(Photo by Randy M. Cauthron) [Order this photo]
In conjunction with Spencer's Blue Zones Project kickoff celebration Thursday, Dan Burden, an internationally recognized authority on livable and sustainable communities, spent the morning with more than 50 local citizens and officials, conducting a downtown walking audit.
Burden, who has worked around the world in more than 3,500 communities, helping to craft healthy streets, design traffic calming measures and establish bicycle and pedestrian programs, told the group, "Every downtown is organic. It's a play that's being written."
(Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)
"The purpose of a walking audit is looking for spots with teachable moments. You have children and seniors with mobility issues. We design our community differently. ... Health needs to become a very natural thing again," Burden said, cautioning the participants they would never see things the same way again following the tour.
He continued, "Use common sense. Is that the right way to do a driveway? Is that the right way to park a car."
The audit consisted of several recommendations, including the reduction of the size of driving lanes and employment of better use of the space by reducing pedestrian crossing distances, parking changes and bike lanes. He asked city representatives to consider sidewalk matters and best and safest use of space practices.
Burden outlined five principles of bringing back life and vitality to main street.
First he noted that windows in buildings, allowing people to see outside, provide citizens with a sense of security; the first three feet from a building is a perfect place for street furniture and planters because nobody walks there and it adds to the aesthetic. He also mentioned how complexity in a downtown has people wanting to come back because they always see something new - memorability - and the concept of enclosure.
"Spencer can be a showcase for other Iowa towns on how it can be done."
The tour guide, who offered Spencer residents a new way to look at their city, congratulated the community on the use of its buildings.
"I celebrate when I see the adaptive use of any building," Burden said. "You can turn this into the most bustling street in this part of Iowa. These buildings need to be honored and adapted."
In 2001, Burden was named "one of the six most important civic innovators in the world by Time magazine, and was honored by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences as a distinguished lecturer. He was in Spencer as a consultant to assist with concepts associated with the community's designation as a Blue Zones Demonstration Site.