Biggest Little City

Mayors' Institute on City Design Final Report

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The Mayors’ Institute on City Design® is a National Endowment for the Arts leadership initiative in partnership with the American Architectural Foundation and the United States Conference of Mayors.

The Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD) is a program that conducts a series of intimate, closed-door symposia intended to offer a small group of invited mayors a better understanding of the design of American cities. Participation is limited to sixteen to twenty people: half are mayors and half are urban design, development, and planning experts. 

The mayors represent a diversity of cities and bring a wide variety of design issues to the table. The resource team members range from architects and planners to public policy specialists, developers, preservationists, lawyers, landscape architects, transportation planners, and housing experts, and include practicing professionals and distinguished academics. 

The institute format encourages a high degree of participation and exchange. Each mayor presents a design issue from his or her city, which is analyzed by the other mayors and the design professionals who, working together, discuss how an appropriate design process can help solve the problem. The exchange between mayors and the resource team sparks lively debate, opens new perspectives, and leads to creative proposals for solutions.

Mayor Bob Cashell presented the video below and proposed the following questions at the MICD Meeting Nov. 13 - 15, 2013:

• How can the city alter the I- 80/University/downtown interface to maximize the University’s exposure, encourage pedestrian flows, and minimize the impacts to vehicular traffic?

• What pedestrian infrastructure and bicycle improvements will facilitate access from the University to downtown and neighborhood centers south of downtown?

• How should the University and the city address the long-term circulation plan in the master plan?

• What are some street-level design approaches that will help soften the four-block area comprised of big-box, high-rise casinos?

• How does the city integrate land uses that support the University community, such as housing and open space, in downtown?

• What design strategies can be used to create and market Reno a college town?

Recommendations from the MICD participants were as follows:

• To encourage/incentivize UNR to invest in and develop downtown in lieu of on-campus development, the Virginia corridor must undergo a grand makeover which gives it a singular identity that it presently lacks. Trees and wider sidewalks are part of this, but not enough. Similarly the beautification and adaptation of the existing parcels to the north of the I-80 to form a UNR gateway and improved traffic pattern are part of this, but not enough.

• To achieve this corridor makeover Reno will need more than design guidelines and land use regulations. Rather, imaginative public-private endeavors will need to be formed and new visualizations created to demonstrate the ways in which UNR can activate the city as a collection of classrooms and knowledge hubs.

• Though desirable, retail will not come first, but rather only after other uses arrive (e.g. student housing, classroom space, incubator space for tech start-ups, etc.). Current opportunities include building UNR tenant space into adjacent casino parking garages, which are under-filled (gambling industry is declining in Reno). Also, consider rebuilding rather than demolishing existing motels into student housing. This adaptive re-use approach presents great opportunities for partnerships between the city, UNR, and property owners, even without eminent domain.

• Conceive of new ‘micro urban areas’ that bring together student housing, classroom space, and city amenities. It is not enough for UNR to occupy downtown, rather it should develop curriculum around specific urban sites. Arizona State University’s School of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation in downtown Phoenix is a good case study in this regard.

• Finally, look seriously at the hockey rink plaza at Virginia Avenue on the north bank of the river as an opportunity to create a much-needed focus for a downtown campus. Explore how adjacent buildings can be inhabited by UNR to join City Hall in remaking that space—connecting down to the river. This could become a spatial symbol of a new City-UNR partnership. The Virginia corridor itself is too narrow and mixed with other land uses to serve this function. Virginia  Avenue, as a connector, needs an anchor at the south end to draw the UNR community from its main campus up north to a place of arrival downtown.

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