To spur the revitalization of a rural desert town, we wrote a downtown development guide that builds on the town's unique assets.
Green River, population 961, lies at the foot of the dramatic river bluffs of Southeastern Utah. Amid John Wayne’s West and Edward Abbey’s Desert Wilderness, Green River and its scenic cliffs and canyons have been welcomed sights to pioneers, cattlemen, outlaws, and modern travelers alike.
This beautiful, once bustling rural community now suffers from a stagnant economy, dilapidated housing, and a downtown in desperate need of repair. All that being said, residents of Green River lead good lives, but not necessarily easy ones.
Epicenter, in partnership with the City of Green River and a local steering committee, looked to spur and chart the town's revitalization through the creation of a downtown plan, which would eventually be named "Waypoint."
Swasey Beach on the Green River
The world famous Melon Days Parade
going down Main Street
Historically, Green River has been a geographic waypoint: an essential crossing point of the mighty river and a place to rest. At the time of the plan, Green River was at a waypoint in another sense -- a defining point in time where it could change its course.
The prospects of tourism, heavy industry, and other business ventures have the ability to alter the town for the better or worse. This town, where alfalfa and melon fields now cover the once arid badlands, has some questions to ask itself, like: “What do we want our town to be?” and "What can we do to help ourselves?”
Waypoint looked to help answer these questions, giving residents the forum to create answers that could strengthen what they loved about the town and give attention to downtown areas that could make the town truly great.
Broadway in downtown Green River in the 1930s
I was the project manager, primary researcher, and main author for this project.
Broadway in downtown Green River in 2017
The Design Process
The following is a brief narrative of steps we took in the planning process:
1. Planning Review and Research
We reviewed the town's general plans and other communities’ revitalization plans, researched public planning practices, and sought advice of experts from around the state.
2. Review of Town Data
We learned more about Green River’s past and present through census data and other publicly available information, and visited similar communities to understand their revitalization stories.
3. Gathering Public Input
To get local perceptions of the town and ideas for improvement, we:
created a local steering committee to guide planning activities
distributed a general survey, collecting over 100 responses
facilitated a Main Street assessment with residents
led two public workshops
conducted focus groups at the high school, senior citizens center, and English as a Second Language class
4. Drafting and Finalization of the Plan
We crafted recommendations based on residents' input, creating a rough draft of the plan that we presented at an open house. Feedback from that event informed the final draft of the plan.
Residents and staff at the first Waypoint charrette
Part of the scale model of downtown built for the second charrette.
One of the open-ended question boards featured at Waypoint meetings.
During the course of conversations with residents, a series of "big ideas" started to emerge. We turned these ideas into five guiding principles that would shape the plan's recommendations. These principles could act as hallmarks of the successful projects Green River could pursue in the future.
Use local know-how
Utilize the Green River community’s knowledge, deep understanding of the town, and insight from the past to help shape the community’s future
Implement a shared vision and foster spirit of pride/cooperation with partners new and old
Build on assets
Establish a framework that allows big ideas to scale from concrete actions and small investments that can begin now
Invite the "outside" in
Increase the town's population and fan base by welcoming the interest and resources from those outside the town, especially former residents
Stay Green River
Preserve and celebrate the town's character, identity, and people; not losing sight on what locals love about the town when moving forward
A melon field with the Book Cliffs as a backdrop.
Melon Princess contestants on a parade float
We organized the plan's recommendations into four themes, all of which are ingredients for a thriving downtown. To embody what downtown could feel like if these "ingredients" were fully present, we made "visioning statements" that put the reader into the shoes of future stakeholders who've benefited from downtown's turnaround.
As an entrepreneur or employee in the Green River of the future, you'll feel supported and listened to. You'll be optimistic about the town and your role in it. You'll be confident and sensitive to the needs of your customers and changing industry trends. You'll know that everyone in town, especially other businesses, has your back and wants you to succeed. You'll wonder why anyone would want to start a business or work anywhere else.
Cooperation and Celebration
As a resident of the Green River of the future, you'll feel connected to your neighbors, community, and decisions that affect your life. You'll appreciate Green River's past and look forward to shaping its future. You'll smile as you and a neighbor sit on a downtown bench, recounting the struggles, heartaches, and ultimate triumphs while getting downtown to look so good. You'll swell with pride as you think about what you accomplished together. You'll wonder why anyone would ever choose to leave.
Compelling Marketing and Tourism
As a visitor to the Green River of the future, you'll want to spend more time here than you have. You'll realize that though this town may be a bit rough around the edges at times, it's authentic, close to everything, and overflowing with beauty. You'll cherish the storied sunsets and starlit sky. You'll wonder if you should keep this place your little secret. You'll count the days until you can visit next.
Critical Mass of Inviting and Investment Ready Spaces
As a visitor to the Green River of the future, you'll find an inviting mix of public spaces, retail, housing, and cultural facilities all near each other. As you walk downtown, you'll see a continuous string of active storefronts and eye-catching displays that pull you down the street. You'll hear dishes clanging, people laughing, and the melody of different languages from around the world. You'll smell food from every direction. You'll feel warm and welcomed. You'll wonder how a town can be this charming.
The Final Document
The following are samples from the final 104-page Waypoint document:
If you'd like to view Waypoint in its entirety, please click here.
A few years from now, Green River will tell one of two stories about itself:
In one story, the town's population continues to fall and residents continue to be heart-sick for the town that once was – the place they knew and know slowly crumbling since the town’s last boom.
There’s another story: a story of new life, of new hope, and of using what is best in a community to save a community. It’s a story of a pioneer town blazing new trails together – making sure all members of the community have a voice in the process. It’s a story of a town’s people demonstrating how imaginative, resourceful, and committed they can be. It’s the story of Green River turning its own tide.
By supporting Green River’s businesses, making downtown a place people want to be, instilling more pride in residents, inviting new fans to the community, and building faith in the future of the community, Green River can live the story it wants: the story of a desert town overcoming the odds to bloom once again. And Waypoint could help point the way.
Ryan Baxter, Bachelor of Architecture
Contributor, Photographer, Layout & Design
Bryan Brooks, Master of Architecture
Contributor and Facilitator
Chris Lezama, BA Sociology and Literature
Primary Contributor, Project Manager, Editor, and Facilitator
Gwen Peck, Bachelor of Architecture and MA Historical Preservation
Maria Sykes, Bachelor of Architecture and Interior Architecture
Contributor and Facilitator
Emilee Wilson, Bachelor of Architecture