As Downtown Waco began to reopen after the pandemic, they wanted to encourage tourists to experience more of Waco while they were visiting the Silo District. Approximately 500,000 people visit Magnolia Market at the Silos each year, but prior to the placemaking demonstration, their awareness of things to do and see in downtown beyond Magnolia was minimal. Additionally, there was an increasing frustration among locals with the amount of visitors occupying parking spaces downtown, so they began avoiding the hassle of visiting downtown shops and restaurants.
City Center Waco asked CivicBrand to create parking signage and activate additional parking lots. However, CivicBrand quickly identified there was a connection and placemaking issue rather than a parking issue.
By conducting a parking study and place brand audit, we realized two things:
Visitors weren’t aware of what to see beyond Magnolia, because there was no feeling or sense of activity leading them to naturally explore other areas.
Locals weren’t willing to park further away from their destination because they thought they knew what to expect from a visit downtown and weren’t looking to explore.
After visiting downtown and conducting a place brand audit, our team designed temporary placemaking concepts that would allow Waco to test different scenarios to better activate downtown.
The first activation was a four-block pedestrian walkway on 6th Street that connected the Silo District and Austin Avenue, two foundational areas of Waco’s urban core. The walkway added color and vibrancy to the path between the two districts while creating a visual sense of activity to pull pedestrians from one district to another. Additionally, the pathway incorporated wayfinding signage so people using it had a better idea of where they were walking, and people driving by could learn where to park.
Then on Austin Avenue, we identified an under-utilized street, closed it to cars, and turned it into a pedestrian plaza. The plaza consisted of a street mural, lights, tables, chairs, and games. The area offered a place to sit and relax during the day and was activated throughout the week with programming — like open mic nights, yoga classes and concerts — that created fun and novel experiences in the space.
Downtown Waco had a strong digital brand, but the brand didn’t have a presence in the built environment. We knew we needed to bring the brand into the physical space in order to generate brand awareness and connect the experience of Downtown Waco online to the in-person experience.
We used the brand as the basis for all of our designs, taking inspiration from brand colors and shapes to create the street murals and signage. We also incorporated the Downtown Waco brand onto street banners, vacant storefront windows, and parking garage signage.
CivicBrand identified a block of 7th Street as a potential connection point for pedestrians walking in the downtown area. The scale of the street and the lack of vehicular traffic made it a perfect place to give prioritization to pedestrians. For the demonstration, one block of 7th Street was closed and turned into a pedestrian plaza. The installation included a street mural, games, seating, lights, and a space for programming and activities. This space has been activated for the entire summer through different organized events, a space for downtown dwellers to relax, and a place to meet and gather with friends.
6th Street connects the popular Silo District to Austin Avenue, which is Downtown Waco’s Main Street. Unfortunately, this street lacked a completed sidewalk in areas between the two districts and with four blocks between districts there was no visual cue that another district with things to do was nearby. For the demonstration, we removed street parking along one side of 6th Street, and created a colorful walkway complete with painted sidewalks and protective barricade to keep users safe. The addition of wayfinding signage helped both pedestrians and drivers become aware of more attractions and parking in downtown Waco.
The results from the demonstration were overwhelmingly positive. Pedestrian counts were up, traffic speeds were down, businesses saw an increase in business. Visitors to Magnolia were now discovering Austin Ave, and locals now had a brand new public space in the heart of Downtown Waco. A yoga instructor that lead free classes in the plaza has now opened a permanent studio in Downtown Waco.
One of the biggest impacts of the project is simply the message it sends – Waco is willing to try new things and is interested in creating authentic spaces for people. Additionally, this project created a space for important life moments. It served as a backdrop for countless photographers and artists, senior photos were taken there, a couple even got engaged there. The activation had multiple press features, and was nominated for in-state and international awards.