'Tactical urbanism' approved by selectmen

By Stephanie Grinnell | Jun 05, 2014
Photo by: ted.com In a video viewed by Camden Selectmen June 3, tactical urbanism -- using temporary materials like paint and furniture -- was used to transform an awkwardly-shaped parking area into a park.

Camden — Citing the theory that more people on foot is better for business, Development Director Brian Hodges presented to selectmen the concept of tactical urbanism June 3.

A 15-minute video also was shown describing efforts in New York by Janette Sadik Khan. Hodges said use of paint and planters to temporarily transform an area is one version of tactical urbanism. (Click here to watch the video.)

"It's an odd sounding phrase," he said. "But it's short, quick improvements."

One of the benefits of the approach, according to Hodges, is if the changes do not receive a good response, they can be removed without having cost the town much money. Members of the Downtown Network Board have discussed what might be done in Camden to help promote and boost pedestrian traffic downtown and concluded there are several areas that might benefit from tactical urbanism.

"We're not proposing to paint or shut down the streets," he said, referencing the video.

The areas chosen by the Downtown Network Board and subsequently approved by the select board include the alley between Lily, Lupine and Fern and Cappy's as well as the crosswalks in the area of Elm and Chestnut streets.

"That was pretty low-hanging fruit," Hodges said.

In the alley, increasing pedestrian traffic would also help vehicle traffic by moving people emerging the public landing from Commercial Street on one side of Cappy's to the alley way instead, closer to the middle of downtown shops. Implementing temporary measures also allow a chance to see what works and what doesn't work before a more permanent installation is made, he said. Hodges noted he expects a grant for work in the area to come through, but funding will not be available until 2016.

"We can figure out before 2016 what's going to work," he said.

For crosswalk improvements, the curbs would be extended to shorten the crosswalk spanning Chestnut Street, encouraging more pedestrian traffic between the Village Green and downtown. Loaned materials for the curb extensions will be provided by Maine Department of Transportation, Hodges said. He said the materials will not be "fixed, deadly objects" such as Jersey barriers but instead a more easily removable vehicle barrier to denote new pedestrian ways.

No decisions have yet been made regarding changes to the alley, as select board approval is required, he noted. A team will be formed to come up with ideas for transforming the area.

"Our goal is to get these installed for the summer season," he said.

Selectman Leonard Lookner spoke of downtown Rockland and Belfast, describing each as "significantly ahead of us on this," adding the changes have been for the better. Selectmen unanimously approved moving forward with the temporary changes to the alley and extending the curbs.

"I appreciate that the method is to try it out," Select Board Chairman Martin Cates said.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect the involvement of the Downtown Network Board in making recommendations.

Comments (5)
Posted by: Town of Camden \ Town of Camden | Jun 09, 2014 21:16

Very good comments Maggie, and I agree that first doing without first  planning can have pitfalls.  I'd like to clarify that the approach we're taking is to use the recommendations from the community driven and professionally produced Downtown Master Plan, and trying out the recommendations before constructing permanent improvements.  So in this case, we've actually gone through the initial design and "what do we want" phase, obtained funding for construction in 2016 based on the community driven design phase, and now we're seeing how it will work to determine what is done in 2016.  The article you referenced is well written but seems to focus on those places that did not conduct planning in the same manner and focus that Camden did.

Posted by: William Lohrman | Jun 06, 2014 13:57

Overall sounds good.  However, please keep in mind the needs of mobility-impaired handicapped persons and seniors when considering elimination or relocation of parking areas.

Posted by: paula sutton | Jun 06, 2014 07:47

Love the idea of using loaned ideas from DOT rather than spending money outright.  Trying the concept first , before committing resources is common sense thinking.

Posted by: Susan Sinclair | Jun 06, 2014 06:53

Great ideas, go slow and see what works and what doesn't.

Posted by: Gordon Page | Jun 05, 2014 22:28

Great concept!

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