Virginia Street is for lovers

Reimagining Virginia Street

RTC director Lee Gibson delivered a talk at the Nevada Museum of Art on July 31.

RTC director Lee Gibson delivered a talk at the Nevada Museum of Art on July 31.

Photo/Ashley Hennefer

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What makes a city?

There’s the technical answer—population, resources, geography and public transportation are what constitutes a place as a city, which is the label that already classifies Reno and Sparks. But an urban environment where people can have safe, memorable experiences is another matter entirely. Creating a city like this requires the collaboration of artists, designers, historians, engineers and urban planners.

To spur this collaboration, the Nevada Museum of Art hosted a community talk, “Reimagining the Virginia Street Corridor,” on July 31. Lee Gibson, the executive director of the Regional Transportation Committee of Washoe County, delivered the talk and showcased some new plans and concepts the RTC will unveil in 2016.

NMA representative Amanda Horn emphasized the necessity of artists to help improve this region.

“I think the biggest contribution artists can make to corridor transit is to help inform the process by attending the working group and public meetings and sharing ideas,” says Horn. “Artists and designers bring a different viewpoint that, when shared with engineers and planners, can truly help to define a great corridor.”

Gibson referred to the Virginia Street corridor—which spans through the University, downtown and midtown—as the “soul of the community.”

“Virginia and Fourth and Prater, in my mind, are sort of the axis of our community. They’re both the historic corridors, they’re both the areas and corridors where our community evolved from and developed from, and it’s where we see a lot of economic development.”

Early in the talk, Gibson established three “buzzwords” that drive RTC’s process for upcoming projects: “history, technology, and the environment.” This means finding a purpose for the historical spaces and buildings that still have cultural significance. It means connecting this to 21st century transportation, innovation and safety. It requires adding more bike lanes, walking paths and parklets to encourage sustainable transit and public green spaces.

This is where artists play a role in making the spaces more inviting and interesting to locals. “Design and architecture inform how people interact with space,” says Horn. “Transit provides a perfect opportunity for creative interactions with built environments.”

According to RTC representative Michael Moreno, RTC works with a community panel to select artists.

“We’ve got art in a lot of our facilities,” he says, citing the sculptures in the Kietzke Lane roundabout and the Donald Lipski installations, “Jackson” and “Cow Catcher” in the Fourth Street and Centennial Plaza bus stations.

Although the Virginia Street project is still in the works, Moreno says art and design will play an important role. “People want to create a sense of place,” he says.

Several RTC concepts show larger sidewalks, multipurpose lanes for cycling and walking, street parking, lane dividers, and no shortage of plants like trees and shrubs. This is intended to maintain direct access for the businesses along that route, while providing more options for people to get around beyond driving.

“We had to come back to the question of, ’What is the purpose of travel? What is the purpose of mobility?” said Gibson.

Despite the upcoming improvements made to the Virginia Street corridor, it’s not about changing the identity of downtown Reno; it’s about drawing people back to it to enjoy the area where the city was born.

“Art plays a dynamic role in the projects we do,” says Moreno. “It builds a sense of pride, ownership and identity within the community.”