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Ideas aired to build downtown

September 23rd, 2016

By DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

A New York consultant gave a local audience ideas Thursday on how to bring more visitors to downtown Fort Wayne.

Residents and city officials came together at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art for a presentation from Gehl Studio, an international design firm. 

The focus was on identifying ways to create special, meaningful public spaces to attract more visitors to the downtown area. The discussion was led by Matthew Lister, who works out of Gehl Studio’s New York office.

Cities that offer varieties of experiences will attract and retain younger residents, he said. 

“We know that cities are shaped by technical experts, regulators and financiers and a lot of other people. There’s a lot of thinking and progress that’s been made in the American city, in particular, around form and regulation, which is great,” Lister said. “But one thing we think is still missing is this idea that we need to drive the decision making … around people and their well-being and culture and public life.”

Gehl Studio has worked with communities including Carmel; New York City; and Copenhagen, Denmark. The firm does business all over the world. 

These presentations represent different ways to look at the success of a city’s downtown, said Pam Holocher, the city’s planning director. 

“I think the idea is to create those special places where people want to be,” Holocher said. “How do you figure that out?”

Gehl Studio uses metrics to study where people tend to gather, where they’re coming from, how long they usually stay in a particular place, Holocher said. The company then takes those metrics and uses them to recommend locations to the city to test ideas for how to create those meaningful spaces.

“They have our downtown plan, so what we’re really hoping is that they’ll look at some of those areas and identify areas that have some value,” Holocher said. 

Holocher said the city is specifically interested in Harrison Street, particularly into converting some of the surface parking in that location into other development, which would then be mixed with some retail. 

Gehl Studio was brought in through a partnership with the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne and the Knight Foundation.