NWA Design Excellence Program Five-Year Impact
Building Regional Capacity
- Building Regional Capacity
- Strengthening Public Life
- Celebrating Local Culture and Place
- Elevating Standards of Sustainability and Resilience
- Highlighting Lessons Learned
- Addressing Regional Limitations
Since 2015, the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program has supported 15 projects across the region’s five largest downtowns. The Walton Family Foundation recently collaborated with Gehl, an urban design firm, to create a framework – Uncovering the Impact of the Design Excellence Program – that measures the impact of completed projects and helps position the program, and the region, for a future of design excellence.
Over the past five years, the Design Excellence Program built regional capacity by helping transform downtown spaces, improve quality of life and attract and retain new residents.
Completed projects are helping enhance downtown transformations across the region. TheatreSquared has become an anchor space for the future Cultural Arts Corridor in downtown Fayetteville, while the Rogers Historical Museum is bringing visitors to local businesses. At the same time, Thaden School has become an asset that attracts families to the region.
Projects have created new places and opportunities for people to spend quality time in public – moving or staying, alone and with others.
To attract a more diverse audience, TheatreSquared created varying price points for tickets. The Rogers Historical Museum has increased programmable space and created new local events. At Thaden School, facilities like the pump track are now open for community use, while the Quilt of Parks design will create a variety of spaces that will welcome people of all ages and backgrounds.
Several Design Excellence Program projects have incorporated elements of the “Arkansan identity” or historical spaces to develop authentic yet world-class designs.
In a nod to local heritage, projects have leveraged recycled materials, historical features and architectural styles as inspirations for their designs.
Completed Design Excellence Program projects have weaved sustainability into the fabric of their design and operations.
Design Excellence Program projects like Thaden School emphasize sustainable lifestyles throughout its campus and curriculum, while TheatreSquared demonstrates these values with locally sourced materials and energy efficiencies. The design for Luther George Park will minimize environmental impact and be adaptable to use in all seasons.
In addition to its successes, the Gehl report also identifies challenges to consider for future design and programming.
The report revealed the need to listen to user needs more comprehensively, integrate that feedback into designs and, where possible, more intentionally engage traditionally underrepresented communities. Additionally, it identified connectivity issues, which could be addressed through more comprehensive planning.
The report identified three primary factors that may limit future program impact.
In spite of site-specific mobility enhancements, inadequate walking, biking and transit infrastructure surrounding the projects have affected the user experience and foot traffic, particularly among households without cars. While these projects have emphasized sustainability in their construction, operation and programming, regional development patterns have sometimes limited progress outside their site boundaries. Finally, even though many projects are near areas with above average diversity, nearly all face challenges in attracting these types of audiences, signaling the need for more intentional engagement with underrepresented communities.