Sunday, July 28, 2013

ReThinking the City: Main Streets and Town Halls


ReThinking the City is a monthly symposium on new ideas and updates in urban ism held at Urban ReThink ( 625 E. Central Ave, Orlando, Florida). The June 25th meeting featured a remote presentation by Hesse McGraw, curator of the innovative Carver Bank Town Hall Project in Omaha Nebraska, which seeks to create a space for public participation and creativity. Also presenting was Pauline Eaton, curator of Orlando's Main Street USA program, on how the program is developing and helping local communities. Eliza Harris tried to get the Skype hook up working but there were several tech issues that kept us from connecting to Omaha.

Pauline Eaton stepped in and told us about the Main street USA program while folks struggled with the computer. Founded in 1980, there are now 2000 Main Street programs nation wide.  There are about 5 different neighborhoods that are a part of the Main Street USA Program, like, Ivanhoe Village, Mills 50 District etc. The Milk District is spearheading its own neighborhood initiatives, learning from the developments in other neighborhoods. The point of the program is to improve the urban feel of the neighborhoods. It can be as simple as adding a bike rack to painting utility boxes pretty colors. The "BAT Team" is the mayor's better assistance team. The dream of pie in the sky ideal initiatives and then settle for what can be done with the present politics. Pauline joked that the "R&D" department, (Rip off and Duplicate) will take ideas that work in other cities and hope to duplicate them in Orlando. Orlando is a urban area designed for keeping automobiles moving quickly. The primary concerns are usually automotive sight lines. There was some lamenting that sometimes the only way to make improvements is to wait for incumbent politicians to die or leave office. Scottie Campbell who works for Ivanhoe Village was surprised to find that there are Main Street groupies who admire the work that is done. He felt like a rock star for the night.

The computer link to Omaha started working and Hesse McGraw showed us a slide show of the renovation to the first African American Bank in Omaha. Volunteer labor was leveraged to bring the building back as an active creative community hub. Old high school gym flooring was used to cover all the floorboards.. Slate from chalk boards was also used throughout the 100,000 square foot space. The building now offers residencies for artists. There are 15,000 applicants a year for 35 spots. The residency challenges artists to think of how their work effects and engages the community. Lamont Hamilton took 75 photo portraits of living artists he considers iconic. There is a sandwich shop inside and a mix of gallery and office space. I couldn't help but think of how similar the place sounds to the Urban ReThink ideal. Eliza spoke to me about her hope that someday local artist's work would welcome people arriving to Orlando in the airport. It would be awesome to get work in front of so many new fresh eyes. Now the work starts researching how to make that vision a reality.

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