors. Our team assisted local business owners in the development of District Strategies for Austin’s North Lamar International District, East Cesar Chavez District, South Congress District, and the 12th Street District. Three of these districts have recently moved forward with recommendations developed in collaboration with business owners through the process we helped facilitate.
In the North Lamar International District, the North Lamar International Association (NLIMA) kicked off the first AsianEats Night Market on March 22nd and 23rd, which drew over 16,000 visitors. The district also installed street banners, signage and gateway elements that same week to promote district identity and wayfinding.
One June 22nd the East Cesar Chavez District celebrated the release of the East Cesar Chavez Field Guide which was developed through a series of community workshops. The guide includes interviews, stories, poetry, and other literary contributions highlighting the neighborhood’s unique history, businesses, residents, and characteristic murals.
A new 3-D installation by Austin artist Rory Skagen has been commissioned for Hudson’s Meats, a longstanding businesses in the South Congress District, which is set for completion by mid-October.
The fourth district, the 12th Street District, is home to our new office in Austin, and we’re excited to have become a dues paying member of the merchant’s association. We’re excited to continue collaboration with our new neighbors!
South Central Waterfront Redevelopment
Redevelopment is in the works for Austin’s South Central Waterfront, providing an opportunity for our team to continue work on implementation. In 2016 Asakura Robinson worked on the South Central Waterfront Vision Framework Plan with the City of Austin, in collaboration with McCann Adams Studio, EcoNorthwest and CMG and the City (download the final report here). The plan provides a roadmap for the development of this key waterfront area, including physical, finciancial, and city leadership frameworks.
Since the adoption of the plan, redevelopment of the area’s largest parcel, the former Statesman site, has been proposed using Planned Unit Development zoning. At almost 19 acres, the former Statesman site is the largest property in the 118-acre South Central Waterfront Vision Framework Plan area. The redevelopment proposal includes over 6 acres of mixed-use development and 12.5 acres devoted to public uses including a waterfront park and connections to the hike and bike trail. The development’s master plan includes improved connections to these trails and to the plan’s street grid.
In order to assist the City with creating the implementation tools needed to provide the plan’s public benefits, Asakura Robinson, along with McCann Adams Studio and EcoNorthwest, is collaborating with the City to support the creation of a TIF district, opt-in overlay zoning, and a local development corporation. We are excited to continue work on this project that has the potential to dramatically re-shape the use and character of this portion of the riverfront while providing benefits to the community.
Implementation is moving ahead with two of Asakura Robinson’s projects on Houston’s west side. In Westchase District, Asakura Robinson’s landscape architecture studio has been hired to develop a master plan for the first phase of the District’s Promenade which will unify the pedestrian experience on the District’s east side. A key recommendation of Asakura Robinson’s 2018 Westchase Livable Center Study (downloadable here), the Promenade is a catalytic public investment that will help attract mixed-use development to the area.
The Promenade will connect key destinations to on-street bike facilities, trails, and parks that are in design or under construction. Asakura Robinson is working with stakeholders to identify project partners and to develop a design concept and recommendations for phasing and implementation of The Promenade’s initial section. Our next steps include design of temporary interventions and programming to activate the space and build momentum towards a permanent design. It is particularly exciting for us to embark on the design phase of a project with such strong continuity from the planning phase.
Revitalization Plan for Gulfton-Sharpstown
In the nearby Gulfton-Sharpstown area, community members and partner organizations are implementing several recommendations made by Connect Community: A Revitalization Plan for Gulfton-Sharpstown, which Asakura Robinson completed in 2019 after 2.5 years in collaboration with over 70 organizations, stakeholders and community leaders. The plan recommended four key near-term priority projects, three of which are currently underway. View the final report here.
Design and implementation are underway for the Westward, High-Star Bikeway Project, a 2-mile high-comfort bikeway that will connect 5 schools and 12 apartment complexes to area transit hubs, social service agencies and nonprofits and promote street life. A rigorous corridor analysis and public design process is currently taking place for Hillcroft Avenue in pursuit of this goal.
Connect Community and neighborhood partners are advancing the development of a kitchen incubator that will continue to strengthen Gulfton-Sharpstown as a cultural cuisine destination by supporting the area’s restaurateurs. This project is moving ahead in conjunction with the development of the Connect Community Hub Phase II, which will include a YMCA, teen-focused Legacy Community Health Clinic, shared workspace for multiple non-profits and a training kitchen and cafe/coffee bar. This project will be constructed at St. Luke’s Church Gethsemane campus, next to the Connect Community Hub Phase I building on the KIPP CONNECT campus.
A multicultural community center campus, “Gulfton Green,” is undergoing a development master plan, led by Perkins + Will, in the Gulfton-Sharpstown neighborhood.
The planning process includes adjacent property owners and the Houston Parks Board who are striving to identify opportunities to expand public space and greenspace by coordinating multiple redevelopment efforts happening in adjacent parcels. The goal is to leverage disaster recovery funding through a development master plan to bring mixed income housing and shared-parking facilities to the site, and to improve public realm connections to the adjacent neighborhoods. The Westward, High-Star Bikeway Project (mentioned above) would connect the site to the dense core of Gulfton that lies just east of Hillcroft. It is exciting to see these projects take on a life of their own as the community and partner organizations dig into the details of the plan’s recommendations.
Historic Walker Lake Facade Improvement Grants
The City of St Louis Park, directly west of Minneapolis, is moving ahead with recommendations from The Historic Walker Lake Revitalization Plan that we completed just a few months ago. In early June, Hennepin County’s Business District Initiative awarded St. Louis Park $50,000 for a facade improvement grant program that will encourage and assist business owners in the Historic Walker Lake district to make improvements to their buildings in accordance with Asakura Robinson’s guidelines. Participants in the program will contribute to the District’s revitalization by improving overall building aesthetics, establishing a cohesive visual identity for the area, and boosting attractiveness to pedestrians and customers. View the completed Walker Lake report here.
We’re excited that all of these projects are moving ahead, and can’t wait to experience the transformation of these places into more livable, resilient, and equitable communities.