The Creative Corridor: A Main Street Revitalization for Little Rock


Little Rock, AR | University of Arkansas Community Design Center and Marlon Blackwell Architect | Client: City of Little Rock


The Creative Corridor retrofits a four-block segment of an endangered historic downtown Main Street through aggregation of the cultural arts rather than Main Street’s traditional retail base. The goal is to structure an identity for the Creative Corridor based upon a mixed-use working and living environment anchored by the arts. The design approach restructures the corridor into a node utilizing the urbanism of streetscapes—landscape architecture, ecological engineering, public space configurations, frontage systems and other townscaping elements.


Goals and Objectives From Commercial to Cultural and Residential Uses

Catalyzed by the aggregation of cultural organizations now scattered throughout the metropolitan area, this reclamation of a neglected historic Main Street proposes a land-use mix different from Main Street’s traditional retail base. This publicly-commissioned plan provides an affordable downtown living option presently unavailable in Little Rock combining residential, work and culture. The latter includes instruction/production space for the symphony, ballet, arts center, visual artists, theater, and dance, as well as a culinary arts economy that triangulates restaurants, public demonstration, and education. To ensure a coherent identity among different eras of development, design solutions rely on the urbanism of streetscapes—landscape architecture, ecological engineering, public space configurations, frontage systems and other townscaping elements.

Complete Streets

The project intensifies non-traffic social functions within the right-of-way to support a new cultural arts concentration within a mixed-use living environment. Complete Streets, designed to safely accommodate all users—pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and public transit users of all ages and abilities—are necessary components in the creation of successful mixed-use environments. The plan phases introduction of public spaces unfamiliar to the city’s public works—an integrated Low Impact Development (LID) stormwater treatment network, shared street configurations, bicycle boulevards, and an intermodal rail transit plaza with performance facilities. Shared street configurations with novel townscaping systems connect public and private spaces to frame a new layer of pedestrian functions supportive of a new creative economy.

Low Impact Development (LID) Streetscapes

Streetscapes are designed to deliver ecological services in addition to social and urban services. The proposed LID treatment network—ecologically-based stormwater runoff management—expands upon recommendations from US EPA’s Greening America’s Capitals study for Main Street. A tree-lined Promenade and shared street landscapes combine to deliver many of the 17 recognized ecosystem services—atmospheric regulation, disturbance (flooding) regulation, water regulation, sediment control, nutrient cycling, waste treatment, pollination, habitat, etc. Like a giant tree box filter, the Promenade feature an infiltration system planted with native xeriscapes that also house outdoor dining and gathering spaces. The street becomes an ecological asset, metabolizing water pollutants on site before runoff is discharged through storm sewers to the nearby Arkansas River.

Environmental/Social Data and Methods of Analysis

Urban revitalization strategies in Little Rock occur as self-sufficient nodes within a fabric of abandonment. Main Street’s decline was a victim of the City’s zealousness in securing federal urban renewal funds beginning in the 1950s. The Central Little Rock Urban Renewal Project eventually became a national model for urban neighborhood clearance: 580 acres of the downtown were demolished, including 471 commercial buildings (more than 1600 buildings total in a city of 193,000); and population density dropped from 18 people per acre to five in 1970. In some downtown neighborhoods the population dropped 75 percent.

Stormwater loading to support green street design was modeled by ecological engineers using Hydraflow software with facilities designed to support two-year events. Facilities are staffed with drought-tolerant plant guilds and trees that grow taproots, which can withstand water retention as well as drought.

Role of Design and Consideration of Options

Large corporate development from the adjacent CBD is an invasive species. The project offers a retrofit program beyond historical codes and street beautification responsive to the economics of adaptive reuse with corporate property owners who have recently demolished historic Main Street structures. The region’s entrenched property rights culture makes codes for legacy protection unfeasible. Rather, a flexible townscaping platform negotiates conflicting architectural traditions—between new and old, masonry and glass, and large and small—through the development of allees, arcades, urban porches, and amphitheaters that reclaim Main Street’s sense of place.

Public Participation and Project Implementation

Project planning was funded through grants from the US EPA and NEA, enabling public-private partnerships and collaboration from more than 30 organizations over a six-year period. The City’s Main Street Task Force and property owners participated in design workshops with the region’s principal cultural arts groups who have agreed to relocate to Main Street. More than $160 million in building contracts or renovations are underway (more than 200 dwelling units) by the private sector, including ground floor tenant space for cultural groups. Phase one construction on LID streetscapes begins March 2014.

Project Administration

The Mayor’s office assisted by city planning staff and consultants are executing the proposal. Public sector improvements involve implementation of LID landscapes, which will be funded by the US EPA and the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. MetroPlan (Central Arkansas’ regional transportation authority) is scheduling rail transit improvements for The Creative Corridor.

"Main street design is a grand challenge of the 21st century as urban neighborhoods seek to create sustainable, resilient, and beautiful public spaces. This project highlights what careful design can contribute to the making of place, not a lot of jewels or distractions, but simple, clear, and elegant design of public space. The emphasis on thresholds, nodes, and shared spaces is exactly what urban design needs to engage"

- 2014 Awards Jury



Stephen Luoni, Director, Assoc. AIA
Jeffrey Huber, Assistant Director, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB
Allison Lee Thurmond Quinlan, Project Designer, AIA, Associate ASLA
Cory Amos, Project Designer, Assoc. AIA
Benjamin Curtin, Project Designer
Akihiro Moriya, Project Designer
Linda Komlos, Administrative Analyst

Marlon Blackwell, Principal, FAIA
Meryati Blackwell, Principal, Assoc. AIA, NCIDQ, ASID, LEED AP
Jonathan Boelkins, Studio Director, AIA
William Burks, Project Designer and Technical Manager, Assoc. AIA
Justin Hershberger, Project Designer, Assoc. AIA
Bradford Payne, Project Designer, Assoc. AIA
Stephen Reyenga, Project Designer, Assoc. AIA
Heather McArthur, Project Designer

National Endowment for the Arts
Arkansas Natural Resources Commission