South Main: One Decade Later

It’s hard to believe that it has been a decade since our Labor Day visit to South Main. This Labor Day (2021), we did it again. My kids have certainly grown since the last visit and my son, Grant, was born between visits. Similarly the neighborhood has also grown and matured, now featuring the beautiful Surf Hotel and Surf Chateau, both new from the 2011 visit. We have a fresh perspective, but similar loving results of such a special place. The following are a few updated photos from our 2021 visit, followed by the 2011 post about South Main.

Swift Street, September, 2021.
Portal of the Surf Chateau from the Arkansas River Side. September, 2021.
A view from the Firehouse Loft, September 2021.

Over Labor Day weekend of 2011, my family met up with my parents in the beautiful neighborhood setting of South Main in Buena Vista, Colorado. South Main has been referenced in prior blog posts however for new readers, it is an evolving neighborhood built upon the foundational elements of the Charter of the New Urbanism. The neighborhood is unique in that it was developed by professional kayakers as a kayak river park first – neighborhood second.

A view of a cobblestone street called Swift Street in South Main.
The palette of materials in the architecture at South Main allows for variation providing unifying elements throughout the neighborhood.

The neighborhood is still in its infant years, yet the buzz across Southern Colorado is comparable to an established urban resort community. It is often mentioned and referenced in discussions in Colorado Springs so it is not a surprise to see other development professionals wandering the streets of South Main. In my brief two-day visit to South Main, I spoke to a couple of home builders from Texas and a new Urbanist legend, Dan Burden of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute (Check out Dan’s photos and comments on Facebook). The visiting professionals were referred to the neighborhood tucked into Arkansas Riverfront by others – popular simply by word-of-mouth.

In the year that I have been away from South Main, many changes have been made. New homes have been completed, attached live/work units have meticulously been constructed, other first floors uses have been activated with a mix of retail, furniture sales, attorney offices and art galleries. It is rapidly taking an organic form that will, at full build out, rival neo-traditional neighborhoods across the country. 

It is the second time my family has stayed in the vacation rental called The Firehouse in South Main. The Firehouse is the second floor of a live/work unit with three bedrooms that sleeps ten guests. The interior of The Firehouse is beautifully finished with high ceilings, wide hallways and a terrific kitchen, perfect for a couple of families, or a group of outdoor enthusiasts.

The vacation rental component of South Main is one of the great features of adaptability in the new economy that is possible in a new urban neighborhood. The framework of a new urban community includes the bones of adaptability and flexibility of use. Conventional single-use subdivisions cannot compete in adaptability because they do not have the same flexibility, nor diversity that enables creative adaptation. The recognition of the South Main Company that there is a demand for week-long or weekend tenants in the Banana Belt of Colorado is just one creative way that South Main is successful.

I enjoy the casual feel of bicycles parked on the sidewalks. I think that it gives the feeling of a secure, hip and casual neighborhood.

Bread & Butter Parklet Coming VERY Soon!

This coming Saturday, we’ll be constructing the parklet at Bread & Butter! I’m so excited to see the store & it’s success to date, Stacey, Aubrey & their team have done a phenomenal job!

The following is some prior ink about the store. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you’re missing out!

The Colorado Springs Gazette recently published an article on the upcoming market, as you may can read here: https://gazette.com/business/colorado-springs-downtown-neighborhood-market-inches-closer-to-opening/article_2aad707a-5b41-11ea-9c45-37ff43c10920.html

The following is the text from the Gazette, written by Teresa Farley:

With a $30,000 grant from the Downtown Development Authority, the Bread & Butter Neighborhood Market is a step closer to opening.

The market, which will sell food and spirits, will cater to those who live, work and play within a 5- to 7-mile radius of the building at 602 S. Nevada Ave. — giving an underserved area access to groceries. It will offer Colorado-grown produce, meats and cheeses, frozen dishes, prepared foods, local sundries, pantry staples and freshly brewed coffee as well as wine, beer and liquors.

Store owners Aubrey Day and Stacy Poore say the grant money will help buy a colorful mural on an outside wall of the building along with bright-yellow paint on the other walls.

“We were thrilled to have received that grant,” Poore said. “The building owners, Gary Feffer and Joan Mullens, are also very engaged in and supportive of the work we are doing.”

John Olson, of Urban Landscapes, has created renderings for the property. The front of the store will include raised planting beds to create a park-like setting, with seating for outside dining.

“We are working with artists Lori DiPasquale, Kerry Kice and Steve Wood to create a mural, and signage and design some special exterior elements,” Poore said. “The parking lot will be reconfigured to allow for a nice amount of free and convenient parking for the store, which we know is important to our customers.”

A chef who will prepare foods offered from what Day referred to as the “Dash-In & Nosh-Out” area.

“There will be salads and sandwiches for customers to pick up for a quick lunch,” she said. “And some other dishes that could be quickly heated at home for dinner.”

