Besides providing a boost for downtown Elkhart, the up-and-coming River District is winning awards on the national stage for its design and aesthetic principles.

A designer involved in the River District’s master plan, Jeff Speck, announced on Twitter on Friday, May 22, 2020, that his firm, Speck & Associates, and partners Stantec’s Urban Places was a winner in the Congress on New Urbanism’s Charter Awards:

An article on the Congress on New Urbanism’s website lauded the River District for forgoing an unappealing sprawling design for one that created a walkable neighborhood that prioritized public spaces while creating inviting opportunities for mixed-use development such as apartments, townhomes, and shops and offices.

One passage from the article:

“This is design as urban triage, prioritizing key corridors and centers,” notes Charter Awards juror Allison Quinlan, owner of Flintlock Architecture & Landscape. “You don’t have to do everything all at once.” A catalyst for the plan was the idea to not waste $10 million on parking, when surface parking is already available on the peninsula, notes Quinlan. Instead, some of that investment was steered toward improving the public realm.

The Elkhart Health & Aquatics Center in downtown Elkhart

Dave Weaver, chair of the public-private River District Implementation Team, was also quoted in the article: “We knew we needed revitalization. This plan is providing strategic direction at 30 thousand feet together with the design details on the ground that is really making a difference in getting where we need to go.”

The River District is anchored by the Elkhart Aquatics Center and mixed-use apartment and retail developments that are underway. Improvements to Jackson Boulevard to make it more pedestrian friendly was a centerpiece of the plan.

The award will be presented June 13 during a virtual presentation of the CNU Charter Awards.

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