Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What happens in Reno hopefully won't stay in Reno

Ranada Robinson, Research Manager

Last week, I had the amazing opportunity to spend three days in Reno, Nevada with a stellar group of young urban professionals with a diverse range of areas of expertise from cities all over North America at the Vanguard Conference hosted by Next City. We explored, we networked, and we worked together to brainstorm creative ideas. I made many contacts, and I hope to keep in touch with them all. There are so many people dedicated to making communities better, and it was wonderful to spend time getting to know what we each do and think about various issues. Here are just a few of my favorite moments.

To get a real-time glimpse of my experience as a Vanguard in Reno, check out Market Street’s Twitter feed from May 6-8.

Tour of the Reno Post Office 

I enjoyed seeing the historic Reno Post Office because it reminded me much of Atlanta’s Ponce City Market. It’s an old government building that is currently undergoing a makeover and will be repurposed. When its transformation is complete, it will be called FiftySouth Virginia and will feature retail and office space while preserving and highlighting the most historical parts of the building. This building will likely bring much more foot traffic to the Riverwalk District. Exciting! 

Small Business and Entrepreneurship Tour 

We visited Startup Row and spoke with a few entrepreneurs in Reno. Startup Row began because entrepreneurs wanted to be around each other and figured out how to make it happen. The Reno Collective, a co-working space, and EDAWN, the economic development authority, have worked hard to create a supportive space for companies. Two really cool products that have come from their work are this infographic and the Reno Startup Deck, a deck of cards that feature all the contact information for resources and existing entrepreneurs to support new business owners. These are really great marketing tools, and the business owners we talked to are very happy to be growing their high-tech businesses in a gorgeous and up-and-coming place like Reno. 

Big Idea Challenge 

One of the major components of the conference was the Big Idea Challenge, a competition to come up with the best tactical urban intervention for three opportunity sites in downtown Reno. The winning ideas will be funded with a $10,000 implementation grant from the City of Reno and the Nightingale Foundation. On Thursday night, over 300 stakeholders in the city joined us as we presented our ideas at Cargo at Whitney Peak. The room was packed with people and energy. Before we arrived in Reno, we were divided into groups and assigned one of these opportunity sites. Then throughout the conference, we had time to look at the site, discuss our ideas, come to consensus, then develop a PowerPoint presentation. My team was charged with developing a proposal for the use of The Lids, also known as ReTRAC (the Reno Transportation Rail Access Corridor). The Lids are basically two concrete pads that cover depressed railroad tracks. The space is vacant and rarely used but in a great location downtown. 

My team consisted of (from left to right) Noah Silverman of the Reno Bike Project, yours truly, Theresa Hwang of the Skid Row Housing Trust in Los Angeles, Adam Meagher of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Lora Lillard of the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, Michael Martin of HD MADE in New York, and Alen Amini of the Corps Member Education Foundation in Cincinnati.

We all agreed that we wanted to infuse public feedback as a main focus of our idea, and we wanted to leverage its historical use as an event space and/or vendor area. We then named ourselves All Aboard, Reno both for the tie to the train tracks that used to run through downtown Reno and for the citizen participation we were seeking to encourage. What we presented on Thursday night was a step by step process of engagement, starting with hiring a part-time Community Engagement Fellow with the $10,000; creating a Participation Station, a place to gather ideas for future events or space uses from the public, at an existing upcoming event (like the Reno Sculpture Fest this past weekend); engaging partners, particularly local businesses who could sponsor future events; and creating a feedback loop that included online and physical components. The point of our idea is that through a series of events bringing residents' dreams to life for a day, whether activities like yoga or community theater at The Lids or sample space uses like a skate park, the City would be able to observe which ideas were most popular, while giving a platform for local businesses to show what they have to offer. This method not only creates buy-in, but it connects citizens to that actual space and gives people a reason to venture to that area since it’s not currently heavil trafficked area. 

Although our idea didn’t win, we did receive tons of positive feedback from the city leaders in attendance and from our fellow Vanguards. So who knows? Maybe we’ll see our idea come to fruition one day, either in Reno or in some other place with a great vacant space.

Lake Tahoe 

Before my red-eye flight back to Atlanta, I joined a group of new friends on an hour-drive to Lake Tahoe for lunch. The place is simply breathtaking. We spent a couple of hours just talking about our favorite moments of the conference, talking about work and our communities, laughing, and just connecting. It was the perfect end to a very interesting trip!

Myeta Moon of Kaboom! in Washington DC, Ceara O'Leary of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, Lakisha Hull of the City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning, moi, and my team member Theresa Hwang