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Downtown Brilliance by Heather Lebus More and more across the nation, Landscape Architects, city planners, and engineers are collaborating to restore the historic grandeur and colorful vibrancy of deteriorating boulevards and avenues. Consequently, the architectural shape, orientation, and placement of street luminaires and furnishings have become a prevailing strategy to change drivers' and pedestrians' perceptions--and--use of streetscapes around the country. Indeed, while helping to counteract decline and rejuvenating downtown activity, the placement of historically reminiscent light poles influences modern-day perceptions and enjoyment of nostalgic days gone past. Downtown is still the center of activity for the town of Marion, Virginia, which boasts a population of 6,630. Many businesses have been in the district for decades, so renovations have occurred during the years, and newer structures have been added. Consequently, the district lacks a definite architectural style. "Marion's building heyday was during the 1920s and 1940s, so we have a pretty mixed bag of building styles downtown," explains Main Street Marion Program Executive Director Kenneth Heath. "You'll see a vintage 1890s building, walk on down the street and see something along the Swiss Tudor line, and then in the next block there's Art Deco." When returning the streets to their original splendor, city planners wanted a classic lamppost to replace 1960s-style aluminum poles. Heath elaborates, "I knew that we couldn't go with something that was obviously from a certain period, so a classic style pole was the perfect choice." Heath selected two architectural firms to assist with planning the new streetscape. Marion-based Dewberry and Davis serves as the architectural firm of record, while Hill Studio of Roanoke recently came on board as Landscape Architects. Architects Doug Covington, Glenn Stach, and David Hill have formulated a streetscape plan that doesn't lend itself to any particular style. Covington, of Dewberry and Davis, along with Hill and Stach, both Landscape Architects with Hill Studio, have crafted a plan that incorporates brick paved sidewalks, decorative lampposts and street trees. A Visioning Task Force comprised of downtown merchants and other community leaders began formulating the plan for the revitalization back in 1995. Task force members knew they wanted trees, pedestrian-friendly lighting, and brick paved sidewalks. Covington brought the Hill Studio on board because of its reputation for working on streetscapes. "I've worked on many main street projects over the years throughout the Appalachian region, spanning from South Carolina to Virginia," Hill reports. "The project in Marion is a comprehensive uplift. The town still has enough of the downtown fabric that you don't see in many small towns. Businesses in downtown Marion have lived right through the last several decades." The first phase of the project was to upgrade the street lighting to a more pedestrian friendly decorative lighting. Currently, stark aluminum poles light the thoroughfare. "The current lighting was implemented back in the 1960s to light the streets--not to light the sidewalks," explains Heath. "It's very functional, but it doesn't give you the downtown feeling we're looking for on this project. The new Hapco Granville posts we selected are black, yet made from aluminum, so this isn't a high-maintenance decorative feature. We kept the functionality, but gained the decorative aspect." The city is pleased with the successful renovation, which captures the essence of Marion's diverse history while encouraging the modern-day "hustle-and-bustle" of downtown. Similarly, city planners in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa are working to restore the historic brilliance of their hometown. Around the turn of the century, downtown Council Bluffs served as the central gathering point for farmers bringing their produce to sell. This three-block area was called Haymarket Square, and constituted a hub of activity as farmers sold fruit, vegetables, and hay. Until recently, the Haymarket area suffered from a run-down look; today, a dynamic group of designers hope a streetscape renovation will bring life and luster back to the blighted area. Based across the river in Omaha, Nebraska, Landscape Architects at the Ciaccio Dennell Group (CDG) convinced city officials to agree to a $7 million face-lift on the concept that the downtown is the heart of any community. This was more common decades ago, but Council Bluffs City Engineer Greg Reeder explains, "Although the functions have changed over the years, it is still critical that a community has a downtown that attracts visitors--a place where they can go to identify themselves as a thriving region or district." CDG Principal-in-Charge Dave Ciaccio elaborates, The most challenging issue of this project was the use of color. At first, the public did not like the bright color of the streetlights. Distant Blue--the color we selected--has now become the signature of the streetscape, and together with the other elements, has transformed the image of this historic business center." The design team certainly had the town's foot traffic in mind; building curbs near the center of the street shortened the pedestrian crossings. This also has the effect of restricting (slowing) traffic