So as promised, albeit after a long delay, I’m starting what I hope will be a regular feature of this blog: highlighting good ideas for cities.

To kick things off, I’m taking the suggestion of a reader who brought to my attention an idea from Columbus, OH.

Ohio DOT wanted to widen I-670, so in one location, the decision was made to hide the highway by building retail shops along the bridge. Here’s a picture:

And a view from street level, where you really can’t tell it’s a highway overpass at all:

This is a great idea, because instead of allowing the highway to divide neighborhoods and destroy them for the sake of the automobile, this development allows neighborhoods to remain pedestrian friendly and maintains a connection between both sides of the highway (at least in this one space).

According to the Columbus City Council webpage, they’re considering highway “caps,” as they’re known, all over the city. Check out these links, which show pictures of 4 different highway overpasses and proposals to cap them with buildings or parks (be sure to click on the “next” link). It’s really an amazing transformation they’re proposing:

http://assets.columbus.gov/Council/initiative/caps/spring/1.htm
http://assets.columbus.gov/Council/initiative/caps/broad/1.htm
http://assets.columbus.gov/Council/initiative/caps/third/1.htm
http://assets.columbus.gov/Council/initiative/caps/high/1.htm

Of course, Columbus is not the only city to hide its highways- Boston’s Big Dig is the most infamous of all attempts to reclaim urban space from the ravages of the interstate highway system. But other cities are getting in the game as well:

Dallas, TX wants to connect it’s arts district and Uptown neighborhoods with a 3 block-long park:

Trenton, NJ created a 6.5 acre park over US 29 which sparked reinvestment in neighboring areas. A view from “street level”:

Other cities with caps include Seattle (I-5), San Diego, Duluth (I-35), and Phoenix (I-10).

Of course, Richmond has 2 caps already, the RMA parking garage and Kanawha Plaza. While over a highway is one of the best places to put parking, as it uses otherwise wasted urban space, Kanawha Plaza is closer in concept to these other developments because it serves to connect both sides of the Downtown Expressway.

Kanawha, however, is much smaller in scale than these newer caps. And it’s also flanked by busy streets on both sides, which diminishes its ability to actually connect the two sides of the expressway as it’s not pleasant to walk there.

So Good Idea #1: hide the highways by capping them and reconnecting divided neighborhoods. Where could this work in Richmond? Perhaps in Oregon Hill? Maybe a retail cap along S. Meadow St. near the near the new lofts? What do you think?

When I used to live near the expressway in Carytown I dreamed of a green-space cap that would cover the entire expressway as a bike and walking path to downtown as well as heal the ugly scar in the neighborhood and deaden the incessant noise. Now that I see so many other cities getting into this game, perhaps it wasn’t such a far-fetched dream after all…

ddexpressway2.JPG

And please, send me some good ideas you’ve seen in other cities or have dreamed up yourself.   Let’s think big for Richmond. Send ideas here: ambivalentrichmonder [at] yahoo.com

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