Design3 Strategies for Vibrant Communties

3 Strategies for Vibrant Communties

Recently, I shared an overview of our three core principles for community revitalization on Io LandArch’s social media channels. When creating this content, it struck me that there’s much more to delve into on this subject, along with some pertinent case studies. So, let’s dive in…


Whether your community is expansive or compact, there are three overarching categories of community design interventions that, based on our experience, tend to be successful in community placemaking and place-keeping. I want to emphasize that these aren’t universal fixes. Instead, they represent thematic approaches whose specific application will be tailored to the context, infrastructure, funding, and civic requirements of each locale. The three pillars are: historic preservation, creative placemaking, and outdoor recreation. Read on for further insights and illustrative case studies.

Historic Preservation: Read the Past, Write the Future

Historic preservation and cultural landscapes entail more than mere conservation of bygone artifacts. At the community design level, historic preservation serves as a cornerstone of community identity. It involves understanding a community’s narrative and disseminating tales from both distant and recent history. This fosters connections with heritage and among community members. However, this endeavor must surpass archival research and museum curation. While there are history enthusiasts, the average person doesn’t dedicate their free time to reading historical accounts. The built environment offers a chance to curate a living history. Historic places and spaces anchor a community in a specific era and locale. Through preservation and adaptive re-use, individuals are encouraged to add their own layers of experience and story through design. Importantly, comprehending a place’s narrative empowers communities to shape their own future narrative.

Case Study
The Ogden Union Stockyards - Breathing New Life into the Post-Industrial Landscape

Once the epicenter of livestock trading in the West, the Ogden Union Stockyards saw over 250 carloads of cattle, 200 carloads of sheep, and 100 carloads of hogs processed daily in 1929. In 2014, Io LandArch conducted a Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS UT-5) of this 60-acre site. This documentation encompassed a distinctive cultural landscape featuring an expansive network of pens, loading ramps, stamped concrete, and art-deco watering troughs.


Our comprehension of the broader cultural narrative surrounding the stockyards and its integration with the surrounding landscape informed our master plan for the site’s redevelopment. We preserved crucial elements of this industrial landscape, capturing the narrative of industrial conquest. This theme shaped the future use of the site as an industrial/business park focused on outdoor recreation. The proposed plan retained vital features of the site, including the Historic Art-Deco style Exchange Building and the iconic historic sheep loading ramps. It also maintained the site’s connection to the adjoining Weber River. Today, the site, now called the Ogden Business Exchange, boasts a series of trail networks integrated into a regional outdoor recreation system. This shift symbolizes a broader cultural transition from the narrative of the west as industrial conquest to a focus on conquest in the sense of outdoor recreation.

Creative Placemaking: Seeing Beyond Sight

Creative placemaking involves engaging the local community, government entities, and private developers within a broader urban design strategy. This collaborative process entails small-scale, community-engaged interventions that leverage the unique local culture. It boosts pride of place and encourages reinvestment in a location. It’s about crafting environments that inspire, engage, and unite people. While many of our projects integrate spaces for public art, some go further. In certain cases, the landscape itself becomes a form of art. We frequently collaborate with local artists on engaged place-making activities, ranging from tactical urbanism to comprehensive public art master plans. Artists and the arts possess a visionary power – they see opportunities where others perceive only challenges. We harness this catalytic force of the arts to create distinctive and compelling spaces.

Case Study
The Nine Rails Creative District - Making the Invisible Visible

Five years ago, many viewed the 10-block area encompassing the Nine Rails Creative District as blighted, or even, based on cognitive mapping exercises, non-existent. To the public eye, the neighborhood seemed a daunting expanse of derelict buildings and vacant lots – or in some cases, a void. Yet, through the lens of the arts and creative community, this space already held promise. Our master plan for the Nine Rails creative district built upon the area’s history and connected established and emerging arts hubs. Our community outreach and collaboration with local artists in the initial phase of this project revealed that the city’s creative community – artists and makers alike – possessed a unique form of vision. They had the remarkable ability to discern opportunities where others saw only challenges.


While our master plan accomplished many things, its most significant achievement was consolidating and amplifying what the creative community was already undertaking. It helped officially map and designate the arts district. It also identified and prioritized creative placemaking interventions that would ultimately catalyze Ogden’s creative renaissance. The plan laid the groundwork for designing and implementing two vital public spaces within the district: the Dumke Arts Plaza and the Corner Plaza. These represent the inception, a shining example of what can be accomplished when a community believes in its potential and collaborates to realize a shared vision.

Outdoor Recreation: Cultivating Profound Bonds with Nature through Physical Engagement​

Some of my most profound memories involve time spent in nature. There’s an undeniable magic in a misty hike in the Pacific Northwest or the exhilarating flow of mountain biking through groves of aspens in the Rocky Mountains. Fundamentally, we advocate for landscapes that rejuvenate the soul. They offer spaces for play, reflection, and an unbreakable connection with nature. Trails and parks serve as gateways for individuals to immerse themselves in the natural environment, forming a potent emotional bond with the land. Through increased access and connection to outdoor recreation, communities can bolster their local economies, promote healthy lifestyles, and nurture stronger regional identity.

Case Study Trackline Bike Park - Weaving Culture and Nature

Located at the northern edge of the previously discussed Union Stockyard/Ogden Business Exchange site, Trackline Bike park boasts approximately 1.5 miles of intermediate dirt single-track trails, featuring several areas with optional advanced features. The layout is designed with spectators in mind, strategically positioning features to capture thrilling riding moments and stunning photo-ops.


The bike park serves as an amenity within the development, offering employees a chance to step out and rejuvenate during their breaks. Yet, it embodies a significance far beyond. The bike park and its extensive trail system have evolved into a sought-after destination for outdoor enthusiasts spanning the entirety of the Wasatch Front. Local residents have recognized its terrain and bike park’s particular appeal for budding cyclists. On weekends, the park bustles with activity, injecting vitality into a once-industrial and questionable sector of town. This surge in engagement fosters a palpable feeling of safety and assurance.


Notably, the Trackline bike park not only encourages physical activity but also immerses users in its intricate network of grasslands and riparian zones. Meandering through towering groves of poplars, visitors are serenaded by the symphony of the rushing Weber River. Sweeping vistas of Ben Lomond and Mount Ogden unfold before their eyes. The mountain bike trail itself delivers an immersive experience, grounding users in the raw, physical engagement of the activity, harmonizing with the natural environment.

Conclusion: The Themes of Historic Preservation, Creative Placemaking, and Outdoor Recreation

These themes can be implemented at various scales and across project types. Generally speaking, these strategies create more meaningful and engaging places – places that foster experience and connection, resulting in positive civic outcomes. By weaving these three pillars into the fabric of a community’s development, we not only revitalize spaces, but also reinvigorate the people within them. It’s a holistic approach that celebrates the past, embraces the present, and shapes a vibrant future.


This trilogy of community revitalization doesn’t just change landscapes; it transforms lives, breathing new life into the heart of each locale. By understanding the importance of preserving history, harnessing the creative potential of a place, and embracing the profound connection to nature, we pave the way for communities to flourish and thrive.

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