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Highway of Imagination

3 min read

Highway of Imagination 143988
The spatula-shaped area in downtown Little Rock holds the seeded, bare plots of ground left by the removal of the Interstate 30 on- and off-ramps and represents a blank canvas for architects. ( Google Maps)

Can you imagine a whitewater run for kayaking in the heart of downtown Little Rock? A park with a giant water wheel? A dinosaur that lets motorists know exactly what city they are passing through?

Somebody could.

A competition held by the nonprofit design advocacy group studioMAIN as part of its Envision series reimagined the nearly 20 acres of empty spaces surrounding the Arkansas Department of Transportation’s ongoing Interstate 30 expansion. 

The six winners offered imaginative uses of waterways, green spaces and unique structures as ways to aesthetically and functionally use and tie together the bare plots of ground left by the removal of the Interstate 30 exit and entrance ramps.

Chris East, principal, architectural, at Cromwell Architects and Engineers, just completed his term as studioMAIN president and headed the Envision 30 Crossing Design Competition. 

No design has been chosen; no contracts have been signed; no money has been spent and no plan has been put in place. The Envision contest, East said, was simply a way to stimulate thinking and get local leadership to consider the possibilities for the community and the potential positive impact on the local economy. 

“It has gotten some attention. … But it really has not seen a lot of attention from those decision-makers who can really make a difference,” East said. 

East said the highway expansion offers an opportunity to reclaim green spaces, as cities like Seattle and San Francisco have done through similar competitions. 

Little Rock took a step in that direction when it announced a $2 million U.S. Transportation Department grant for the building of a deck park, a pedestrian-friendly green space to be built over a low-grade span of the intestate between Sixth and Ninth Streets.

The deck park, seen as a link between the East Village and MacArthur Park areas of the city, is south of the area targeted by the Envision compeition. Designs for the park are to be finalized, while renderings show tree-lined paths and a soccer field.


JURY DELIBERATED AWARDS

Professional

“Town Branch Park”
Taggart Architects 

A nod to the area’s onetime name Town Branch, the design features a creek between Second and Third Streets, a treehouse city and a giant, blue dinosaur sculpture called Little Rock-y that also serves as a rock wall and includes the city’s name as part of its spine.

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Student

“Past, Present, Future Little Rock”
Ella Reynolds 

Connects the colonial and Queen Anne architecture of Arkansas’ past, with a pavilion and splash pad, to modern Little Rock, represented by an arena and overhang pavilion, to future Little Rock represented by a children’s play park, sunken arena, insulated tunnel beneath the overpass made from recycled materials and a futuristic walking bridge.

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Public

“Untitled” 
Kwadi Higgins

A people-based, inclusive park with connected open spaces, accessible play areas, dog and trail parks, hammock park, gathering park, mural park, station for assorted games like chess or ping pong, vehicle zone for scooters and skateboards and a community events area.

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PUBLIC CHOICE AWARDS

Little Rock Placemaking

“ÜNDRPASS”
Polk Stanley Wilcox

Proposes a more unified park center by closing Second Street between Sherman and Collins and establishing more deliberate pedestrian connections between the River Market and East Village, with a quilt-like construction under and around the interstate, incorporating a wealth of green space.

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Establishing Connections

“Little Rock Parkway”
Cromwell Architects Engineers

Incorporates green spaces and includes a pond, walking and biking paths, food truck area, playgrounds, amphitheater, splash pad, athletic fields and more.

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The Wildcard 

“River Walk”
AMR Architects

A waterpark with a 700-foot whitewater run extending along Second Street, islands with grass and trees, athletic fields, a bridge over the whitewater and a flat-water paddle boat lake with a grassy slope extending to its shore.

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