Work is set to begin in mid-March, with a goal of opening Memorial Day weekend or early June. Visit breadandbuttermarket.com or  facebook.com/pg/breadbuttercos to track the market’s progress.

New Urbanism – My Journey

This past decade, I have found myself answering this basic question of how I ended up in the world of new urbanism. I certainly did not grow up in an urban environment, and when I mention that I am from Nebraska, people really get confused of how I could have such a passion toward something that is the opposite of the perception of a place like Nebraska. Mostly, they are right. Most of Nebraska is not urban at all, but there are several small towns throughout the state that embody exactly what new urbanism promotes – walkability and a sense of community.

My childhood home for my elementary school years in Grand Island, Nebraska. Image from Google Earth, 2021.

My childhood home was in a small town in most respects, but the third largest city in Nebraska of around 30,000 people – today Grand Island has a population of over 50,000 residents. I lived in four different houses, all in Grand Island, all suburban in nature, all with 2-3 car garages in the front of the homes. Each home suited my family well and I really loved each for their different nuances. I had great friends that lived nearby at my elementary and middle school homes and spent most of each day wandering the neighborhoods playing baseball, soccer, basketball and football. Life was great, which probably differentiates me from many “urbanists” in understanding the appeal of the suburbs. I get the appeal – life in suburbia was awesome for me.

In high school, I drove about ten miles to school, work and to be with my friends. It was what I knew and never really questioned it. I left Grand Island for another relatively small city for college – Manhattan, Kansas – the home of Kansas State University. Dorm life was walkable, my car was parked 10 minutes away by foot so I drove it home and really nowhere else. My first apartment was not as walkable, but still bikeable to campus. My second apartment had good proximity to a grocer that I could have walked, but rarely did. Again, I never really questioned any of this. I had a car and enjoyed driving it (this honestly probably sounds familiar to most people from the Midwest).

After college, my first professional job was in Omaha at HDR in their Planning Department. I clearly had not embraced the principles of the New Urbanism as I purchased my first home in Omaha straight out school in the epitome of suburban sprawl. (You can read more about this experience here Quantifying the effects of suburban living). Within the first two weeks, I was thrust into my first community meeting for a four-square mile neighborhood planning effort, called “Destination Midtown”. HDR was approaching the planning effort with the principles of the new urbanism in mind. At the post-community meeting, where I remember being completely exhausted, my friend at HDR, Troy Henningson, said to me, “Johnny ****’n O, you’re sitting in Andres Duany’s seat” (apparently they had hosted Andres just before this for a presentation and had dinner with him after at M’s Pub in the Old Market). My reaction shocked them when I simply said between beer sips, “I don’t know who that is.” For those who also may not, Andres Duany and his wife Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk are the founders of DPZ, the architects behind Seaside and countless other new urbanism projects. DPZ is the iconic firm in the world of new urbanism – a firm I spent the next five years studying and idolizing.

I had no clue how much my response to that statement from Troy at dinner would change my life – for the better. Troy and my other colleagues at HDR swiftly armed me with books and literature about the new urbanism, from books by Andres Duany, Jane Jacobs, Richard Florida and James Kunstler. I began questioning everything from my suburban lifestyle, my automobile commutes, what I wanted to do… I questioned everything.

A couple short years later, I was a tail-tucked puppy ashamed of my suburban home and lifestyle and promptly wanted a change. I sent resumes and inquiries to three firms soliciting positions with a new urbanism mindset, each of which I interviewed and was offered a job. The next big task was figuring out where I wanted to be – Dallas, Boulder, or Colorado Springs. For most urbanists, the choice would be Boulder, but I am glutton for punishment because I chose the community that I felt needed me the most – Colorado Springs. I saw it as the current Mayor sees it – a City with infinite possibility due to its natural setting that very few can rival. The adjacent natural environment is breathtaking! For me, I saw so much opportunity for redevelopment and to help create great places that can come close to matching its beautiful setting. As a fifteen-year resident of Colorado Springs now, I can say that we are getting there, but still have quite a way to go. The bar is set high, but we have great momentum.

In writing this, I still cannot give a straight answer to the question. But I believe the answer is closer when I reflect on visits with my grandparents in both Genoa, Nebraska and more specifically in Gibbon, Nebraska. Of course, the highlight was in seeing my grandparents, but I have very vivid memories of walking to the small grocery store with my Grandpa for cookies, ice cream, and occasionally candy cigarettes. This small town where you could walk to the park, grocery store, restaurants, post office and other places provides a great sense of nostalgia. It was so wonderful with the happenstance meetings with my grandparents’ friends on the way – ok, I do remember that part getting annoying as a kid…after all, the ice cream was going to melt!

This sense of community has been lost in suburban sprawl and automobile dependency today. I believe that if offered the choice of where a person’s home (apartment, townhome, condo, single-family homes all included) are situated, most would love to have this sense of community. This is what new urbanism means to me and why I push as hard as I do to bring back community. Thanks for joining me in this memory recollection exercise!