Study gives ideas for pedestrian spacesAugust 24, 2021
By CANDY NEAL
HUNTINGBURG — Some alleyways in downtown Huntingburg are being considered for remodeling so that more pedestrians can use them.
The alleyway activation program is included in the city’s comprehensive plan. But a recent placemaking study was done by Indiana University’s Center for Rural Engagement as part of the ongoing partnership between the center and the city.
Daniel Martinez, assistant professor of architecture at IU’s Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design, and some graduate students completed the study earlier this summer and gave that to city officials for their use. The department of architecture is the graduate program for the school and is based in Columbus.
“What we started doing in Huntingburg was looking for opportunities for creative reuse and renovation,” Martinez said. The study focused on the downtown core that had been remodeled.
“We took that as our area of focus,” he said. “And what we were looking for was voids, spaces that are neglected, that could be revitalized, that could be thought through in different ways to create public amenities. We looked at both exterior spaces and interior spaces, what buildings were in use. Were their storefronts, upstairs spaces that might be converted into apartments or other uses, as well as alleyways or empty lots that maybe could be reimagined as something else.”
Placemaking is the idea of turning a space or a location into an area that people want to congregate at and visit.
“A space within a city isn’t always necessarily already a place that people want to be,” Martinez said. “What are those elements that create quality public space and turns it into a place of gathering? A lot of the times it has to do with a feeling that there’s an invitation for you to linger. Is there a seating that might invite you to stay for a while? What are the qualities of lighting or greenery there? Is there an artwork that makes you pause?”
The study was funded through a grant program sponsored by rural engagement and the ServeDesign Center at the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design. The grant program is geared toward placemaking projects in rural areas that are in a partnership program with rural engagement, such as Huntingburg.
Martinez and the graduate students worked with local stakeholders, including city officials and OFS representatives. They looked at the two-block downtown area to see what areas could be spotlighted.
One of the focal points ended up being the former Huntingburg Bank. “When you look at the history, it’s interesting,” Martinez said. “It actually only served as a bank for about four years. The rest of its nearly 100-year history, it got readapted for other uses. It’s been vacant for a while.”
The alleyway near the bank runs toward the Memorial Gym area. And across from the bank is an open area. “It’s next to what was formerly a larger Latin grocery,” Martinez said. “There is still a bodega that you can access on the back. And there’s a kind of wider space between the (Yard Goat Ale) brewery in that bodega. We thought that’s an anomaly in the city’s urban fabric, as we call it. This is an interesting situation. Let’s see how we can imagine it.”
He and the graduate students worked on the study during the spring and early summer, producing design ideas for those exterior and interior spaces. There are three main ideas in the completed plan.
One is to create visual markers on alleyways, especially the one that runs toward Memorial Gym.
“We used the name of the town, which we feel is iconic because there’s only one Huntingburg, and then a series of geometric patterns that can be applied using stencils and paint onto existing asphalt of alleyways,” Martinez said. “That way, you create a marker that could attract maybe pedestrians to use it more often, thereby trying to create more visual link between the gymnasium and the Fourth Street business corridor. And that cool pattern also can sometimes be used to even incorporate games, like a game of hopscotch or something like that if you’d like.”
Martinez and his students also looked at how alleyway spaces between buildings could be developed into public gathering places. “We did this by putting forth proposals to resurface the ground with pavers that incorporate public artworks in the form of murals,” he said, “and lighting installations that would span between buildings, as well as custom seating and moveable planters to create almost like an intimate garden setting around the seating. This could be used for, for instance, spill-out space for the restaurants that are operating, and businesses in the area.”
A larger-scale proposal in the study suggests that the former bank could be repurposed as a market space. “It could be a place where you might have five or six vendors that can rent kiosks there, thereby sharing the cost of what could be a more expensive space to rent,” Martinez said. “Not all vendors can afford brick and mortar. So it can be a kind of catalyst for smaller businesses.”
Other ideas could also be incorporated into the market space, Martinez proposed. “Could there be a shared commercial kitchen adapted in there, for instance?” he said. “Could you have places to sit around the vendors? Could could this all come together over time, this enhanced public space with seating and artworks, as well as communal space together in a historic building in the form of a market?”
City officials are looking into how the study results will fit into its alleyway activation program.
“There are a lot of moving parts going on right now to get it to where we can implement those,” said Rachel Steckler, the city’s director of community development. “But nothing has started yet.”
At this time, a couple of alleys are being looked at, including the one near the bank and another next to Mama T’s Steakhouse. The city recently purchased some alley space from the Huntingburg Methodist Church, with the idea of enhancements for pedestrian use in mind.
But it is in the research phase.
“Nothing has been done yet. Nothing has been approved by the board of public works yet or anything like that,” Steckler said. “OFS did create the stencils, so we have those. But as far as budgeting and planning purposes, we just we haven’t moved forward with any of that yet.”
Martinez is open to being involved with the implementation of the study idea, whether that is directly or indirectly.
“I foresee us continuing to work with Huntingburg,” he said. “I would assume that the designs would develop and change over time. We see the early design studies as cementing the overall concept, getting folks to see something that doesn’t yet exist in a space and giving them a preview of what it might be like if we were to implement strategies like these.
“If the excitement and desire is there, then we can use those initial studies to begin to apply for grants or seek investors, donors, that kind of thing.”
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