Big Idea Challenge pic.

The Challenge —

Reno is a city built on innovation. In the earliest days, Reno was a place that provided gold seekers a place to rest, purchase a meal and exchange ideas with other prospectors. Later, it made a name for itself as America’s leader in quickie divorces and 24-7 vice. Today, Reno is reinventing itself again and the world is taking notice. Apple, Urban Outfitters, Google and Tesla are just a few of the large companies to recently establish outposts in Reno. For the first time in decades, new businesses are opening in the city’s downtown core, bringing new energy and vitality.

Yet like many growing cities, Reno is grappling with a built environment designed for cars not the people who want to take advantage of the city’s increasingly active street life. It is struggling with how to spread energy from revitalized corridors into other areas still in need of investment.

With this challenge in mind, the City of Reno, the Nightingale Family Foundation, United Construction and Dermody Properties have underwritten the 2015 Vanguard Big Idea Challenge. A competition to come up with the best tactical urbanist intervention for three opportunity sites in Reno, the Big Idea Challenge is a chance for the brightest urban thinkers from the America’s to prototype a design intervention that, if successful, could be replicated elsewhere. The winning idea will be funded with a $10,000 implementation grant.

About the Proposals — We are looking for temporary interventions to the built environment that address issues of walkability, safety or connectivity, if not all three. The proposals should seek to improve perceptions of Reno’s downtown neighborhoods and encourage activity in the public realm. The interventions should be feasible to accomplish with a budget of $10,000 within the next 12 months. Lastly, they should be legal within Reno’s regulatory framework.

About the Process — Vanguards will take multiple tours throughout Reno’s neighborhoods and visit all three Challenge sites, seeing each in their urban context. They will hear about the sites from key stakeholders and reflect upon what they see through multiple discussions both as a large group and in their smaller Challenge teams. Each Challenge team will be given time to develop a proposal to be presented as a 10-minute PowerPoint at a public reception on the evening of May 7. Presentations will be evaluated based on creativity, feasibility, community impact and overall presentation. One winning proposal will be selected by a panel of local and national judges.

Make the Pitch —

Each team’s PowerPoint presentation should include the following:

  • At least one relevant precedent or best practice from a U.S. or international city.
  • Outline of implementation
  • Description of public impact

Presentations will be judged based on their creativity, feasibility, potential for public impact and overall presentation style.

Tactical Urbanism —

Merriam Webster defines the meaning of “tactical” as “of or relating to small-scale actions serving a larger purpose,” or “adroit in planning or maneuvering to accomplish a purpose.” Translated to cities, Tactical Urbanism is an approach to neighborhood building and activation using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions and policies. Tactical Urbanism is used by a range of actors, including governments, business and non-profits, citizen groups, and individuals. It makes use of an open and iterative development processes; the efficient use of resources; and the creative potential unleashed by social interaction. It is what Professor Nabeel Hamdi calls making plans without the usual preponderance of planning.

In many ways, Tactical Urbanism is a learned response to the slow and siloed conventional city building process. For citizens, it allows the immediate reclamation, redesign or reprogramming of public space. For developers or entrepreneurs, it provides a means of collecting design input from the market they intend to serve to the benefit of that community. For advocacy organizations, it is a way to show what is possible to garner public and political support. And for government, it’s a way to put best practices into, well, practice—and quickly!

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Because the places that people inhabit are never static, Tactical Urbanism doesn’t propose one-size-fits-all solutions but intentional and flexible responses. The former remains the fixation of numerous and overlapping disciplines in the urban development fields, which assume that most variables impacting cities can be controlled now and into the distant future. The latter rejects this notion and embraces the dynamism of cities. This reframing invites a new conversation about local resiliency and helps cities and citizens together explore a more nuanced and nimble approach to citymaking, one that can envision long-term transformation but also adjust as conditions inevitably change.Vanguard - top down

Of course we recognize that not all city building efforts lend themselves to tactical approaches —we don’t advocate using temporary materials to pilot-test bridges or prototype skyscrapers. When done well, large-scale projects can be catalytic, if not iconic. Tactical Urbanism also has very real limitations. It’s not the or even one solution for many of our most vexing urban problems. It can’t solve the affordable housing crisis facing our most desirable cities, nor will it fix bridges in need of repair. It can’t build high-speed rail lines and it won’t resolve the looming public sector pension crisis found in so many North American cities.

