Reno ready for change with Next City projects

Vanguards — 55 young urban leaders from around the Western Hemisphere — came to Reno for a few days in May, but the energy of their ideas is expected to surge through the city for a year and beyond.

Next City — a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities — selected Reno for its 2015 Vanguard Big Idea Challenge from a pool of 300 applicant cities. The challenge took place May 6-8.

Becoming the designated Next City for the year has generated a lot of positive national media attention for Reno, as well as ideas for improvement, said Mike Kazmierski, president of EDAWN, the host of the event.

“We are the Next City for the next year,” he said of the ongoing project. “We are working in partnership with (the organization) Next City.”

The Big Idea Challenge unleashed the Vanguards onto the streets of Reno, charged with developing temporary interventions that would address issues of walkability, safety and/or connectivity to improve the perception of Reno’s downtown neighborhoods and encourage public activity.

Each of six teams was assigned to generate ideas for either East 4th Street, the Mapes Plaza, or the Lids over the downtown railroad tracks. They were limited to projects that would cost $10,000 or less, could be implemented in a year, and would be applicable to other communities.

Reno sponsors generated the project fund, with the bulk of it coming from the Nightingale Family Foundation, Dermody Properties, United Construction, The City of Reno and EDAWN.

For a day and half, the Vanguard teams toured Reno with special focus on their assigned location, talking to people and brainstorming ideas for improvements.

On May 7, the teams presented their ideas to a packed house of 300 business representatives gathered at Whitney Peak Hotel.

“It was not the usual suspects at business gatherings,” Kazmierski said of the energetic participants.

A panel of judges from Next City members and the Reno community, including Kazmierski, selected winners based on creativity, feasibility, community impact, and overall presentation.

“It was exciting to see a lot of different perspectives,” he said.

“The group of Vanguards that came here were incredibly talented. We tried to get them to stay here.”

A 4th Street project from the Victory Way team won the challenge.

The team was inspired by 4th Street’s historical place as the Victory Highway and by Burning Man.

A centerpiece of the Victory Way proposal was for businesses and organizations to create art “totems” about their organizations from the power poles that will be left after a city project to place utilities underground along that stretch of street.

Another element is the collection and compilation of the stories of the people and places along the historic road to be displayed at a special event. The event could include a Burning Man-inspired bonfire that would symbolically remember the past and embrace the future of 4th Street.

“A lot has to go through the city and the (Reno Transportation Commission),” said Tom Dallessio, executive director of Next City, about the bonfire and other features in the projects.

In the coming weeks, EDAWN and Next City will work with city officials to develop a plan to execute the winning Vanguard project, and take a look at portions of the other proposals for implementations.

Several 2015 Vanguards are Reno residents, including City Councilman and Vice Mayor Oscar Delgado. The local Vanguards have organized as a group and are talking to the community, Dallessio said.

Possibly the first project residents and visitors will see calls for stenciled phrases on the Lids over the railroad tracks downtown and draws on the “Reno: The Biggest Little City in the World” slogan.

The idea is to flood social media with selfies taken over fill-in-the-blank phrases painted on the railway Lids. “The ____iest Person in Reno,” could become “The Happiest Person in Reno,” or “The Luckiest Person in Reno.”

“I know that’s going to happen,” Dallessio said.

Already, the project has inspired action.

“Last weekend, I saw someone use chalk (to write on the concrete) and send a picture to Facebook,” Kazmierski said.

While Victory Way and SuperCity projects received the most attention from the judges, other proposals had aspects that inspired consideration for implementation.

Mount Mapes envisioned bringing the mountains into Reno with a jungle gym/three-dimensional garden on the Mapes Plaza. They designed the mixed-use project for climbing and relaxing, with the idea of encouraging people to gather downtown.

Dallessio commended the Home on Fourth team for starting the process of change by building a Web site for the 4th Street corridor, organizing a planting session at the Volunteers of America rooftop garden, and encouraging participation by those attending the Thursday evening presentation of team proposals.

“It took place Friday (May 8),” he said.

Another concept came from Matt Tomasulo of Walk Your City.

Borrowing from a project in Raleigh, North Carolina, Reno organizers liked the idea of signs that not only direct pedestrians how to get from one spot to another, but how long it would take to walk it.

While Reno has only a year as the 2015 Next City city, the ideas generated from the Big Idea Challenge are expected to generate inspiration for years to come.

Next City’s Dallessio left Reno pleased to see the innovations set in motion and looking forward to watching change.

“We’re planning on continuing to work with Reno and coming back at key times,” he said.

For Reno participants, the Vanguard Challenge stimulated a lot of ideas and energy.

“We’ve got to do more,” Kazmierski said. “It doesn’t take a lot of time and money, from our perspective, but makes a big difference.”


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