As the desire for urban living spurs more investment in urban development, there is increasing interest in authentic places and experiences that are welcoming, inclusive, and reflective of local culture and history. The failures of the federally funded urban renewal of the 1960s, which erased existing neighborhoods and propelled the migration of business and residents away cities, provided important lessons for current efforts.

The following Rudy Bruner Award winners illustrate the value of development that capitalizes on the character and history of existing places and neighborhoods, engages community in the process of planning and design, and provides access and amenities for all. They incorporate a mix of uses and principles of sustainable development, integrating housing, workspaces, retail, cultural and recreational amenities, and transit. To a significant extent, arts and culture have played a pivotal role in these places, illustrating the contributions of creative placemaking in shaping the physical and social character of communities.

Santa Fe Railyard Redevelopment (2011 Silver Medalist)

Children Exit the Santa Fe Railyard Redevelopment
Photo: Bruner Foundation

Over the course of nearly 25 years in Santa Fe, New Mexico, community pressure resulted in a compelling alternative to a series of anodyne city proposals for the redevelopment of a former rail yard. More than 6,000 residents provided input during the design phase, which led to archeological studies, the relocation of resident prairie dogs, and inclusion of traditional indigenous irrigation features. The result is a new mixed-use development that incorporates a contemporary art museum, city park, farmers market, galleries and retail, and housing, along with preservation of the historic train station as part of a new passenger rail line linking Santa Fe with Albuquerque. The imperative to protect adjacent neighborhoods and keep the “rugged, gritty” look of the Railyard advanced the sense of authentic architectural and industrial evolution, in contrast to the pueblo revival Santa Fe Style architecture that dominates other areas of the city.

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh (2007 Gold Medalist)

Photo: Alberto Vecerka/ESTO

In the late 1990s, when the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh chose to expand its existing facility rather than move elsewhere, its leadership had an ambitious vision: to create a vibrant cultural center with an emphasis on green design, which would help regenerate a district fragmented by 1960s urban renewal. The aims were realized through a highly participatory and collaborative process involving the neighboring community and educational and cultural organizations, with charrettes, design competitions, and substantial public engagement. Subsequently the museum renovated an adjacent plaza into Buhl Community Park and created the Charm Bracelet Project to link its campus with the surrounding community and cultural attractions, including the Carnegie Science Center, the Andy Warhol Museum, the National Aviary, and the New Hazlett Theater. The Children’s Museum has become an incubator and hub for new cultural initiatives, and through its leadership has enabled all the organizations to use their proximity and shared missions to grow individually and as a group, while encouraging redevelopment in the wider community.

Yerba Buena Gardens (1999 Gold Medalist)

Picnic Area at Yerba Buena Gardens
Photo: Bruner Foundation

Public pressure of an exceptional kind produced Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco. Elderly and disabled residents of the neighborhood joined a 1970 lawsuit against the Redevelopment Authority for a plan that would have displaced them. The revised approach to redevelopment included a commitment to subsidized low-income housing in tandem with cultural and commercial development. The 87-acre site now includes housing at all income levels and cultural amenities, like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Center for the Arts complex, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and Zeum youth arts. Rather than bringing in established organizations to run newly created facilities, the Redevelopment Agency appealed to the community to develop its own institutions and cultivated and nurtured them until they were equipped to run on their own as independent nonprofit institutions. As development continues, with several new hotels built and in planning, Yerba Buena holds fast to its dedication to remain a genuine neighborhood, a place that gains value not only through tourist dollars but also from the opportunities and relationships it fosters for its own residents.

Downtown Silver Spring (2005 Silver Medalist)

Downtown Silver Spring Shopping Square
Photo: Bruner Foundation

Downtown Silver Spring in Montgomery County, Maryland, began with a blighted neighborhood commercial center in a transit-dependent suburb. After citizen opposition defeated unacceptable redevelopment proposals, not once but twice, the development team anointed for the project proposed an extended community process to create the next plan. Vocal opponents of the past projects, including preservationists and neighborhood organizations, participated on the steering committee. Through this process, county officials learned to value community involvement and citizens became informed and constructive participants who contributed important guidance. The resulting development weaves together renovated historic buildings with new construction arranged around a Metro transit station, with the American Film Institute and Discovery Communications as anchor tenants. Ultimately, the shift from a single grand plan to incremental development resulted in a new “downtown” for Silver Spring, as the suburban community embraced its evolving urban character.

Often, as in the case of these projects, “failure” can function as a community learning mechanism, producing results that satisfy diverse stakeholders, respect local culture and history, and address other needs, such as environmental and economic sustainability and social equity. They demonstrate that a successful mixed-use neighborhood can be the new community living room.

Read about other artful approaches to mixed-use development: