While online shopping has impacted “big box” retail stores, it has also led to an increased demand for the personal touch associated with local business and the unique social engagements found on “Main Street.” A successful, cohesive, synergistic downtown is not just collections of individual businesses but a shared “place.” The first step in this process is to clarify a shared identity that should be reflected throughout streetscape design (colors, lighting, street furniture, way-finding signage, etc.). St. Helena is a special place with numerous historical and architectural features upon which to build this shared identity.
PEDESTRIAN FOCUSED EXPERIENCE
In designing for the pedestrian experience, it is important to create memorable “nodes” or sub-spaces along the corridor. Each block has its own flavor within the overall streetscape. The business synergy begins at the block level and the pedestrian is drawn down the street to explore each node.
A successful Main St. must be a carefully curated experience. Spaces should increase visitor dwell time, which is critical to sales and economic success. While exposure for local businesses generated by auto traffic on Highway 29 can be positive, visitors do not truly arrive in the Downtown until they park their cars and become pedestrians. Gateways at each end of the Downtown can welcome the visitor, and playful wayfinding signage can efficiently direct the motorist to rear parking lots. The design and location of parking areas needs to be as carefully thought out as the streetscape. The pedestrian paseos and side street connections can be opportunities for wall art, display, and special lighting to enhance the pedestrian experience. We can use the streetscape paving patterns to define spaces. Parklets associated with key outdoor dining destinations, such as the Model Bakery, can provide increased outdoor dining spaces and pedestrian engagement.
Creating a Safe, Inviting Environment
It is essential that the St. Helena Downtown be perceived as safe and inviting. Incorporation of community based public art promotes community pride. To encourage evening use, adequate lighting is essential. Bulb-outs (extended sidewalks with planting and other buffer elements) enhance pedestrian safety and extend the pedestrian domain. Well-designed sidewalks allow room for comfortable passing. Efficiently diverting traffic to rear parking areas can foster an environment conducive to pedestrians.
Place making requires a public-private partnership. Thus, the success of this project is founded on the successful engagement of the local business and community. Any type of change can be uncomfortable. While appreciating the benefits of the Streetscape Plan, merchants may be concerned about how their business will be impacted. Creating community consensus on Downtown improvement projects can be challenging. At times, the priorities of the individual property owners and merchants can vary. For example, a business may enjoy the overall benefits of a well-designed streetscape, but not want a tree which could obscure signage in front of their individual store. Or, a recommendation to transform an on-street parking stall to create a special landscaped seating area may be acceptable to everyone – except the one impacted shop owner. Some people will feel things are fine the way they are, while others will have expectations that are so high that they are impractical from a cost or maintenance viewpoint.
Are you interested in voicing your opinions and being involved this this process? Check out our events page!