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Gateways: Creating Civic Identity

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What image comes to mind when you think of a “gateway”? It might be a real gate at the entrance to a country estate, a landscaped sign at the entrance to a new development, an arch over a neighborhood street, a park at a highway interchange, or an entrance corridor into a city with its own distinctive sequence of signs, lighting, and landscaping. In each case, the purpose of the gateway is to tell you that you’ve arrived in a new place. This article examines some of the types of gateways that have recently been developed by cities, towns, neighborhoods, and regions.

The Highway Interchange

Gateway illustration by Paul Hoffman for PlannersWeb
Illustration by Paul Hoffman for PlannersWeb

The approach to a city or town is usually along a highway, often by way of an interchange with a limited-access interstate. The interchange area is susceptible to its own set of problems. It tends to attract commercial travel services — gas stations, fast food, motels — usually in a uniform franchise-architecture style. If an excessive amount of commercially-zoned land is made available, additional strip commercial uses can proliferate, creating a new business district that can eclipse the real downtown and increase traffic congestion. Some municipalities are trying to avoid this result by designing the highway interchange as a “front door” to their community.

The city of Chubbuck, a small community near Pocatello, Idaho, recently created a park on a nine acre parcel at its interchange with I-86. The city used federal ISTEA “enhancement” funds, state transportation funds, and additional tax increment financing revenues to irrigate and landscape the site with trees, grass, and ground cover. Chubbuck developed as a bedroom community for Pocatello, and thus lacks a well-defined center. The interchange project is part of an effort to develop the one-mile highway corridor between the interchange and the city’s existing center as a new “downtown.” …

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