Richland Avenue Gateway Project
During the early part of June 2017, Planning Department staff conducted one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders and business owners in the Richland Avenue area to gather information, ideas, and input to transform this important gateway into the city. The specific study area within the City of Aiken extended from Valley to Vaucluse Roads. The interviews identified specific concerns and issues for the area and through these conversations, consistent patterns of thought emerged, as well as initial ideas to make improvements and guide growth and change.
Following these interviews, two community conversations were held to gather additional input from the general public and other stakeholders. The first meeting was held on August 24th at the Aiken Visitors Center and Train Depot. Nearly 80 people attended the meeting to dream about the future of this portion of Richland Avenue. Participants wore various hats – from engaged citizen to city and county officials to county residents to business and property owners – and represented various socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds. Existing conditions were reviewed, information gathered to date was shared, and urban design and community planning concepts were discussed. Participants gathered in small groups around a map of the study area and talked about various aspects of what it could look like, who might live there, how people moved to and through the area, and what kinds of uses they envisioned thriving in this area of the city in the future. Some wrote directly on the maps, others used brightly colored-post-it notes, while others wrote down ideas on their own paper. All this information was collected, reviewed, and distilled into themed areas for focusing revitalization efforts and presented a clear vision for how this area should change and grow over time.
At the October 5th meeting, staff reviewed the outcomes of the first meeting and engaged participants in active dialogue around the identified themed outcomes. From these outcomes, participants were asked to express their opinion about where to focus resources and efforts first. The chosen exercise, commonly called “Dotocracy”, is a simple, easy way to visually illustrate community priorities through the use of simple, colored sticky dots. Not only was this exercise fun, it also allowed for a break in the meeting, creating casual conversation and opportunity for community members to mix, mingle, share ideas, and meet new people. By voting visually, the areas that mattered most were immediately made evident.
Make It Happen
The next steps for the Richland Avenue Gateway Project will include a mixture of private and public efforts and investment of resources (e.g., time, money, sweat equity, etc.). Specific recommendations that the City of Aiken as a municipality can undertake to address infrastructure, place making, land use, and safety will be identified and brought forth to the City Council before the end of the year. In the meantime, efforts by neighborhood associations, private businesses, and citizens to assist in revitalization are encouraged. Please contact the Planning Department directly to report your group’s efforts and successes in this part of town so we can communicate and celebrate your successes with the greater Aiken community.