Rockford Downtown Strategic Action Plan Wins CNU-IL Charter Award

Credit Kyle Schlegel, Veridical Photography
Photo: Jennifer Settle, CNU-IL; Todd Cagnoni, City of Rockford; Christina Bader, Farr Associates; Kareeshma Ali, formerly of Farr Associates, and Stacey Meekins, CNU-IL. Credit: Kyle Schlegel, Veridical Photography

The City of Rockford proudly accepted a Congress for the New Urbanism Illinois (CNU-IL) Charter Award for the Downtown Strategic Action Plan on December 15, 2016 at the organization’s annual award ceremony. Todd Cagnoni, City of Rockford Director of Community and Economic Development, accepted the award on behalf of the City with members of the project team from Farr Associates, the planning consultant for the project.

The Charter Award is CNU-IL’s highest honor each year, recognizing projects that exemplify quality urban design and development practices that prioritize walkable, diverse neighborhoods, public transit, public spaces, community institutions, and building practice. Winners are chosen by a jury of distinguished architects, designers, developers, engineers, planners, and scholars.

The Downtown Strategic Action Plan, which was co-sponsored by the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Planning (RMAP), combines the goals and recommendations of multiple planning efforts in the Downtown area over the past decade. The results of these prior plans focused on issues like adding downtown housing, linking open space, and improving mobility choices. The Strategic Action Plan takes these previ­ously conceived recommendations, refines them, and focuses on phases of implementation through a ‘TLC’ Approach.

“Receiving the CNU Illinois Charter Award is a great honor for the City and a testament to the outstanding work being done by our staff, with the support of our City Council, our downtown partner organizations, and the individuals and professional organizations that created the plan. We are blessed by the record-level of private investment that is leveraging substantial public investments and the incentives that we have worked hard to integrate into our Downtown economic development strategies. Thanks to all of these efforts, our central city has a very positive trajectory and an incredible amount of forward momentum,” said Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey.

A T[actical], L[ean], C[limax] approach proposes shorter-term implementation tactics that ulti­mately lead to high-investment climax conditions. This approach allows for testing through pro­totypes, and more immediate results that lead to incremental, but impactful development. The implementation strategies are subdivided into TLC strategies that take a larger goal and show how to implement it through short, mid, and long-term steps.

“The Downtown Strategic Action Plan builds off the success of previous efforts while driving a comprehensive approach to redeveloping downtown through urban design, private investment, brand identification and connectivity between public spaces,” said Cagnoni. “The TLC approach engages numerous community partners and allows the community to succeed with small and large initiatives.”

Even before the planning process ended, energized organizations, citizens, and an eager City imple­mented some of the tactics proposed by the Strategic Action Plan. Temporary bike/pedestrian shared-use space was installed with planters and bollards on the State Street Bridge. A new downtown event series, Shop the Blocks, was created and launched three times during the summer of 2015, and continued in Summer 2016. Elements included temporary parklets in parking spaces, parklets in parking lots, pop-up shops, and outdoor dining and retail sales.

“The project started with the City of Rockford sharing a stack of previous plans, all unimplemented, and suggested that they didn’t need another plan. They were right. They needed to implement what they had. A decade plus of sustained leadership from Mayor Morrissey provided many assets to build on, including strong delegate agencies, a robust Etsy platform, and numerous street festivals taking place near vacant storefronts. This set the table for quick implementation using the TLC framework,” said Doug Farr, President of Farr Associates.

A progress report of the Downtown Action Plan may be accessed at

“The Rockford Downtown Strategic Action Plan provides a multi-faceted strategy for improving the built environment at every scale, setting an exemplar model of place-making for cities across Illinois. The ‘TLC’ approach is responsive to the demands of the market, authentically builds community support, and fosters an increased understanding of the planning process. The City of Rockford has laid out a strong platform on which to build – showcasing how sensitive urban design interventions can lead to substantial community investment,” concluded Jennifer Settle, CNU-IL Board of Directors.



About Farr Associates

Farr Associates is a Chicago-based firm of optimistic architects and planners passionate about cities, sustainability, and leadership. For over twenty-five years we have been agile, early-adopters– pioneering cutting-edge sustainable strategies and technologies and working to overcome the technical and regulatory limits of sustainability at all scales. Our architecture and planning studios are driven by creating resilient, vibrant places across the country. Our expertise is urban-focused and includes commercial, education, mixed use, residential, affordable housing, master planning, and historic preservation projects. Our best work results from collaboration with clients on projects that aspire to attain social, economic and environmental goals, often at the crossroads of policy and design.
Press Contact: Christina Bader, Director of Marketing
(312) 408-1661 x203

About CNU-IL

CNU-IL is the state-wide chapter of the national Congress for the New Urbanism. CNU helps create vibrant and walkable cities, towns, and neighborhoods where people have diverse choices for how they live, work, shop, and get around. People want to live in well-designed places that are unique and authentic. CNU’s mission is to help build those places.
Press Contact: Jennifer Settle, CNU-IL Board of Directors