For Northwest Arkansas to grow sustainably, planners, residents and municipalities must advocate for a design-first approach to development. Building functional interconnected neighborhoods that put the pedestrian and cyclist at the forefront results in better-designed communities where residents feel happy, connected and open.
That was the message from nationally-recognized urbanist and designer Victor Dover in February to an audience of more than 120 community leaders, planners, city officials and developers in Northwest Arkansas.
Dover visited the region as part of the Northwest Arkansas Council’s FutureIsNow speaker series. The event was the first in a series of housing and development-focused events hosted by the Council’s workforce housing center and sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation. The center will bring experts from across the country to explore ideas, best practices and solutions that can be replicated locally to help build a better community.
“I believe you have a lot of room and can accommodate all the new generations of folks in Northwest Arkansas, but you can’t do it if you leave the design to the end,” said Dover. “Design is not something extra that you can add on after all the big decisions are made by the lawyers and engineers. Rather, something that must be part of how you approach land development and community making from the beginning.”
By first mapping out the neighborhoods and city centers with parks, sidewalks and bike lanes, cities can ensure developments are human-focused and have placemaking and community as the main objective.
“When you sell isolation, every time you add something, it takes away from what you are selling,” said Dover. “When you sell community, then when you add something, it makes it better.”
This approach increases the ability of developers to offer more cost-effective housing options because design-centered neighborhoods limit parking requirements, allow for smaller homes closer together and implement best land use and infrastructure practices.
As an urban designer and co-author of Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns, Dover is an expert on how to redesign neighborhood streets, to shape enduring cities that people really love. For 36 years, Dover Kohl & Partners has designed walkable, livable neighborhoods, including work right here in Northwest Arkansas. Dover’s firm developed downtown plans for Fayetteville and Siloam Springs, and this year designed the new village of Warren Park in Rogers.
“You are at an unbelievable, unprecedented period of prosperity here in Northwest Arkansas,” said Dover. “You are exactly like Rochester when Kodak was new, exactly like Buffalo when the Erie Canal and electrical power on the Niagara Falls was new, and they were the richest communities in our country. With that prosperity, they built beautiful livable neighborhoods. They built basilicas, opera houses and parks. Things that everyone that lives in these towns still enjoys. And even though their period of being on top has ended, that legacy is still there. So, what will you do with your period of prosperity?”