Tactical urbanism to transform street in first phase of greenway

November 08, 2017
Doughty Street closed for Greenway
A sign of things to come: Part of Doughty Street is about to get a "green" makeover. Photo by Anne Thompson

Today marks the beginning of a series of changes that will make Doughty Street the heart of what will become the Charleston Medical District Greenway. Doughty permanently closed to vehicles this morning between Ehrhardt and President streets, and one lane of Doughty from Courtenay to Ehrhardt will become the beginning of the greenway.

More changes will take place over the next couple of weeks as leaders from the Medical University of South Carolina, the city of Charleston, Roper Hospital and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center get ready to celebrate the beginning of Phase I of the greenway on Nov. 20 with an event from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.

They’re using a process called “tactical urbanism” to launch the effort.

What is tactical urbanism?

According to Ray Huff of Ray Huff Architect, it’s a way to quickly and inexpensively reclaim a street and establish it as a space for people to walk, sit and relax. Huff is part of the team transforming Doughty Street.

“Probably the best-known example of tactical urbanism is Times Square,” Huff says. New York closed some lanes of Times Square to vehicles in 2009 as the city began turning the landmark into a pedestrian plaza.

“They simply put barriers, potted trees and street furniture out and people responded in an extraordinary way. They followed up with a much more permanent project,” Huff says.

Dennis Frazier, project leader for MUSC, says tactical urbanism sends a message, telling people they’re getting the space back from cars and trucks. “This rapid transition from vehicle to pedestrian use lets people begin to use it while we are planning the next phase with additional improvements.”

Phase 1 was designed by the landscape architecture firm DesignWorks.

What's next for the Charleston Medical District Greenway?

Some changes will occur very quickly, as leaders of the greenway effort encourage people to see the affected section of Doughty Street in a new light. The immediate changes give the community a sense of the coming improvements to the area.

Between now and Nov. 20, Doughty Street, between President and Ehrhardt streets, will be painted green to resemble the future grass and greenery of the greenway and make it clear that it’s no longer available to cars. There will be electric signs that will stay up for several weeks while people learn the new flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Four truckloads of trees will be placed in large planters throughout the area. They’ll be lit in the evenings. There will also be outdoor furniture made from recycled materials. Frazier says the trees and the furniture will be used in future phases of the greenway as well.

“The next phase will remove much of the asphalt street to create a park with grass, trees, plants and perhaps water features. It will be a place of peace and relaxation, which is safe for the many people who now walk this area every day,” Frazier says.

“It will also be a place for others on the peninsula to enjoy a time of rest and relaxation. Locations for two food trucks are planned near Ehrhardt and Doughty for this first phase. Future phases may have more permanent eating establishments for everyone to use.”

What is the bigger picture for the greenway?

Plans for the Charleston Medical District Greenway were announced in 2015, with the idea that the physical environment is part of how people heal. Research actually backs that up, showing that patients who can see trees and gardens in a peaceful environment heal more quickly than those who see mostly institutional buildings and streets. The greenway also is envisioned as a gathering place for people visiting and working in the hospitals.

Huff says it fits into a larger picture for the city. “The greenway will be an urban asset that builds on Charleston’s rich tradition of marvelous public spaces.”

The greenway almost didn’t happen. Roper Hospital, adjacent to the MUSC campus, was getting ready to build a parking deck off Doughty Street. MUSC President David Cole approached leaders at Roper and said he envisioned a greenway.

Roper’s leaders shifted gears, came up with a different parking solution and agreed to support the greenway. From there, the city and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center got involved, working with leaders from MUSC and Roper Hospital to come up with a plan. It has been approved, in principle, by the city and the Medical District team.

Here’s what the greenway will look like in the future: The asphalt will go away and grass will go in. Trees will be planted, including the ones being used in the tactical urbanism effort underway now. There will be outdoor sitting areas and some covered areas to give people shade during the hotter months.

There are also plans to “calm” traffic on Courtenay Street, which will remain open to vehicles but become more pedestrian friendly. And Courtenay could extend across Calhoun Street to Alberta Long Lake, connecting to Fourth Street and continuing on to Lockwood Drive near the Charleston City Marina. The idea is to make it easier for people to move from West Edge, The Citadel, Hampton Park and Wagener Terrace through the Medical District Greenway to Long Lake, Colonial Lake and on to the Battery.

Huff says leaders will begin working on the next phase of the greenway soon after the Nov. 20 celebration of Phase 1. That next phase is expected to be complete by 2019, when the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital opens.

The architect is proud of the work of the city and the Medical District. “It will provide a place of refuge and restoration. Just to be able to sit in a beautiful park setting in the middle of a medical district is one, almost unprecedented, and two, it’s just the right thing to do.”