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“We point to Little Rock as a model within the region and country as a community that works together to get things done,” Ron Curry, Region 6 administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said at the grand opening of the Little Rock Main Street Creative Corridor.

The Creative Corridor, a collaborative project that has been three years in the making, officially opened Sept. 14. The corridor is a development project aimed at restoring the vitality of Main Street one block at a time using economic development stimulated by the arts. At the end of Phase I, the corridor is already becoming a mixed-use, work-live environment. The foundation of the corridor rests on two architectural theories: creative placemaking and Low Impact Development (LID).

Creative placemaking efforts are transforming the corridor into a downtown hub that supports a great level of pedestrian activity, sociability, recreation and aesthetics. Prior to the corridor’s construction, Little Rock suffered from a dispersed cultural landscape. “The city convinced the scattered cultural organizations to move to a district of four blocks,” said Professor Stephen Luoni of the University of Arkansas School of Architecture and director of the UA Community Design Center (UACDC), referencing Ballet Arkansas, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, among others.

The impetus behind the placemaking efforts is the idea that the street can be a place of its own, Luoni said, adding that the urban setting of Main Street could bring back social interaction.

LID efforts also underpin the Creative Corridor project. Luoni, who directed production of the UACDC’s award-winning book “Low Impact Development: A Design Manual for Urban Areas,” posed a set of questions about Main Street: “What if the street was an ecological asset? What if the street became a biological filter?”

In an effort to create a pedestrian-friendly, sustainable streetscape that incorporates LID features, national experts on LID from the UACDC worked with engineers from Crafton Tull. The LID project utilized funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, administered by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.

LID land development techniques work with nature to manage rainwater as close to its source as possible. The 100, 200, 300 and 500 blocks of Main Street utilize different combinations of LID techniques to transform Main Street into an environmentally friendly street.

An increasing number of public, private and nonprofit groups have already invested in Main Street in recent years, led by the Downtown Little Rock Partnership. It is estimated that more than $100 million in public/private investment has been made or committed. A total of $2,250,846 in Federal and city funds have gone toward the construction and engineering of Low Impact Development elements. Initial planning and design for the Creative Corridor was funded by a 2011 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“The progress on Main Street is a harbinger of the exciting development yet to come for this area,” said Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola. “The Creative Corridor, once just a vision, has become a vibrant reality that has earned national accolades, brought together many of our city’s cultural institutions and created these beautiful spaces that will continue to grow,” he said.

10 Ways the Creative Corridor Will Improve Main Street

IMG_27741. Music in the streets: The Creative Corridor was designed with the three Ps in mind: people, planet and profit. The 500 block, adorned with musical notes, is intentionally narrow so that drivers must drive 17 mph or slower — the fastest speed at which motorists can maintain eye contact with pedestrians.

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2. Public art: Matt McLeod’s mural on 6th and Main portrays the creativity that the Creative Corridor celebrates. McLeod’s mural is approximately 30 feet tall by 142 feet wide. Through a partnership with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, seven of UALR’s fine arts students aided in executing the mural. Additionally, the parking deck at 2nd and Main showcases large banners by local artists Virmarie DePoyster and Steve Sutherlin (Stephano). The banners, winning pieces from the Main Street Creative Corridor banner competition, were unveiled in August.

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3. Flowering plants: The native plants used in the Main Street bio-retention areas are bimodal, which means they can grow well in wet or dry soil. Rain garden plants will not survive if they cannot withstand both extreme drought and extreme floods. Bimodal plants have long, deep-growing roots that are able to direct water downward through channels in the soil. Their long roots help the plants reach available moisture during the driest times so they do not require irrigation.

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4. Elevated Boardwalk: The West side of the 500 block features a tree-lined board walk, which is open to pedestrians.

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5. Rocks, pavers and plants that slow and filter rainwater: Permeable concrete and pavers have been used to help store and slow down rainwater as it passes over the surface. Water filters through the permeable concrete and pavers instead of quickly running over them and into storm drains. This process will filter the pollutants out of the water as it drains through the system of different sizes of rock before making its way into drain pipes. Permeable concrete and pavers have been used in parallel parking areas, plaza spaces, vehicular driving lanes and as the curb and gutter on the 300 block.

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6. Rain gardens: The rain gardens are part of a system that treats the rainwater as it runs off, filters pollutants and debris and helps store the water. This is done with a combination of a special mix of soil and different sizes of rock. As water passes through each of these, it is slowed down and the pollutants are filtered out of the water. Any water left after the roots of the plants have absorbed what they can is then carried through perforated drain pipes into the existing drainage system along the street. 

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7. Vegetated wall: Typically, a vegetated wall is an extension of a building covered with some kind of plant. The vegetated walls for demonstration on Main Street consist of freestanding concrete walls with clinging vines. These walls will help take in rainwater to reduce runoff loads, as well as regulate temperature through thermal insulation. Additionally, the walls help absorb the noise from traffic, and make the space more walkable.

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8. Culture: The corridor brings together cultural organizations that were previously dispersed. Some of the organizations include Ballet Arkansas, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Matt McLeod Fine Art and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

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9. Eateries: The corridor caters to pedestrians and theater-goers with new eateries, such as Bruno’s Little Italy and Samantha’s Tap Room & Wood Grill, which recently won a national award for its Wine on Tap program. Additionally, residents and visitors enjoy Food Truck Fridays on The Plaza at Main and Capitol from 10:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. The weekly event, continuing through Oct. 30, features over 40 food trucks in addition to art and craft vendors, buskers, beer gardens, Heifer International children’s activities and more.

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10. Accolades: The Creative Corridor Plan by the University of Arkansas Community Design Center And Marlon Blackwell Architect has garnered national and international attention by winning a number of awards such as the American Architecture Award 2013, World Architecture Festival Award Shortlisted 2013, World Architecture News Award Finalist, Architizer A+ Awards for Architecture + Urban Transformation 2013, ASLA Award 2014 and the 2015 AIA Florida/Caribbean Honor Award 2014, among others, putting the Creative Corridor on the national and international map.


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