NACTO just released its 2021 Grant Program report and there are some absolutely incredible projects that took place around the country that communities can learn from and adopt in their own cities. 

We were proud to be chosen for a NACTO Streets for Pandemic Response & Recovery grant this past year, giving us the opportunity to fund Civic Plaza For All, an initiative organized by our Columbia Heights Main Street program. We partnered with DDOT to revitalize the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza, creating a shared outdoor dining area that gave businesses new opportunities to recover from the pandemic, as well as open space for free outdoor events like fitness classes, food distribution, and a bike maintenance station. All of this helped bring much-needed foot traffic to the businesses near the plaza. 

This approach is an excellent way to reactivate or make the most of a small public community space. By partnering with other local businesses (like fitness studios), community organizations, and government agencies, we were able to keep costs low and orchestrate 60 events over 5 months. 

Our pilot project also sparked permanent changes to the plaza, including funding from the city for dedicated staff on our team to run continued programming (keep an eye out for more details on the new programming, launching in April!). 

Don’t have time to read the full report? Here are our top takeaways:

  • Employ Creative & Different Ways To Engage The Community: Getting community insight, involvement, and buy-in in community improvement projects is essential, but can sometimes be a challenge. Rather than just holding meetings, try involving the community start-to-finish in the process itself.

    For example, when Baltimore needed to implement traffic calming measures and right-of-way improvements, they used a custom online public art drawing tool (COLORow) that gave residents the ability to submit drawings. Then, using those submissions, their design partner developed design proposals. The community then had the opportunity to vote on selecting the final work of the traffic calming art. In Los Angeles, where two communities needed safer routes to schools, Los Angeles Walks hosted virtual design workshops with school and non-school community members. 
  • Traffic Calming Measures Can Double As Streetscape Improvement: If there’s one thing we’re seeing more and more of (and we love it!), it’s taking advantage of much-needed traffic calming and pedestrian safety measures to double as streetscape improvement. Using NACTO grant funds, groups in Baltimore and Seattle combined pedestrian safety measures with art installations, enhancing the streetscape. This include art such as painted curb extensions (bump-outs), street murals, and painted walkways or crosswalks. 

    As your community embarks on new traffic calming or pedestrian safety measures, push to include streetscape improvement as part of the approach!
  • Invest In Your Community (Literally): When you can, investing in your community by paying residents for the work they are doing to improve the community can not only increase equity within your community, but also increase results and commitment. 

    In Fort Collins, the city has established a “Paint Pot” program, which funds local artists and low-income residents to design, install, and maintain asphalt art projects in their neighborhoods. In Los Angeles, Los Angeles Walks offered stipend positions for managing weekday School Street installations and programming. Lake City Collective in Seattle paid community members, both youth and adults, to build planter boxes, plant vegetables, maintain the planter boxes, and do routine trash clean-ups. 

Did the NACTO report spark any new ideas for your community? Let us know in the comments below!