The revitalized South 24th Street celebrates the cross-cultural folk art traditions of the area's major ethnic groups: Croatian, Czech, Latino and Polish.
Developed from a careful ethnographic and cultural analysis and a series of public input sessions and hands-on workshops with diverse groups from throughout the community, RDG's revitalization plan for the South Omaha Streetscape reflects the festive, nurturing and welcoming background of this historic and culturally unique district. The plan expands accessibility and safety along the streetscape, creating diagonal parking on both sides of the street, a single touch lane in each direction, and four-way stops at internal intersections.
Beyond the immediate need for curb and gutter infrastructure improvements, a question arose early in the project of how to encourage more people to come to South Omaha to experience its food and culture. The answer was to develop a dynamic series of integrated artistry elements that would help change and improve the perception of the neighborhood to create a special place for celebrations.
The project functions on many levels and depends upon design collaboration to address a wide range of details: safety, use, wear, longevity and maintenance.
Artwork integrated into the streetscape serves as a symbolic bridge between many different constituents, creating a common language and story that's been embraced by the community.
Recognizing that placemaking depends upon collaboration, RDG's team of artists were part of a multi-disciplinary design team that worked together from early conceptual development through fabrication and installation. This collaboration included many in-house design charrettes with transportation engineers, landscape architects and planners, as well as public-input workshops with diverse groups throughout the community, including city representatives, local business organizations, the Latino Museum, state historical representatives, students and others. The process involved three distinct phases of funding and construction that lasted several years.
The illuminated "Tree of Life" is a comprehensive streetscape installation that creates a dynamic multi-cultural experience and revitalizes a significant portion of the South Omaha historic district. Standing more than 36 feet tall, this cultural landmark flanks the road as part of the sculptural gateway that marks the entrance to the South Omaha cultural district.
Additional integrated artwork animates the street, reaching out to brand an exciting and active urban environment, and today, today, the street has become a destination for festivals with as many as 20,000 people celebrating Cinco de Mayo, the Day of the Dead and other holidays there. Businesses are thriving, and restaurants and retailers, in true pride of ownership, take care of the artwork in front of their properties while neighbors share the story of their cultural connection to the street.
Rather than a typical rectilinear corridor design solution, the public art achieves character and continuity through integrated elements such as sculptural benches, planters and other features that have meaning and respond to the local community's concerns. An organic vine in the paving pattern winds around leaf-shaped planters, pods, and benches, weaving together a tapestry of folk patterns, while colorful textile patterns are interpreted in custom-glazed ceramic, pattern-cut metal, and lighting.
The project received the Art of Community Award of Excellence from the city and the state, specifically in recognition of the integration of the artwork into the transportation infrastructure and revitalization project.