Before any designer puts pencil to paper and starts sketching up concepts, it is critical for the leadership team and the project team to collectively define the vision. This vision should consider the “who, what, where, why, when, and how” of the project. It should include an understanding of the project budget and politics. But the vision must also capture the objectives of the project team and the promoters of the project. The vision may include a list of principles or simply summarize the idea behind the project in a few cogent sentences. But before anyone hires a designer, they need to know what they are going to ask them to design.
At the beginning of the Nicollet Mall project, for example, there was a meeting with the Implementation Committee where the question was, “what are your objectives for the new Nicollet Mall?” The notes from that meeting were translated into a three-page, bullet-form list of principles that, when completed, the project whould embody. At a high level, Nicollet Mall was to be a “must-see destination” “a place for people,” and a mile long “commons.” The team also sought feedback from the Transportation and Public Works (T&PW) Committee of City Council and members of that committee added several more principles. For example, the chair, Councilmember Sandra Colvin-Roy, suggested that the team not overspend on materials for the horizontal surfaces (street and sidewalk) but rather that they concentrate resources on the vertical elements (light poles, banners, flower baskets, etc.) that people would see as they were walking along and looking straight ahead, particularly in the winter, when snow, ice, and salt cover the ground. Councilmember Betsy Hodges suggested that the team not just design the project to be “sustainable” but to design to anticipate the effects of climate change over time. Her point was that the project was expected to last 30 years and during that time the weaththe weather is going to change – and become a lot wetter. Her challenge to the team was to make sure the project was designed to reflect that future – from stormwater management to ensuring trees and plantings would remain healthy. It can be difficult to remember four pages of bullet priorities so the project team worked with the Implementation Committee to summarize all of that feedback into a vision that everyone could remember and that would fit on one PowerPoint slide that the Nicollet mall project team used in every presentation for the next five years. Over time that vision was shortened to: “Pedestrian friendly, green, and cost effective to build, own, operate, and maintain.”
Many projects have similar objectives but each will have their own unique ones as well. For example, priorities for different projects may include preserving a historic asset, providing the capability for active programming, providing a place of respite, increasing public safety, balancing different types of users, balancing different types of transit modes, and generally activating and attracting the public to a new place, or an old one that has been revitalized. Each project will be different but it is important to know what the priorities are before you go to the next step of hiring a design team. Below are the summary vision slides for Nicollet Mall, Hennepin Avenue, Peavey Plaza, and The Commons.