Building a Better Modesto

Modesto Art Museum

Funding Received: 2013
Modesto, CA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
October 13, 2013

More than 50 people enjoy the first event of the architecture festival, which included a walking tour of Modesto Design District architecture. Photo courtesy of Modesto Art Museum

Update and Reflection:
The first of two design district historic architecture tours for mobile devices is complete in both English and Spanish. The tour can be taken from anywhere.

The museum completed a 15-minute video about Modesto’s mid-20th century architecture. Modesto Modernism, made by two local movie makers, Jessica Gomula-Kruzic and Steven Arounsack, premiered at the architecture festival September 20th. It was funded by a grant from Creative Work Fund in San Francisco. The movie inspired us to imagine about Modesto’s future, by assisting us in our goal to change the way people feel about downtown Modesto. Also, the film will help us give residents and visitors a whole new way of thinking about this part of the city. You can see the trailer for the movie here.

The Modesto International Architecture Festival started with 99 events from September 14 to 22, including movies, tours, exhibits, talks, workshops, and special events. More than 100 people enjoyed the first two tours of the festival and more than 350 photographs were entered into our Instagram photo contest.

Staff members from the city of Modesto have started reviewing and editing the draft of the public art policy we’ve been working on.

Recent Wins:
In late August, the city of Modesto re-opened a one-block section of 10th Street in the design district to cars to increase business exposure and enhance vibrancy. The block was closed 13 years ago in a failed attempt to create a pedestrian plaza. At the time of reopening, one side of the street had 5 of 7 storefronts empty, with several more empty stores on the other side, and there were complaints about the safety of the area. The reopening of the section is part of a larger plan for the street that includes parklets, improved parking for cars and bikes, public art, and outdoor seating areas.

Plans are moving forward for a new $250 million courthouse just one block outside the design district. When completed, the courthouse will greatly increase vibrancy in the whole area.

Reflecting on the failed pedestrian plaza has reminded me of cargo cult urbanism, the creation of projects or amenities in the hope that they will almost magically spark revitalization. The best recent examples of this are the cities that built art museums hoping that the institutions would revitalize their cities in the same way the Guggenheim Museum revitalized Bilbao, Spain. These cities did no analysis of why building a museum worked in Bilbao and why it may or may not work similarly in their own cities. City planner thoughts if we build it, they will come. This is cargo cult urbanism. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I can ensure that our ArtPlace project isn’t another example of cargo cult urbanism. So far, this is what I’ve learned:

-- We are building on a foundation of what is already here, Modesto’s rich architecture and design heritage.
-- Building a Better Modesto has broad based community support including: the City of Modesto, the Modesto Downtown Improvement District, design district business and property owners, Modesto Chamber of Commerce, Modesto Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the media, other nonprofit organizations, and citizen groups.
-- Our activities are informed by both demographic and statistical information
-- Building a Better Modesto is a multi-faceted program that includes art, architecture, landscape, and urban design specifically focused to increase vibrancy in the area
-- Building a Better Modesto is just one part of a much wider effort to bring vibrancy to the entire downtown that includes: job development, improved parking for cars and bikes, security issues, cultural amenities and retail experiences to draw people into the area, housing, economic incentives, transportation, branding, building restoration, and much more.
-- We are institutionalizing our efforts in city policy and public education.
-- We are also changing the way people think and feel about the design district by giving them positive images and experiences of the area.

Though I think about this a lot, I still wonder what if anything I am missing . . . .