An urban art trail and interactive outdoor museum is one of those seemingly "noncritical" stimulus projects that caused a lot of fretting last year. When word got out that almost half of the $8.8 million project would be funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), detractors complained the money would be better spent on "traditional" improvements like road resurfacing.

But it's not difficult to understand why the New York State DOT chose to commit $3.4 million of its $34 million ARRA allocation into the project. Art Walk 2 is the continuation of a neighborhood revitalization, completed eight years ago, that's credited with driving up the value of homes in the area. Housing prices in the Neighborhood of the Arts have increased an average of 61%, more than double the appreciation rate of surrounding neighborhoods.

Each dollar of federal funds spent on the project is expected to generate at least $4 in the years following the scheduled completion date of winter 2011. The goal is to reinvigorate private investment in the upscale Neighborhood of the Arts in Rochester, which like virtually every other city in the United States is working to continue providing services despite decreased sales, tax, and property revenues.

A Traditional Design

Begun in 2002, the original ArtWalk was a grassroots neighborhood initiative that integrated art into a typical city street reconstruction project of nearly half a mile. ArtWalk is the name of an independent, nonprofit organization that has helped the public works department select materials and maintain the commissioned art installations, and assisted home and business owners who took responsibility for maintaining the art and landscaping adjacent to their property.

ArtWalk 2 picks up where its predecessor left off.

The nexus of ArtWalk 2 is the city's Neighborhood of the Arts: home to a satellite campus of the University of Rochester, three public schools, and two museums. ArtWalk 2 extends northwest along University Avenue and into North Goodman Street with approximately ½ mile of roadway reconstruction along University Avenue and ¾ mile of new sidewalk along University Avenue, Goodman Street, and East Avenue. The current plan includes four major anchoring elements, all connected via decorative sidewalks and designed to create more open space, gathering areas, and inviting destinations:

1. The city is acquiring an easement on the university's Memorial Art Gallery grounds at University Avenue and Goodman Streets to serve as the central "Welcome Plaza" for the project. It will provide interactive works commissioned from leading local artists as well as works from its own collection to create this new sculpture garden.

Block-long extensions off of this central hub ? with 8-foot-wide specialty paving walkways and landscaping treatments with artistic elements integrated throughout ? will run east and west along University Avenue and north and south along Goodman Street. At the far reaches of these "arms" will be major anchoring art elements.

2. At the southern reach, on the grounds of the Rochester Museum and Science Center, a gathering place will include a privately funded, sculptural element.

3. At the northern arm, a light sculpture rising from a median in the roadway will draw visitors to the restaurants and night life located in the area.

4. On the western arm, an interactive sculpture will offer an audiovisual experiencefeaturing rotating works of film, video, and digital media.

Small- and mid-scale sculptural piecesand functional art such as artist-designed manhole covers and benches will be included to connect the various projects segments.

Last summer, architecture and engineering firm Bergmann Associates was again chosen as the lead design consultant.The 18-month project is slated tobegin construction in June.

The main thoroughfare, University Avenue, will benefit from reconstruction, improved signage and street markings, newstreet lighting, and a new median design intended to slow traffic and beautify the neighborhood. Street and intersection improvement swill occur first, followed by sidewalks, lighting, commissioned artwork installation and, finally, landscaping.

Like the original project, sidewalks ? constructed of brick pavers or colored and stained concrete ? will be 8 feet wide to allow pedestrians to view the strategically placed artwork.