A playful proposal by STOSS landscape urbanism with Höweler + Yoon Architecture, Nitsch Engineering, and Angie Cradock ScD, MPE has won the Movement on Main competition to reimagine Wyoming Street in Syracuse, New York. The competition, funded by the Educational Foundation of America, challenged participants to reimagine the five-block-long street in a way that will promote human and environmental health and spark new development within the neighborhood, while being sensitive to residents and businesses already there. STOSS’s scheme was chosen by a group that included people in the community, architecture faculty from Syracuse University, public health experts, and Richard Weller, the new chair of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. I caught up with Chris Reed, the founding principal of STOSS, this morning to find out more about the competition and his firm’s winning scheme. The interview has been condensed and edited.
What is Wyoming Street like now?
It’s a fairly simple street. It’s on the edge of a residential community that’s adjacent to downtown and yet completely disconnected from downtown. Syracuse in general is a city that has lost population over the last few decades. Wyoming Street is the seam between a number of residential areas which now include some community centers and services and a number of former industrial sites. The East side of the street is a bit more spotty in terms of constant tenants. There’s a new television center and literacy center. There’s an old warehouse building full of artists but there is also a lot of empty buildings as well.
Wyoming Street is not really your typical troubled “main street,” right?
No, what they wanted to do is to convert this street into the community’s main street but think about it in a different way. They really thought of it as a new kind of main street—not a main street with lots of shops and cute lampposts but a main street that really became the social and activity center for that community, the Near West Side.
The “movement” piece is all about public health and how can you, through the design of a civic space, get people out and moving and socializing and improving physical health, environmental health, and civic life.
Tell me about STOSS’s winning vision for the street.
Our launching point was this broader idea of what is public health. Surely the physical part is important, but the social part is also important. Particularly with elders, where social interaction for them is as important as physical movement to produce a healthy life—healthy body, healthy mind. Beyond that, improving the health of the environment—stormwater is cleansed through the project. And all of this contributes collectively to the health of a community.
The project itself is really focused around a number of physical interventions—mounds—arranged along the street and on adjacent properties. The mounds are designed to encourage running jumping, moving, that sort of thing. They’re designed to create social rooms along the street for playing, for small-scale events, for impromptu sort of performances, for gathering. In the bigger sites, these mounds become quite large and allow for larger scale gathering around basketball courts and, in the winter, can be used for sledding and snowman contests. And all this is done with a series of rubber surfaces that allow people to jump and play and hop. The mounds slope up from the street to create a series of reflective surfaces along the street and [the ground] slopes down to collect stormwater to clean it.
The lighting agenda is really important to extend the life of the street. Here we worked very closely with Höweler + Yoon Architecture on embedding into the street a set of reflective surfaces that are designed to be illuminated by passing cars. There are also a series of motion activated lights that track pedestrian movements along the street. As you’re running along the street, a series of embedded lights will be illuminated as you go along. The whole idea is to really animate the street with light, with motion, with activity and really do it in a way that encourages people to play. Hence the name of the project, “Light-Play!”
The competition brief required you to work with a limited budget of $250,000 per block. How did you respond to this challenge?
The overall budget was actually $3.5 million That was changed at some point during the proceedings. We figured out that if you spread that project over the entire site, you ended up with $12 per square foot, which doesn’t buy you a lot. So, we focused the work on the west side of the street adjacent to the residential areas and some of the community spaces, as well as two of the larger lots. By cutting down the square footage, we were able to quadruple the budget to $48 per square foot which then allowed us to do something with some real impact.
Will there still be cars on the street or will it be taken over by people?
There will continue to be cars in the street. It can be shut down for community festivals. Part of the strategy includes a number of safety devices. There are two chicanes along the way that cause cars to slow down. With the reflective surfaces, pedestrians will be more aware of the cars as they are moving. Likewise, with motion activated lights, activated by pedestrians, motorists become more aware of pedestrians along the street so the whole lighting strategy embeds a safety component to it as well.
The chicanes, are those sort of sharp zags in the road?
Yeah. That’s a fairly standard way to slow traffic. The things we are doing are fairly normal things—the chicane in the street, the reflectors embedded in crosswalks, even the materials we’re using like the surfacing from playgrounds. They’ve all been proven and tested. We’re just using them in different ways.
To see more images of STOSS’s design and the other finalists proposals, check out to the competition’s website.