Southside Virginia Community Gateways

Medieval cities were often surrounded by a defensive wall. The walls were outfitted with a “gate” that provided a safe “way” for people to pass through the wall. As culture evolved, the walls and gates were no longer necessary for public safety but the gate architecture often remained as a symbol of human passage and civic identity. Today, “gateway” is a term planners use to loosely refer to a place of arrival and more specifically, to describe a structural artifact that visitors pass through to enter a region, city, or neighborhood.

Through our work at Chroma Design, we have found that U.S. communities are frequently defined by their appearance and that the public’s decisions to visit a location can be weighted by those first impressions. For residents, the appearance of a city, town, or village, can influence the pride they take in their “home town.” Business owners looking to expand or relocate, can place a significant value on their first view of a location, allowing it to guide their decision-making process. Since most people arrive at U.S. cities on busy public roadways, urban planners place a high value on the appearance of those corridors as a means of conveying a community’s image and values. This thinking is often reflected in comprehensive plans that recommend highly visible roadway locations for redevelopment initiatives, place-making, streetscape beautification, and “community gateways.”

The Cameron Foundation in Petersburg, Virginia has a mission to “transform the Tri-Cities; Petersburg, Colonial Heights, and Hopewell; and four surrounding counties into a healthy, vibrant, and economically vital region by strategically leveraging resources for community impact.” They are fulfilling their mission with initiatives to improve public health and education and to enhance the physical environment so that residents have more opportunities for a healthy and prosperous lifestyle.

In 2014, the foundation began their community gateway initiative by requesting the municipalities they serve to recommend locations for civic gateways and offering to help fund their design and construction. At that time, the foundation requested Chroma Design to prepare a Southside Virginia Gateway Master Plan which studied the chosen sites and included gateway concept designs for each location. The foundation’s understanding, shared by the communities and the design team, is that a well-designed gateway can improve civic pride, increase tourism, and stimulate economic development.

Through a public-private partnership with three communities, the foundation has currently completed three new gateways. Our firm designed all three sites including the gateway features for two of them. The third includes a major sculpture that was carefully integrated into the site. The firm headed up a multi-disciplinary design team and worked several years with the public/private steering committees for each project. Being part of the southside gateway initiative has been an exciting experience for Chroma Design. It has expanded our understanding, interests, and capabilities in this important practice area. We look forward to assisting other communities in fulfilling their visions for iconic and enduring community gateways.

Chroma Design’s Community Gateways