in the area. " I think people will enjoy the downtown more now that traffic is calmed and the streets are well lit, enthuses Reeder. He adds that changes will be user-friendly for pedestrians using the scores of offices, businesses and professional services that populate the area along South Main and Pearl Street. CDG worked closely with the manufacturer during the design process to be sure what was specified was easily constructed and cost effective. Decorative, fluted steel streetlights by Valmont Industries were designed based on historical photos taken of the old downtown area. However, there is one big difference: the new streetlights are equipped with extra electrical outlets for street vendors, and street decorations to be used as part of envisioned festivals in Haymarket Square. The new ornamental lighting is complemented with historical interpretation panels that link the present to the past. While it will be 2001, at best, by the time this project is finished, the people walking in the historic Haymarket district will get a fleeting feel for the past as they hustle to their next appointment. Further west, the City of Sacramento, California recently launched a "pilot" project to enhance the livability, of several midtown blocks by installing decorative, acorn-style street lights which blend with the neighborhood's historic character. Today, 159 sand-casted aluminum light poles pepper the streetscape of a residential and small business area between 21st and 24th Streets. Previously, the only lighting in this area was located at street intersections, which left large stretches of dark space along the streets and sidewalks. Once dark and formidable, this mid-town area has benefited substantially from the new lighting design. Senior Engineer Angie Louie of the city's Department of Public Works relates, "With a limited amount of Community Development Block Grant funds from the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, we wanted to maximize the number of street blocks that could be lighted by designing a minimal, cost effective street lighting system using decorative poles and lights." Design of this system included minimum street lighting infrastructure and extruded aluminum decorative poles never used before in the city. Additionally, this project provided a test bed for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District to evaluate new inductive fluorescent lamps on new streetlights adjacent to their substation property. Representative Paul Mitchell of Antique Street Lighting, manufacturer of the new poles, describes the process of making these poles as "a very traditional and labor-intensive process." The 12-foot tall nostalgic poles are topped with a refractive, acrylic lens manufactured in the shape of traditional acorn globes. The classic, traditional styling of the LexaLite lens, combined with state-of-the-art optics, allows for even distribution of light onto the road. Across the nation, gracious streetscapes pay homage to their historic buildings and landscapes. These historic renovations support each city's ongoing renaissance, and transform downtown centers into exciting and wonderfully different boulevards of activity and history. By replacing and refurbishing historic, yet deteriorating, light sources along these streetscapes, Landscape Architects help to recapture the brilliance of some of America's most beloved boulevards. And, by retaining the nostalgic sentiment of days gone past, designers successfully stimulate economic development and accommodate changes in pedestrian and traffic systems so necessary for future benefit. Lasn (Marion, VA): Hapco decorative lampposts and Holophane luminaires lend a touch of history and elegance to Marion, VAs downtown revitalization project. The Granvilles octagonal base is capped with a fluted upper casting. A fluted shaft tops off the black street lamppost. Posts are now installed in a portion of Marion, with more on order to light the 10-block designated main street section of downtown. The manufacturers in-house engineering team ensures that the poles meet all governing wind and vibration requirements. Decorative elements such as banners are added to the poles for street events and seasonal activities. These poles are crafted using lightweight, durable aluminum castings, and extrusions. Thermoset powder-paint finishes in a variety of colors can customize each post to your project. The finish is also able to withstand daily wear and tear from lawnmowers, finishing trimmers, and vandalism. (Council Bluffs, IA): New fluted steel light poles (12" and 18") pay homage to important agricultural influences on the district and region of Council Bluffs, Iowa. All poles are steel with a galvanized finish to match the cast iron clamshell bases. The color is distant blue. Valmont Flat Flute Poles, decorated with Visco J/Scroll Arms and cast iron bases, pepper the revitalized streetscape. Visco street lighting fixtures are 15 watt, high-pressure sodium. Pedestrian light fixtures are 75 watt, high-pressure sodium. All street furnishings on the project are by Dumor Industries. The new lighting helps to integrate the street back into the larger pedestrian fabric and vehicular circulation network so necessary for today's bustling lifestyle.

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June 18, 2019, 6:41 pm PDT

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