The area of the Salisbury CityEngine project as presented at the 2014 ESRI International User Conference

When you think of vibrant, successful small towns, I am going to wager that you do not conjure up thoughts of empty parking lots. These impervious seas are bereft of the strolling pedestrians that make small towns like Portsmouth, New Hampshire or Lancaster, Pennsylvania hum.  Large parking lots can act like cancerous lesions amid an otherwise intricately preserved and walkable street grid. Urban parking lots’ lackadaisical monotony can sap the economic vitality of downtowns, particularly if they sit empty for most of the day. If given an opportunity to revitalize a small town, planners can target derelict parking lots for redevelopment and revitalization.

This scenario is playing out in Salisbury, the Eastern Shore’s most populous city. Last fall, Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall convened state planning officials with Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton and Salisbury Council President Jake Day to help the city develop a vision and revitalization plan for downtown Salisbury. The resulting redevelopment will contain new restaurants, theaters, loft apartments and a general return of centralized employment, commerce and city living. In short, the mix of uses would bring those strolling pedestrians back to enliven Salisbury’s core.

So how do we achieve this? Tools such as the Sustainable Communities Tax Credit Program can help.  The Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission, staffed by the Department of Planning (MDP), is compiling a list of recommendations to advance infill, redevelopment and revitalization statewide at Governor O’Malley and Lieutenant Governor Brown’s request.  These recommendations clearly have utility for small towns like Salisbury (Salisbury is, in fact, a case study community for this effort). But let us return to that more immediate parking lot scenario.

Downtown Salisbury with Parking Lot #1 highlighted

Downtown Salisbury with Parking Lot #1 highlighted

With several city-owned surface parking lots near the waterfront and downtown core, Salisbury faces a challenge not unlike many municipalities in Maryland.  City officials have adroitly determined that there is far too much city-owned property tied up in parking lots and that those properties were not being used to their fullest extent. Retaining large expanses of parking areas clearly are not aiding Salisbury’s downtown revitalization efforts.

The city of Salisbury teamed with MDP to devise different methods of attracting redevelopment and investment to those asphalt eyesores.   Employing various software applications, including ESRI’s ArcMap and City Engine, Trimble’s SketchUp, and Google Earth Pro, MDP depicted the downtown parking lots as redeveloped, mixed-use areas providing a visual perspective complementing the surrounding structures in the city core.

Parking Lot #1 with modeled 'simple buildings' from ESRI City Engine

Parking Lot #1 with modeled ‘simple buildings’ created with ESRI City Engine

For instance, ESRI’s City Engine enabled quick construction of 3-dimensional buildings on Lot #1 that are informed by Salisbury’s local zoning and development standards.  Using ESRI’s City Engine, MDP modeled three to five-story mixed-use buildings to illustrate that the 3.5-acre lot could provide 862,000 square feet of total floor space along with nearly 50,000 square feet of open space.  The resulting buildings are not ornately decorated nor are they architecturally masterful but the message is clear – infill is possible and the resulting building can produce long term economic value and promote a walkable environment. Once envisioned, the ideas for specific design and building specifications can be realized by the town and astute development interests.

Parking Lot #10 highlighted

Parking Lot #10 highlighted

Salisbury officials subsequently requested a similar treatment for Lot #10 and the Department provided detailed illustrations of what couldbe built,  using Trimble’s SketchUp software. The resulting videos of parking lot #1 and parking lot #10 (below) were shared with city leaders and used as part of the city’s Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Just a few weeks ago, the city entered into negotiations on the redevelopment of Lot #1 with an interested developer.

Parking Lot #10 with modeled buildings created with Trimble SketchUp

Parking Lot #10 with modeled buildings created with Trimble SketchUp

As municipalities across Maryland continue to seek economically vibrant and walkable downtowns  via infill and redevelopment, innovative 3-D modeling and analysis tools can help citizens and local officials see their future before agreements are signed and ground is broken.

 

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Andrew Bernish will be presenting MDP’s use of software to assist downtown Salisbury redevelop during ESRI’s International User Conference in San Diego on July 16th.  View Andrew’s presentation. You can follow his live tweets from the conference during the week of 7/14 via @SmartGrowthMD and @AndrewBernish and via hashtag #EsriUC