Street Makeover and Building Restoration

Former MOTHER EARTH NEWS artist Kim Zarney built a new career through much of the 1970s in the planning and execution of building renovation and street makeover projects.


| July/August 1980


If you take a look at MOTHER EARTH NEWS from the 9th issue through the 25th, (with the exception of issue 12), you'll see the considerable talent of Kim Zarney displayed on the front covers. Nowadays, though, Kim has a much larger "canvas" to work with. For the past seven years his firm, Townscape, has done design consultation for nearly 40 communities on projects ranging from individual building restoration to street makeover concepts for entire downtown areas!

A Hometown Example

Zarney's interest in urban beautification started some 16 years ago, when he was still a student at the Cleveland School of Art. At that time, his hometown of Medina undertook what still ranks as one of the nation's most successful "Main Street" restoration projects. Since Kim's father (a commercial artist) was a leading figure on the Community Design Committee, the son soon became involved in Medina's program. And the benefits that the restoration subsequently brought to the Ohio town made a lasting impression on the young artist.

"Most of America's Main Streets have been around for well over 100 years," Zarney notes, "but in that time, little has been done to them to keep the customers coming to the central shopping areas. Newer malls usually offer better lighting, parking, displays, and security ... and, ironically, many of them try to look like old-time Main Streets, while the real things waste the wonderful ambiance they already possess."

Recapturing lost trade and making central urban areas convenient, comfortable, and attractive is often more a matter—the consultant has discovered—of revealing than of rebuilding.  

"Most of America's downtown areas came into being between 1850 and 1930," Kim explains, "when the quality of construction and visual integrity was generally good. Therefore, in many cases, it's necessary to strip away the more recent aluminum and plastic facades and get rid of the maze of poles, meters, signs, and other unintegrated objects that have been tacked on during the last 45 years." (During Medina's remodeling, workmen found a virtually priceless Tiffany glass sign perfectly preserved under a "modern" plastic placard!)

Most town centers also require improved lighting and pavements, more crosswalks, a general cleanup of trash, paint (or its removal to show the original brickwork underneath), some restraint in the use of signs, additional shade trees and flowers, and benches that invite shoppers to stop, rest, and chat.

The Payoff

But—you may well wonder—are downtown restorations really worth all the work involved? Seemingly, they are.





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