Speaker to Introduce ‘Urban Magnet’ Concept


Todd Richardson knows it takes a village to create a village.

Last summer Richardson – Crosstown Arts co-director and a University of Memphis assistant professor – was in Vancouver seeking ideas and connections that could aid in the transformation of the vacant Sears Crosstown building into an arts-based, mixed-use development.

While there, he happened upon a person, and a concept, he knew would be useful to Crosstown Arts and other Memphis-area groups working to create vibrant, mixed-use public spaces. The result is a lecture by Vancouver architect Alan Boniface that’s happening Thursday, Feb. 9, at Memphis College of Art.

“Urban Magnets: Lessons in Sustainable Place-Making” takes place at 6 p.m. inside Rust Hall’s Callicott Auditorium. A reception precedes the lecture, which is free and open to the public, at 5:30 p.m.

Crosstown Arts, Livable Memphis and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Memphis District are partnering to host the event.

Richardson’s primary goal during his Vancouver trip was to visit Granville Island, a formerly industrial area of the city that was revitalized in the 1970s to form a mixed-use, arts-centric urban community.

Boniface, who led Richardson on a tour through the development, is a principal with Dialog, the Vancouver multidisciplinary design firm behind Granville Island’s revitalization.

“Our firm is very well known in this part of the world for a couple of things, one of them being the creation of mixed-use, public space-oriented development,” Boniface said. “We sometimes rehabilitate old structures and incorporate them into new designs.”

And that made Boniface and his firm a key resource for Richardson and his Crosstown Arts team, which aims to revitalize not only the Crosstown neighborhood near North Parkway and Cleveland Avenue, but also its cornerstone, the 14-story, 1.4 million-square-foot former Sears warehouse that’s stood vacant for nearly two decades.

Richardson was particularly interested in Boniface’s research on what his firm calls “urban magnets.”

“He and his crew had systematically thought through a lot of the ingredients or components of successful urban magnets,” Richardson said. “We thought it would be great to bring (Boniface) to Memphis because we have so many initiatives going on right now – everything from Broad Avenue to Soulsville to Crosstown to South Main.”

An urban magnet is a sustainable, vibrant place that comprises a number of different elements all centered on one main concept, Boniface said.

“If you take the idea of food as a magnet, the places that succeed don’t just serve it,” he said. “They also make it, they teach people about it, they host celebrations and festivals around it. The urban realm tends to follow that. Like Beale Street, there’s an aesthetic for entertainment there that people get.”

“What we find valuable with (Boniface’s) urban magnets concept is the idea that he is really driving toward the sustainability of the place, or sustainability in place-making,” said Andrew Trippel, Memphis District Council coordinator for the ULI, which focuses on responsible use of land to create sustainable, thriving communities. “Everybody drives toward that and everybody seeks to achieve that, but he looks at it perhaps differently. That’s why we’re excited to have him come here – to understand his methodology.”

Boniface said the urban magnets concept refers not simply to places that thrive, but places that thrive over the long haul.

“Essentially our research looks at places around the world and dissects them after the fact to try to find out why they’re successful through time,” he said.

And that’s a crucial idea to consider right now, Trippel said, because so many place-making initiatives are occurring throughout the region, each with similar goals.

“Whether it occurs in the urban core at the neighborhood level or in small towns, we’re all trying to achieve that authentic place,” he said. “In doing so, people connect to it and reconnect to it.”

Three current place-making initiatives – Overton Square, the South Main Historic Arts District and Downtown Hernando – are the subject of a video that will be featured at tonight’s event.

“The hope is that these local initiatives will provide points of comparison to what (Boniface) is going to be talking about from a more global perspective,” Richardson said. “Alan’s research has helped pinpoint some ingredients that have helped projects achieve long-term success. So at the end, when we have a Q&A with panelists, we’ll have a real sense of, ‘OK, here are the ingredients Alan has talked about. How does that fit Memphis?’”