Recently while traveling in Colorado I was able to check out some of the placemaking going on in Longmont. The City of Longmont is located just northeast of Boulder and about half an hour north-northwest of Denver. All the various aspects and design elements of downtown Longmont really came together to create a welcoming, easily walkable, and safe environment – even after dark. Despite most of the businesses being closed already during my visit (after 8pm) the entire downtown area was well lit using traditional street lamps, neon and marquee business lights, and overhead cafe lights. This fun plaza surrounding the local historical society was chock full of aspects that make up a good place. The painted Candy Lane Game walkway pulls you into the space to begin with. Along the path you come across artwork of differing mediums and styles, moveable and stationary seating, a water feature (during warmer months), and some interactive pieces as well. Each of the works of art on display are clearly and boldly labeled with the artists name and work title. The permanent benches are placed in such a way that they enable people watching while a few cafe tables and chairs give visitors moveable and slightly more secluded seating options. In the summer this plaza is probably very popular for it’s wide rimmed fountain perfect for sitting. William H. Whyte lauded the presence of water features in public places for many reasons. Its pleasant aesthetic, people’s innate desire to touch, play, and otherwise interact with the water, and for the noise it creates. In his book, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, Whyte says, ” It is white sound and masks the intermittent honks and bangs that are the most annoying aspects of street noise. It also masks conversations. Even though there are many others nearby, you can talk quite loudly to a companion… and enjoy a feeling of privacy.” The plaza is large enough to create a sense of safety and small enough to encourage interaction. It is built at human scale so to speak. Jan Gehl states in her book, Cities for People, that, ‘At eye level the good city provides opportunities for walking, staying, meeting and expression, and that means it must provide good scale and good climate.” This plaza ostensibly provides each of these opportunities.
Colorado as a whole is very pedestrian friendly as evidenced by this sign. The city of Longmont has the next best thing to pedestrian focused street design with these dedicated, large, and safe crosswalks. Almost as soon as a pedestrian presses the walk button, the lights come on and cars are forced to stop for those on foot. More excitedly at the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder there are some crossing that are pedestrian focused to the point where it takes cars longer to cover the same distance than those on foot. As a friend said, “I don’t know why cars even bother coming down this way. They get stuck waiting for all the foot traffic.”
Throughout the downtown area of Longmont store fronts are glass fronted with clear views into the interiors, varying lighting, and good store front displays. In Cities for People, Gehl goes into quite a bit of detail on how the length of open and interesting store facades matched with average walking speeds matches new stimulus about every 5 seconds, which has been shown to be the frequency for which an average human will look for new input. Such engaging facades draw people and as contrite as it sounds, people like to be where other people are.
The alleyways have been made both pedestrian and car friendly with most parking in the rear of buildings providing incentive for the front and rear entrance of businesses to be welcoming and businesses include dynamic signage and small surprise pieces like the books of shelves at the back entrance of the bookstore. The side alleyways have almost all beeen dedicated strictly pedestrian. During warmer months they are filled with live plants and moveable seating. During the cold months they retain their welcoming nature due to the lighting and colorful features that draw pedestrians down the alleyway. Many businesses also have their entrances in these pedestrian alleys.
Plazas are plentiful in Longmont. While the scale may vary they are all comfortable spaces between human scale buildings and while obviously intended to be welcoming and visual they are surprisingly not overly contrived or staged. St. Stephen’s Plaza in particular held a fantastic mix of history – providing context – a timeline and artwork in multiple mediums. Once again each and every artist was clearly and boldy given their due. There are numerous reasons why Longmont has a welcoming and comfortable downtown and it is impressive that they were able to pull together so many different elements to create a seamless experience for pedestrians while promoting unique and local businesses. Kudos Longmont.