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Character Towns: Part One

City Districts and Corridors: An opportunity to create a great first and lasting impression


It has been a while since I have commented on planner and author Bill Kercher’s series on Character Main Streets, Character Towns, and Character Neighborhoods. Since I am in the final days of the Corridor of the Year Contest, I will revisit his resources about the problems and methods of improving corridors. I modeled much of my work off his research.

The fundamental value and significance of corridors are critical to the success of any area, town, or city. Corridors are well-located, high-traffic-count business sites. They generate sales and property taxes and create jobs and incomes for families. They are also the connective tissue between neighborhoods and city centers.

Orange County Commissioner District 2 Christine Moore
Orange County Commissioner District 2 Christine Moore

The question becomes whether they are attractive and economically productive. Does the corridor give residents and visitors the appearance of a pleasant and prosperous community? Corridors are the one opportunity to create a great first and lasting impression on a town.

High-performing corridors have the following characteristics:

  • There are multiple engaged stakeholders: property owners, private and public.
  • There is a common vision, theme or purpose that binds together the stakeholders.
  • They have gateways, edges, and boundaries.
  • They possess a generally accepted name commonly used in the community.
  • A consensus exists that the resources and activities require some level of management or organization on the corridor.

High-performing districts employ these features:

  • Consistent design standards for landscaping, signage, and graphics
  • Cohesive transportation options for vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, etc.
  • Area-wide communication networks with websites, newsletters, meetings, and events

Mr. Kercher utilizes best practices from The Urban Land Institute’s Ten Principles for Reinventing America’s Suburban Strips. These researchers have taken concepts used in downtown redevelopment and applied them to strip commercial corridors. Kercher lists two other excellent resources entitled Ten Principles for Reinventing America’s Suburban Strip by Michael Beyard and Michael Pawulkiewicz and Designing Urban Corridors by Kurt R. Bishop.

Tools for corridor redevelopment include visioning, expanding entitlements, demanding higher standards, improving urban infrastructure, creating finance plans, and property assemblage. The traditional tool for organizing and executing the redevelopment program is a comprehensive long-range redevelopment plan. Stakeholders along a corridor are also the ones to initiate a redevelopment program. Their sustained commitment is essential to success. Visions can be simple, elaborate, or even handled by a professional. However, authenticity and uniqueness are vital to their success.

Development entitlements are the uses permitted in an area. Many uses are warranted and design guidelines which create buffers, site plan specifications, access management standards, landscape specifications, and infrastructure plans are part of the entitlement process.

Infrastructure is not a sexy topic but vital to the ultimate success of future redevelopment or new development. Road networks, sewer connections, wi-fi, etc. are essential parts of these discussions.

Kercher believes the process of transforming existing “strips” into productive corridors requires re-purposing abandoned or struggling shopping malls. He states creativity and flexibility are critical ingredients to any “fixer-upper” project. I must add we should watch our online conversations so that potential investors believe entering our market will be profitable and successful. After all, local government cannot and should not be able to force any business to locate in the community. The word “attract” is the proverbial term. We can all consider our role in attracting higher quality and new development. Think and be positive about your town’s potential. 

Kercher concludes his chapter on corridors with a section on how to begin implementing change.

  • Find the “low-hanging fruit” and begin on day one, achieving a measure of success.
  • Take meaningful action early and often.
  • Develop a habit of constant communication.
  • Beautify whenever possible with new trees, re-landscaping, sign de-cluttering, more organized parking, and a simplified system of circulation.
  • Recruit help from all municipal departments.
  • Initiate celebrations, festivals, public art, and music which attracts people to the area.
  • Issue an annual report in a public ceremony to celebrate successes and re-challenge the group.

My work as your commissioner is deliberate, intentional, and based upon Kercher’s best practices. I hope you love our community as much as I do and find a place to make daily contributions. I might even suggest an hour to pick up trash along the right-of-way. If you wish to join one of my teams, our next Neighborhood Leader’s Meeting is Thursday, November 16th at 6:00 PM at Clay Springs Elementary School. 

Character Towns, Districts, Corridors, Downtown, Orange County Commissioner Christine Moore