A gathering about livability and livable communities can't (or at least shouldn't) exist entirely inside a hotel ballroom and meeting rooms. That's why the 5th Annual AARP Livable Communities National Conference included several field trips and interactive options — to points both very near and a little bit far.
Photos by Melissa Stanton
Topic Area: Street and Sidewalk Infrastructure
Description: The free MySidewalk smartphone app is a mobile tool for assessing and documenting sidewalk infrastructure. The app is especially useful for smaller towns and cities that don’t have the funds to support a largescale sidewalk reporting program or even do regular sidewalk or infrastructure assessments. MySidewalk enables local governments and residents alike to catalog a community’s sidewalk infrastructure, re-assess the locations over time as needed, and make the information accessible to citizens in a format that can be used for advocacy purposes. Members of the public can use the app to document their sidewalk infrastructure needs. The data can be used by cities in planning maintenance activities, prioritizing infrastructure development, and facilitating transportation improvement programs. The app can also be used by individuals with mobility challenges so they can plan their walking or wheelchair use routes. Participants in this activity surveyed the sidewalks in the hotel area to learn how to use the app to document safe and unsafe sidewalk conditions. The activity was led by Madhav Erraguntla, Ph.D., P.E., Karthic Madanagopal and Byon Williams of Knowledge Based Systems, Inc. (KBSI), a firm that is collaborating on MySidewalk with the City of College Station in Texas and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
Topic Area: Assessment and Advocacy for Walk/Bike-Friendly Streets
While exploring the streets and sidewalks right outside the conference location, workshop participants digitally documented the experience of walking and bicycling (actually, tricycling) in the area, edited the footage into a short film and learned how to use the information and video to create quick wins and impact change. This activity was run by Heyden Black Walker, MSCRP, an urban planner with Black + Vernooy; John Simmerman, MS, a nationally recognized health promotion professional, urbanist and filmmaker; Katie Deolloz, creator of ATX Walks; W. Preston Tyree, BChE, MBA, author of The State of the Art: Bicycle Education in America and Ani Colt, co-founder (with Tyree) of Trike Neighborhoods.
Topic Area: Infill Development
Less than a mile from the conference location is a mixed-used development of residences, restaurants and more. The streets are walkable. There are trees and crossable streets. People and pets are using parks. By contrast, the conference hotel is in an area not unlike the hardscape landscapes found throughout the nation, where the needs of drivers and decades of unchecked development dictate. The multi-use Addison Circle development is an example of how overbuilt or vacant spaces in car-centric areas can be transformed to create a community. This activity began at the conference hotel with a discussion led by a representative from the City of Addison. Participants then walked about a mile to Addison Circle. Must-see spots included the dog park and Mad Batter Bakery.
Topic Area: Accessibility and Universal Design
The American Foundation for the Blind was created in 1921 to advocate on behalf of soldiers who lost their vision during World War I. Famed disability advocate Helen Keller, who lost her vision and hearing at age 19 months, worked for AFB for 40 years, until her death in 1968 at age 88. Dallas is home to the foundation's Center on Vision Loss, which provides information and independence training to people who have blindness or low-vision. The center's staff and volunteers provided AARP conference attendees with a guided tour of Esther's Place, a multi-room model apartment that's equipped with design features, modifications and low- and high-tech gadgets that better enable people with significant vision impairment (and people whose vision has changed due to normal aging) to live safely and independently in their home.
Topic Area: Transit-Oriented Development / Historic Preservation
Not far from the traffic-clogged roadways of outer Dallas — as well as a huge, struggling, indoor shopping mall — Downtown Plano is a welcome oasis. The compact, 80-acre historic downtown revolves around E. 15th Street, which features a DART light rail transit station (with service to and from Dallas), numerous shops, restaurants and contemporary downtown apartments. Participants were transported by charter bus from the hotel to a local light rail station, from which they took a quick ride north to downtown Plano. After a brief meeting with a community representative, attendees could window shop and then dine at a Downtown Plano restaurant.
Topic Area: Outdoor Spaces and Public Places
Description: Klyde Warren Park sits atop (yes, atop) an eight-lane freeway that cuts through downtown Dallas. With the construction of the 5-acre deck park, which began in 2009 and was completed in 2012, two parts of the city were reunited. Klyde Warren is now a gathering place from morning to night with "rooms" and activities for people of all ages, from toddlers on up. There's a stage, a splash fountain, more than 300 trees, an open lawn, a treehouse for kids and adults, a soft-surface children's park, a board games area, reading racks filled with newspapers and popular magazines, and places to sit quietly. (Fun fact: To prevent the deck from becoming too heavy, it was built with "Geofoam" and specially-designed soil.) Field trip participants who preferred indoor sites could pop into the Dallas Museum of Art or the Nasher Sculpture Center. The group then traveled to the West Village neighborhood in Uptown Dallas for a restaurant dinner.
Topic Area: Outdoor Spaces, Public Places, Re-development
"Trinity Groves is a multiphase redevelopment effort of a former warehouse and light-industrial site that began with a 10.3-acre restaurant/specialty food incubator and destination," states an Urban Land Institute case study report. The location, which provides a great view of the Dallas skyline, especially after dark, is accessed by car via the new, landmark Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, which was designed by famed bridge architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava. Participants walked the recently re-opened Continental Avenue pedestrian bridge, which has seating and sculptures interspersed throughout, and is often used for fitness classes, photo shoots, outdoor performances (see the mariachi band photo at AARP.org/Livable2017), bicycling and family fun. Prior to the public-private redevelopment project, the West Dallas waterfront was a very poor area with a high crime rate. While some of the neighborhood's original residents remain in largely low-quality housing adjacent to the Groves, many more have been displaced. As a way to revitalize the area without such damaging displacement, Eric Johnson, a Texas state legislator from Dallas, has been pursuing solutions at both the state and local levels. A representative of the Trinity Watershed and Trinity River Corridor spoke to the trip attendees during the bus ride. Once at the Trinity Grove venue, participants split into smaller groups for dinner at the location's many restaurants.
After decades during which new housing construction was dominated by either large-scale structures (apartment buildings) or single-family homes, the housing options in the middle — such as duplexes, triplexes and bungalows in walkable communities — went missing. Architect and conference presenter Daniel Parolek led field trip participants through a South Dallas community that includes examples of this rare but returning "Missing Middle Housing." For our farthest field trip participants were driven by bus to the Bishop Arts neighborhood. The group set out for a guided walking tour followed by dinner in a local restaurant.