On Thursday, December 20, 2018, urban architect Stephen Luoni of the University of Arkansas presented the Master Plan for the revitalization of Pine Bluff’s downtown. The unveiling of the plan was sponsored and arranged by the City of Pine Bluff and Go Forward Pine Bluff as part of their public-private partnership. Mayor Shirley Washington opened the event with a heart-warming, Pine Bluff-proud welcome. Go Forward Director Ryan Watley and Urban Renewal Agency Director Maurice Taggart contributed as well.
Overall, the Master Plan draws from the urban design principles of increasing people’s presence in shared spaces. This means making the area attractive and pedestrian friendly. People need reasons to come to downtown and to spend significant time there.
Key Recommendations of the Master Plan
Regarding the downtown focus, Luoni explained that if a city’s downtown declines, the entire city eventually follows. The Master Plan contains four specific plans for the district: Framework, Housing, Street, and Signature Projects Plans. His key recommendations are summarized here:
- Build small, multi-family housing.
- The housing is to be in the form of duplexes, triplexes, and townhouses, not large apartment buildings, not single-family housing.
- It should bring in people from a range of incomes and be all inclusive.
- The housing would be within a block of Main Street and expanding outward.
- Add landscaping.
- Quads with greenery or other open lawn areas would encourage people to spend time in the district.
- Trees, shrubs, and other greenery would enhance other areas without lawns.
- Make certain streets are interconnected, that no part of downtown is cut off from the rest.
- Lower the speed limits to make vehicular traffic slow down;
- Design street fronts and sidewalks so that, when combined with landscaped areas and lower speed limits, downtown is pedestrian friendly.
- Design building fronts (or sides) that face the street or an open lawn/quad so that people inside are visible to those outside and vice versa.
- Add bike trails that would be interconnected.
- Provide parking lots in the back or to the sides of buildings, not directly on the street front.
- Large parking lots or decks should be minimized or eliminated; at the least, they do not need to be directly on the street.
- Improve the livability of existing downtown neighborhoods.
- Modify streets to allow Union Pacific to change its protocol, undoubtedly based on safety regulations requiring train horns. One specific example Dr. Luoni named was to close some crossings.
Master Plan Builds on Existing Assets
The recommendations are to be worked in around Pine Bluff’s existing assets: Saracen Landing and Lake Saracen, the Jefferson County Courthouse, the upcoming Delta Rhythm and Bayous Arts District, the Hotel Pines, the Donald W. Reynolds Center, The Civic Center, the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library, and the upcoming Aquatic Center. He grouped these assets into seven Centers of Strength that together span the entirety of the downtown district.
The designs of the housing, landscaping, sidewalks, and other features will likely be tailored to the asset they are nearest, as these examples illustrate:
- Doorways and porches are to open on to or near sidewalks and streets. Some porches, for example in the Arts District, would extend over most or all of the sidewalk.
- Housing, though planned throughout the district, unequivocally needs to be near the library and aquatic center. This means even more people will use these facilities.
- Outdoor areas with landscaping and benches could be tailored to each asset in the Centers of Strength. For example, the Civic Center’s landscaping and tree grove would be enhanced. Also, the Saracen Landing strip, an important asset that is in good form already, should be expanded.
Master Plan Offers No Specifics on Businesses
Luoni also told the audience that the plan includes no specifics on attracting businesses. He explained that those will follow once the core urban design principles are followed: increasing people’s use of the area and making them want to stay. He did, however, lay out the need for the right types of businesses for a downtown district, and these are not big-box retail or other large establishments. That likely means smaller and, as many hope, locally owned businesses.
Wrapping Up Details
The rest of the Master Plan, including more on street improvements, will be shared online in the future, according to Luoni.
Following the presentation, questions from attendees added some degree of context. The plan’s expected timeframe ranges from 14 to 20 years, according to Ryan Watley, Director of Go Forward Pine Bluff. Implementation will be happening along the way. The groundbreaking for Pine Bluff’s downtown streetscaping will begin in the first quarter of 2019. The total cost of the Master Plan is unknown and will require investment.
Maurice Taggart, Executive Director of the Urban Renewal Agency, told the audience that some resources will be available to those wanting to implement some of the plan; more information will be forthcoming for residents. His comments may have been the most popular of the evening.
About the Presenter
Stephen Luoni is Director of the Community Design Center of the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas. Luoni is the Steven L. Anderson Chair in Architecture and Urban Studies and a Distinguished Professor of Architecture.