Once again, hope for the Rosemary District (a small, funky downtown Sarasota district in need of love) rises. Monitoring Facebook and local conversations, there is at once hope, and a loathing fear of the same action-free blah (density), blah (walkability), blah (affordable space for artists).
On December 10, Sarasota held an hour-long neighborhood meeting (covered in the Sarasota Patch here and video-recorded by the city here). Questions from the audience were thoughtful and varied, but focused on height/density, potential uses, and what can only be described as a yearning to figure out a vision for the neighborhood. So how would Rosemary get to a vision?
Vision-led planning tends to boil down to three basic questions:
- What do we have?
- What do we want?
- How do we get there?
Of course there are supporting questions along the way. Communities review strengths and weaknesses as well as threats and opportunities. A bevy of studies on carrying capacity and economics are needed to give a reality check to the wonderful, wild ideas that surface during the process. But the focus is on the three questions:
What do we have? – While often overlooked, this step inventories existing assets, plans, investments and maps. Asset-based community development is a growing field, in large part as a response to the drudgery of conventional, “put out fires” planning. Assets can be people (often assembled though a stakeholder mapping exercise), buildings, events, and even those things often regarded as “problems.” One of the values of asset mapping is that you often have “What do you want” right under your nose. This process also starts off on a position of strength.
What do we want? – This is the visioning part of planning. The key attribute here is the word “we.” Older models of problem solving called on technical experts to analyze problems and prescribe solutions. While still needed, the role of technicians is forward looking. Done well, visioning sets a vision statement (which can be more than one sentence, but not much more) that is the discussion anchor.
How do we get there?- This is the strategic planning for all manner of activities that make a community hum. The mandated comprehensive plan has traditionally been the convening document, but there are a lot of other steps that can happen to “get there.”
While there are plenty of communities who have rallied around an arts district, Bellingham Washington’s Art District seems to be a great model. We don’t have to follow their script to a tee, but it seems like their approach would be similar. Their Arts District is part of a larger downtown plan
- The conceptual plan was developed in conjunction with the Project for Public Spaces. This document lays out the what do we have/want/how to get there path. The placemaking map looks at the strong points, the concept design looks at investments and the implementation section lays out steps. The main focus is public investment in streetscapes and how to handle surface parking lots.
- Instead of jumping straight to density, the starting point is making a really great place. Sarasota always jumps straight to density, which should get figured out towards the end of the planning process, not the beginning. Density is not a vision, but a tool. For example, in the asset mapping phase, the community will likely identify a couple of landmark buildings that are 5 stories tall. If the community wants space for artists as part of the vision, then affordability is essential. The planning phase will determine the economic imperatives, the location, mix, and numbers of units. See, we just talked vision, character and implicitly - density. But density didn't lead - the vision did.
- One of the more interesting spaces in the Arts District is Make.Shift. Check it out.
If I were sticking around, I would do everything in my power to get the Project for Public Spaces here. Sarasota has played host to some of the most famous consultants and land use experts in the world. But PPS would focus on the streetscape, parks and public spaces. While at it, invite Jeff Speck who just wrote Walkable City. Tie in the North Trail and - BAM!