The value of Tactical Urbanism is in breaking through the gridlock of what we call the Big Planning process, with incremental projects and policies that can be adjusted on the fly while never losing sight of long-term goals. It is a movement based on contributing to a positive vision for the future. It is about developing responses and processes that can work in large cities and small towns. It is about building social capital with your neighbors and city leaders. It is, as Nabeel Hamdi says, about “disturbing the order of things in the interest of change”

[i] and creating livability gains where we all notice it most: our neighborhood.

– Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia, Tactical Urbanism: Short-Term Action for Long-Term Change

OPPORTUNITY SITES —

4th Street- From manufacturing to tourism, railroads to restaurants, East 4th Street has played an important and multifaceted role in the history of Reno for more than a century.

First operating as a county road populated by isolated industries, scattered homes, and an early streetcar line to Sparks, East 4th Street profited by its proximity to the railroad and to Reno’s commercial core. In 1913, the creation of the Lincoln Highway Association led to the designation of 4th Street as the route of the transcontinental highway, and later, the Victory Highway, which also ran through town.

Renamed U.S. 40 in the late 1920s, the former Lincoln Highway remained the primary east-west route through Reno until the completion of Interstate 80, three blocks to the north, in 1974. In recent years, the street has been experiencing a renaissance, infusing new energy into a corridor whose heritage is largely unsurpassed.

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The Lids- The railroad played a major dramatic role in the ebbs and flows of life in Reno, the destination for thousands of people seeking to take advantage of the state’s relaxed divorce and gambling laws throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The train, running straight through the downtown area, became a hazard in modern times, with innumerable train/car/pedestrian accidents in addition to stopping traffic over 20 times per day. These concerns led to the largest public works project ever undertaken in Northern Nevada, the Reno Transportation Rail Access Corridor, or ReTRAC.
The ReTRAC project depressed over 2 miles of train track that ran directly through Downtown Reno. A 54-foot wide, 33-foot deep train trench was built utilizing state-of-the art planning and construction processes.

The change in Downtown Reno is astounding, traffic flow is greatly improved, emergency vehicle access is enhanced, property values of buildings adjacent to the trench have significantly increased and there are even various environmental benefits.

Thanks to ReTRAC, there are now 120 acres of new real estate (valued at more than $11.5 million dollars) available for development or open space in downtown Reno, including the area of the Lids. These trench covers are pedestrian overpasses to the depressed rail. They have been vacant and seldom utilized right in the heart of downtown and are in need of vision.

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Mapes Plaza-The 12-story Mapes Hotel became the tallest building in Nevada when it burst onto the Reno scene in 1947. Its prime location on the northeast corner of the Truckee River and Virginia Street had become available in 1934, when the old post office was replaced by the Art Deco-style building directly across the river.

The descendant of a pioneering Reno family, Charles Mapes, Sr., and his wife Gladys bought the parcel and hired architect H. F. Slocombe of Oakland, California to draw up plans for a luxury hotel influenced by the Art Deco style of New York City’s Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. On opening day, the Mapes family announced, “The hotel is informal in keeping with the western tradition which makes Reno so hospitable. Come in full dress if you want any time…or come in cowboy boots. You will feel equally at home.”

With eight floors of guest rooms plus a lobby, mezzanine, and service floor, the hotel served as a prototype for the vertical hotel casino. Its crown jewel was indisputably the 12th floor Sky Room, with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the Truckee River, Virginia Street, and the Sierra Nevada mountains beyond. At a time when few Reno hotels had their own nightclubs, the Mapes offered dining, dancing, and floor shows as well as gambling areas and cocktail lounges both on the main and top floors.

For more than three decades, the Mapes and the Riverside were Reno’s most elegant hotel casinos, remembered fondly as the site for high school proms and local dinner dates as well as world-class performers. Financial struggles prompted by an ill-timed expansion of their Money Tree Casino in 1978 led the Mapes organization to file for bankruptcy a few years later. The building closed for good in 1982, changed hands, and was sold to the Reno Redevelopment Agency in 1996.

Despite a vigorous campaign by preservationists to adaptively reuse the Mapes Hotel, the Reno City Council voted in September 1999 to demolish the building. It was imploded the morning of Super Bowl Sunday, January 30, 2000. By 2008, the site had been paved with concrete for use as a plaza and seasonal ice skating rink.

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