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What’s the future of Virginia Street? (commentary)


In the latest Barber Brief, Alicia Barber discusses the ambitious and potentially fraught “Virginia Street Urban Placemaking Study” to be taken up at the next Reno City Council meeting. This is the same study that threatens to derail progress on the Center Street Cycle Track. For the full missive, click here.

By Alicia Barber

Believe it or not, it’s almost time for another Reno City Council meeting, coming up this Wednesday, September 8. You can view the complete agenda and materials here. There are two items (E.1 & E.2) that propose to amend the City’s Redevelopment Plan, but first I want to talk about some potential plans for Virginia Street.

The Virginia Street Urban Placemaking Study

In my last Brief, I mentioned that the RTC Washoe Board had approved funding half of a $150,000 “Virginia Street Urban Placemaking Study” to be conducted by a consultant hired by the City of Reno. The item will be in front of City Council for approval this week (it’s item D.1), and now that I’ve had more of a chance to look at it, I have a lot of questions, because it’s a lot more ambitious—and more potentially fraught—than it might initially appear.

What would this study encompass?

In short: a lot. I’m not sure who wrote the proposed scope, but as someone who studies urban form and function, I can tell you that it is massive. I strongly encourage everyone to read the entire document here, but City staff provides a succinct overview in their report:


Just take a look at some of the tasks the consultant would be undertaking:

  • Identify design characteristics and streetscape elements for Virginia Street, including an inventory of such features as sidewalk characteristics, street furniture, art, historic and iconic features, building facades, landscaping, parking, building access, and lighting.
  • Work with City and RTC staff to identify both existing and planned transportation connections/significant intersections along Virginia Street for various modes such as transit routes, bicycle facilities, and multi-use paths.
  • Identify existing and planned land uses; develop an inventory of vacant or underutilized land in the corridor.
  • Market analysis for growth of existing business and attraction of new businesses, destinations, and land uses.
  • Explore how parks, plazas, and open space, such as City Plaza, CitiCenter Plaza, and West Street Plaza should be utilized or transformed to support the overall vision.
  • Assess parking and loading zone inventory and needs.
  • Facilitate development of a community-based vision for the future of Virginia Street in downtown, including “planning-level concepts and design alternatives.”
  • Identify funding sources and prepare an implementation plan for short- and long-term improvements to the corridor.

This is a pretty staggering directive, even more when you consider that the idea is to accomplish all of this in just six months, and it’s clarified elsewhere that the subject area is not just Virginia Street from Liberty to Ninth Streets, but Sierra to Lake Streets, too. If you want to get your bearings via Google Maps, click here.

Evaluation of options involving placemaking is always welcome, of course, but it’s the goal of formulating a “unified vision” for the corridor within six months that is giving me pause right now. What would constitute a “unified vision” of Virginia Street? A consensus? A simple majority? And among whom?

Whose “vision” are we talking about? Read more.

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