Connecting People & Place Through Streetscape Planning
Destination by Design worked with the Town of Sparta to reinvigorate the downtown area through streetscape planning, design, and construction. With the assistance of DbD, Sparta’s downtown is getting a facelift that will help physically and culturally transform it into a vibrant, walkable place.
Streetscape Planning and Design
Town of Sparta, North Carolina, Alleghany County
Sparta Streetscape Strategy
The story of Sparta, NC could fit that of just about any other small Appalachian town. In a rapidly urbanizing world, this town of less than 2,000 residents is dealing with the same challenges that confront so many of its rural peers. In recent years, Sparta has seen its population decline and job opportunities dwindle, while poverty and poor health outcomes continue to persist.
Such economic and social challenges may be the status quo in many rural communities, but Sparta wants to buck the trend. This prideful community has in recent years taken the bold action necessary to seize control of its own future and navigate the stiff economic headwinds that have confounded so many of its small town peers.
The economic development challenges facing rural small towns are well-documented. The road to economic revival for these communities, like Sparta, invariably runs through their downtowns. By highlighting unique natural assets, embracing place-based development opportunities, and improving connectivity, rural downtowns can be transformed into vibrant community assets.
With the help of DbD, this is precisely the approach that town leaders in Sparta are taking as they work to chart a more prosperous future for the community. The DbD-led Sparta Streetscape Strategy establishes a renewed vision for what Sparta can become, and outlines the important role that a revamped streetscape can play in the town’s transformation.
Sparta’s downtown area has historically been an under-utilized asset.
U.S. Route 21, a major thoroughfare in Western North Carolina, cuts through the heart of downtown Sparta where it is appropriately renamed as Main Street. In a car-dependent rural community like Sparta, the town’s main drag has long been used as a means to get travelers from point A to B, as they pass through Sparta and continue along U.S. Route 21. The lack of suitable sidewalks, crosswalks, and other pedestrian-friendly safety considerations discourages foot traffic in downtown Sparta.
With the assistance of DbD, Sparta’s downtown is getting a facelift that will help physically and culturally transform the downtown into a vibrant, walkable place. The full potential of downtown assets can only be harnessed if they are accessible to a diverse array of visitors and residents. Since the built environment in downtown Sparta is not pedestrian-friendly, the town loses out on the potential to capitalize on the tourism, commerce, and cultural benefits that foot traffic can bring to a downtown.
The primary purpose of the Sparta Streetscape Strategy is to turn downtown Sparta into what it ultimately should be – a destination.
Sparta’s Main Street holds great potential. A vibrant community core will serve as a hub for commerce and attract locals and visitors, alike.
The cliché that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is an appropriate description of most community planning undertakings, and the Sparta Streetscape Strategy is no exception. The strategy represents the culmination of a multi-year planning effort undertaken by DbD, the town of Sparta, NCDOT, a partnering engineering firm, and other local stakeholders.
In 2012, DbD began the process of facilitating a downtown streetscape strategy for Sparta. The project was initially funded by outside community groups, including health and wellness advocates who understood that more active transportation options downtown would help promote healthy living in Alleghany County.
Fast forward five years later, and the Sparta Streetscape Strategy is being put into action, with construction anticipated to begin in the Spring of 2018.
The Sparta Streetscape Strategy is an example of the benefits that long-term relationships can yield when it comes to community planning. The mutual trust developed between DbD and the multiple partnering organizations involved in the Sparta project were integral to ensuring that the planning process went smoothly.
In a further example of the value of community partnerships, DbD is also partnering with Alleghany County on a broader community branding initiative that will complement the planned downtown streetscape improvements in Sparta. The work that DbD is leading in Sparta and Alleghany County will be an example of the broad community impact that community planning, design, and branding can have when strategically married together.
Place-Based Healthy Living
Improving the aesthetic of the downtown area is typically a predominant driver of most downtown streetscape improvement projects. While this was also the case with the Sparta Streetscape Strategy, the ancillary benefits of the Sparta project extend far beyond just improving the look and feel of the downtown area. The DbD-led streetscape project also sought to promote active living by making the downtown area more accessible and welcoming to pedestrians.
Much of the downtown streetscape work that we do at DbD can seem small-scale on the surface, but such projects can have long-lasting cultural, social, and economic impacts on a community. The Sparta Streetscape Strategy shows the holistic nature of community planning, as the project was seen as not just an effort to beautify downtown, but as a potential catalyst to improving some of the negative health outcomes that had become commonplace in the community for far too long.
The planned streetscape improvements to downtown Sparta will promote safe and accessible transportation routes for both pedestrians and bicyclists. These improvements will be well-connected to existing downtown greenspaces to enhance the outdoor recreational opportunities in the downtown area. Revamped wayfinding signage will help to ensure that these efforts are not haphazard, but rather, intentional and part of a larger strategy to foster more active means of transportation in downtown Sparta.
The ripple effects that Sparta’s revamped downtown will have on the physical health of its residents will hopefully set a new standard for healthy living that can be followed by future generations. This DbD-led planning effort shows the impact that holistic community planning can have in addressing a myriad of community challenges.
Thanks to a renewed commitment to reinvigorate its downtown, Sparta will serve as a shining example of the broad cultural, economic, and social impacts that place-based development strategies can bring to small towns.