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October 29th, 2010
Blueprint Virginia: A new streetscape in Portsmouth, VA

Alexis Pancrazi, Blueprint America

Steve Price, of Portsmouth, VA, last year won a design contest for the blog GOOD in which he created the ideal streetscape. Price beat out  armchair planners from around the country as contestants were asked to take a photograph of a poorly planned intersection in their community, apply photoshop, and transform it into a “livable” street. Price put in bike lanes, a light rail, and even demonstrated the possibility of urban infill — a lot of potential for one intersection, even in the city of Portsmouth.


Rethink, reuse, and rebuild, that’s what the Obama Administration has been saying since their recent proclamation that America needs to invest in retooling its infrastructure. Now, billions more in local grants are on the horizon with the Livable Communities Act, which will coordinate housing, transportation, and economic development policies in big cities, suburban centers, and small towns across the country. There is no doubt that Washington is trying to make inroads on a national program to increase main street USA livability, an agenda to make the Portsmouth, VA, redesign, for example, a reality.

But while we wait for the final wording to be ironed out and the dotted lines to be signed on the Livability Act, some communities are taking it upon themselves to revisit their roads with an eye towards the future.

Last Tuesday, Portsmouth, a port town with approximately 100,000 residents, launched the Healthy Portsmouth City-wide Health and Wellness Initiative, a multifaceted approach that tackles issues like unhealthy cafeteria food in the schools, decreasing public smoking areas and promoting active lifestyles.

They began the process this summer with a bit of discussion and research. The

“Healthy Portsmouth” meeting || Photo: WHRO -- PBS

“Healthy Portsmouth” meeting || Photo: WHRO -- PBS

local PBS station WHRO held a forum entitled “Healthy Portsmouth” to encourage community involvement on these issues. In attendance were 75 members of the community, who put forth ideas on how to realize the mission’s goals, including expanding public transit, transforming waterways to accommodate kayaking, and bringing in more fresh, affordable produce to underserved areas of the city.

In late July, a little over a dozen people convened to take a “windshield tour” of

Portsmouth community leaders tour to asses the city's walkability

Portsmouth community leaders take a tour to assess the city's walkability || Photo: WHRO -- PBS

the city of Portsmouth to assess walkability throughout the city and identify examples of what’s working and what’s not. Among those on the tour were Susan Wilson, Manager of Transportation/Maritime Planner, Department of Planning, City of Portsmouth, and Sergeant Rusty Venters, Portsmouth Police Department.

The ride around town enabled the planners to recognize some key areas where improvement was needed; parks were insufficiently lit, streets did not have enough sidewalks, and many roads lacked adequate routes for pedestrians to safely cross traffic.

The event gave the leadership team for the “Healthy Portsmouth” initiative an overview of the walkability/bikeabilty of the city and helped to identify some areas of concern that will be spotlighted in their local Blueprint America productions. For now, check out the WHRO “Livable Futures: Local Solutions” video, designed to promote dialogue on these issues.

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