GOOD Ways to Make Your Block Better: StreetHubs

Every place is different, but neglected public space have something in common: there are few resources available. The group of volunteers decided early on that they were not interested in creating some one-off project. Community leader Tori Bush of the Creative Alliance of New Orleans, Sergio Padilla, Austin Lukes, Tara Foster, Patrick Kelly, Ryan Bordenave, Alyson Kilday, Ella Camburnbeck, Jeffrey Scanlan and Zach Gong challenged themselves to improve an intersection with an affordable and accessible project that could be replicated on similarly lacking corners across New Orleans, or for that matter, anywhere.

Working in public space comes with a dizzying array of bureaucratic hurdles, slow if deliberate approval processes, and unknowable costs in time and money. The team wisely sought out opportunities to work with a private property owner, with whom they could develop a project that created both public benefits and private ones, an arrangement more easily duplicated in the future.

Sure enough, opportunity presented itself. In Broadmoor, on the corner of Broad and Washington, something of a renaissance has begun. The beautiful new Rose Keller Library recently opened. Green Coast Enterprises just broke ground on Broad More, a new development anchored by Propeller, the social entrepreneurship incubator, the South Broad Community Health Center and the Broadmoor Improvement Association. All told, the four renovated historic buildings will feature offices, co-working spaces, retail, restaurants, and health care. It’s all part of a longstanding, concerted effort to revitalize this once vibrant corner, and it represents the the fruit of years and years of labor on the part of the Broadmoor neighborhood, its leaders, and countless others. The volunteers had found a truly inspiring site.

Despite this flurry of redevelopment, the public realm sorely lacks comfort for people on the street. A tangle of bus routes connect and terminate on the corner, but there is no shade, seating, or shelter. The GOOD Ideas for New Orleans team saw the opportunity to create an easy-to-build, low-cost, modular “StreetHub” that can meet these acute needs quickly, but then continue to adapt and evolve as investments in the area–whether or public or private–come online.  One element provides basic seating. Another provides a straightforward planter. A third provides shade and shelter. Together they are a practical and attractive piece of public interest infrastructure. The volunteers didn’t stop there though.

Despite the new library being only blocks away, many of the thousands of people making bus transfers on the corner don’t know that. The team designed a “little library” to both provide reading material to bus-riders, but also to promote and advertise the real thing down the street. The team also designed an high-ceiling shelter to serve as a vendor stand—creating a revenue stream for the private property owner, as well as a low-rent space for street vendors, aspiring entrepreneurs, and maybe even the social entrepreneurs of Propeller. The team has also tentatively negotiated space for a mural on the renovated building next door.

Perhaps most importantly though, the team is designing an easy to use how-to-guide for building a StreetHub on the neglected corner in your neighborhood. The design of the structure, the materials, their sources, and their costs are all being documented in detail. The team will explain their community outreach efforts, coalition building, and negotiations. They will provide advice on siting, seeking donations, and working with city permitting. When the first StreetHub is built this fall, they will include beautiful photographs that demonstrate the construction process, use and maintenance of the structure.