IN THE KNOW

Transforming Unseen Infrastructure into Community Assets
posted by Errin Welty

Too often, community enhancement conversations start with a conversation about elements that are perceived to be missing. For example, discussions might center on how to fund a new pool, splash pad, bike rack or parking lots— but seldom do these conversations include an assessment of the utility of existing infrastructure: How are the existing streetscape and built infrastructure performing? What is the potential for past investments to evolve and reflect current needs? Can we get more use out of these items before we add something new? It is all too easy to overlook the existing infrastructure, but as the examples below prove, examining it with fresh eyes can result in unexpected and impactful projects. 


By pairing underutilized spaces with unmet needs, communities can not only better provide for the needs of residents, but also increase activity levels and the perception of safety in these areas. In some instances, an established community group may be a natural leader for change, either because it already serves a key local population, or because it is looking for a way to expand its services to a new area. Examples of effective partnerships include:

  • La Crosse’s Arts Alliance, which partnered with the city to install dance steps in the sidewalk to increase awareness of the arts for all passers-by;
  • Ripon’s Library Story Walk, which hosts a weekly story walk, installing new children’s book pages in display stands along a half-mile stretch of the Northwestern Trail adjacent to downtown; and
  • Downtown Janesville’s On Top of Downtown event series, which utilizes the vacant top level of a parking structure for an evening event series, featuring concerts, yoga and other activities with a skyline view.

Co-Working: Not Just a High Tech Trend

No longer just for high-tech workers, co-working spaces now come in a variety of forms – catering to artists, makers, remote workers, the self-employed professional and startups of all types. Increasingly, these spaces are also cropping up in rural areas, providing a supportive network for local entrepreneurs and professionals. Although the purpose of urban and rural co-working spaces is similar, the structure and use of these spaces is often quite distinct.

Dogs and Downtown

As the number of downtown residents and pedestrians increases, the desire for pet friendly spaces has also grown. This has created a conflict in many communities where downtown green space is at a premium, and not everyone agrees that pets are a welcome user group. However, several trends point toward pet-friendly community policies as a vital element of future downtown revitalization. Additionally, embracing pets can have significant payoffs.

July 2017

UPCOMING EVENTS

Main Street Orientation/New Director Training
Monday, July 31st, Madison

More information


Small Community Forums

September 12th, Marathon City

September 14th, Tomah
More information


Roundtable Discussion Groups

August 24, Wabeno

August 29, Gays Mills

September 13, Cambridge

September 20, Cumberland

More information


Workshop: Real Estate Development

Thursday, September 21, Platteville
More information

Assessing Your Community’s Needs

Many of the features in this month’s newsletter focus on ways that communities can extend the use of existing infrastructure. Whether it is attracting workers to vacant storefronts, drawing pet owners to sterile green spaces or re-envisioning alleys and parking lots, the building blocks of Next Gen Amenities are existing elements of your downtown. Some tools to help you see these underutilized areas in a new light are featured below.

The Friendly Fronts Toolkit guides communities on how to turn front yards into active social spaces.


This Walkability Audit and active neighborhood checklist identifies ways that your streets do or do not encourage walking and biking.


Activating Alleys
can also be a way to create unique spaces in key areas while reducing undesirable behavior. 

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