MDN: Medical District Using Tactical Urbanism to Increase Walkability
Redevelopment in dense city centers provides a unique set of problems for urban planners. Decades and sometimes centuries of overlapping growth make utilizing every possible square foot of land a necessity.
With an increased focus on core development spreading across the country, many urban centers are forced to find unique and often site-specific solutions to enhance infrastructure in these areas.
“Tactical urbanism,” which refers to a short-term, trial-and-error approach to enhancing accessibility and livability – often on a limited budget – is an approach many community planners are increasingly turning to.
In the Bluff City, the Memphis Medical District Collaborative recently began a similar initiative to enhance more than 30 streets and intersections in the medical district over the next three to five years. The goal of the project is to make the district more pedestrian-friendly and accessible for the area’s students, employees and residents.
While the official budget is still yet to be determined, the most recent estimation is roughly $600,000. Although several partner institutions, such as the Downtown Memphis Commission, have provided funds for the streetscaping project, no public tax dollars are being used, which is the impetus for the community-driven, tactical approach to the project.
“A lot of times in the past, there’s been these conversations when the capital is not there to come in and do a full-fledge reconstruction of the infrastructure, then nothing happens and people get discouraged because their ideas are not implemented,” said Andy Kitsinger, who runs the University of Memphis Design Collaborative and owns architecture firm The Design Studio. “When we get the community engagement, we get the people talking about things and they can be out there helping rather than it being a contractor.”
For example, just last week as a part of the project, Kitsinger’s design students partnered with the MMDC to transform a tiny strip of land that was only being used as a utility substation into the Edge District’s only green space.
Kitsinger said other cities like New York and San Francisco have implemented programs that turned small, unused or underused pockets of land to pedestrian-friendly plazas, and were the inspiration for the project.
Prior to Kitsinger’s project, work on several intersections throughout the district began in October in conjunction with road resurfacing projects by the city of Memphis. Bike lanes were added to Pauline Street between Poplar and Union avenues, which will be supported by the addition of high visibility crosswalks at Madison and Pauline.
These curb extensions, which make the crosswalk safer for pedestrians, are one example of a small fix that outweighs its cost.
The MMDC is also planning to improve pedestrian accessibility near Adams Avenue and Orleans Street, which they consider the heart of Victorian Village, by adding high-visibility crosswalks, coordinated stopping locations and new pedestrian crossing signs.
The nearby intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Pauline is also in the MMDC’s sights. Future plans for the heavily traversed intersection near Regional One Health include high visibility crosswalks, the addition of pedestrian plaza areas, and new benches and trash receptacles.
Another problem intersection the MMDC hopes to revitalize is at Madison and Marshall Avenue. Improvements to this intersection would include an expanded pedestrian zone that will slow down turning vehicles and shorten crossing distances. This improvement will also create a pedestrian plaza that will receive similar landscaping treatments to other intersections across the district.