October 6, 2005

Giving downtown Enumclaw a sense of place

  • Benches, street lights and public art help make downtown attractive for private developers.
    RBF Consulting

    Courtesy RBF Consulting
    Enumclaw's new streetscape has no curbs to give merchants flexibility in extending outdoor dining.

    Community-based planning yields thousands of ideas and provides a workable plan which supports the values, challenges and visions expressed by a community. The city of Enumclaw believed in its vision and primary goal to focus on its unique historical, cultural, social and economic factors, while upholding local values surrounding a sense of place, history and human scale.

    Bedroom community

    Enumclaw has historically been a commerce center for the Enumclaw Plateau, with most residents finding employment in the community in either the timber or agricultural industries. Virtually all goods and services were bought downtown. Within the past 15 years that trend has dramatically changed.

    A significant amount of residential growth has occurred in Enumclaw as people have moved out of the urban area to the fringe cities in search of affordable homes and/or quality of life. In the meantime, both industries that traditionally provided many of the local jobs left. Most residents now commute to the urban areas for employment.

    Enumclaw has become a bedroom community, which has reduced its citizens' interest in patronizing downtown businesses. The days of community focus upon downtown have left, providing a significant challenge to improve the sense of place in downtown.

    During the mid-1990s, an effort began to assess the economic condition of Enumclaw to discover ways to improve commerce. Community meetings were conducted to hear from citizens and retailers regarding economic development. This effort resulted in an economic development action plan (EDAP), which prioritized finding ways to improve the economic condition of downtown.

    Development of a downtown enhancement action plan followed the EDAP. This plan included nine projects specifically identified to assist with revitalizing downtown.

    Downtown streetscape plan

    Infrastructure is combined with public art to reflect local history. This bench top was made from a cedar tree felled by lightning, representative of past logging, and the support structure reflects the trusses of old-time log flumes.

    The community expressed a desire to accomplish a "bigger purpose" through the downtown enhancement action plan, emphasizing downtown as the important civic space, historical heart, place of commerce and residential environment that it is. Based on the community's vision, the Downtown Enumclaw Streetscape Enhancement Project was earmarked to proceed shortly after the plan was adopted.

    The purpose of the project was twofold: 1) to create a value-added downtown environment in which infrastructure and interpretive public art are combined into a seamless story of local history, culture and environment; and 2) to serve as a catalyst for private reinvestment and economic development while holding true to local values and heritage.

    The streetscape program began with four days of intensive public participation. Over a six-month period, RBF Consulting's Urban Design Studio and the project team translated the community's direction and ideas into a streetscape concept based on value-added infrastructure design. The design concept was presented on illustrated posters, which were displayed in the windows of many local businesses.

    A new focus

    Cole Street, running through downtown Enumclaw, had few public amenities, poor infrastructure and a deteriorated image before being renovated.

    The task of developing and/or recreating a sense of place within an enervated downtown can be monumental. The project team's commitment to the task, accompanied with a consulting team that clearly understood place making and small downtowns, made for great chemistry and a quality streetscape design.

    Attention to Enumclaw's history and heritage was a critical point. The energy developed by the project has carried over to many of the merchants and residents who have in turn become spokespersons for not only the streetscape project but for downtown to once again become a community gathering place.

    The streetscape program was developed to include value-added infrastructure design wherein public art is integrated within streetscape elements such as benches, street lights and sidewalk paving. Through this innovative approach, the streetscape program became not only a physical improvement but also an economic development tool, an expression of local history, a display of locally produced materials, and an element of great community pride.

    The effort has brought about a new downtown focus and interest that has already positively changed the community.

    Construction of the project was completed on schedule and within budget. During construction, merchants and other impacted stakeholders sought ways to use the construction process as a promotional asset rather than a liability. Now, with the project more than a year complete, downtown Enumclaw is being rediscovered with new development, and businesses are creating newfound vitality.

    Al Zelinka, AICP, CMSM, is a principal with RBF Consulting's Urban Design Studio. He is a registered planner with the American Institute of Certified Planners, is a Certified Main Street Manager, is a Fellow of the Institute for Urban Design and is certified in Community Economic Development.

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