Cities project their identity in ways that can be almost invisible to its citizens. We stop looking at the places we pass every day as we focus on our destinations of work and home. This city blindness is especially prevalent in cars. But visitors do not suffer from the same familiarity blinders, and what they see from their car windows along the gateways leading to town often determine whether or not they decide to stay.
In America, the highway corridor is usually bland and placeless, except where it is interrupted by vacancy… or worse. These leftover objects – motels, warehouses, empty superstores – seem to be evidence that no investment is viable, or that no one cares. However, these once-thriving businesses are located on a strip that may host tens of thousands of cars each day – people who are patronizing the new fast-food restaurant down the street.
unabridged did a sketch project for a low-occupancy motel near the head of our Main Street. We envision the motel rooms doubled in size with a loft or penthouse, and a second courtyard of rooms. The forecourt pool is ringed with lush new plantings, and a few Airstreams for a unique overnight accommodation. The style in a throwback to retro modern designs, the midcentury motor court that was popular when this place was originally built to serve travelers on their way across the South.
Transforming lost and underutilized spaces requires vision and effort, but the return on the investment can have direct benefits – higher occupancies, increased sales – and indirect rewards for the community. These may come in the form of higher property values, increased tax collections, and a more welcoming front door to the city, which encourages people to stop and explore further. Better gateways lead to better cities.