The annual tomato fight in Pittston, Pennsylvania.

The annual tomato fight in Pittston, Pennsylvania.

There is no lack of outdoor community festivals in the United States. Spring, summer, fall—and occasionally in winter—there is a cornucopia of arts fests, fringe festivals, beer festivals, county fairs, church picnics, and fire department bazaars, all of which help set the identity of that community. My hometown of Pittston, Pennsylvania, (pop. 7,716) bills itself as “the Quality Tomato Capital of the World.” That is not to be confused with Jacksonville, Texas, (pop. 14,747) which bills itself as merely “the Tomato Capital of the World.” Each town celebrates its affinity for the glorious red fruit with an annual tomato festival. Pittston’s highlight is the morning of the great tomato fight, which raises money for charity. Jacksonville (which also claims to have the World’s Largest Bowl of Salsa) sponsors a tomato shoot. Civic boosterism can be a messy affair.

But some community leaders, including Jacksonville, Florida, resident and ULI immediate past chairman Peter Rummell, are taking the model of festival-as-image-builder to a much more sophisticated level. Using internet-enabled crowdsourcing tools that allow attendees to vote for—and even donate to or invest in—exhibitors, this new generation of festival is being used by cities to forge a distinct identity, whether it be as a leader of the arts, a destination for foodies, or a place fertile for entrepreneurs and innovators. The latter concept was a key focus of the inaugural One Spark festival held in Jacksonville, Florida, this year, which had a key backer in Rummell. Another effort, in Austin, Texas—already home to a big-time image-building event, the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music and technology festival—focused on an overlooked and usually unsightly asset in most communities: alleyways. By focusing on one small alley, community visionaries tried to show what a resource this space could become and how it could help revitalize surrounding properties if looked at creatively. You can find details on what’s been happening recently in these and other cities in the cover package that begins on page 36.

On page 56, we kick off coverage of what is to be a major, multiyear project for ULI—the Building Healthy Places Initiative. The initiative started off with a series of ULI Advisory Services panels convened in three Colorado cities and commissioned by the Colorado Health Foundation. The panels examined three distinct types of communities—urban, suburban, and rural—with an eye toward recommending ways that the physical environment in each could be changed to encourage a more active lifestyle for residents and help them improve their health. The results from the three panels are likely to become a model for communities outside Colorado.

Also in this issue are profiles of the five finalists for this year’s ULI Open Space Award. Selected from entries representing urban areas throughout North America, the finalists are Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City; Cumberland Park in Nashville, Tennessee; the Parks and Waterfront at Southeast False Creek in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; the Yards Park in Washington, D.C.; and Wilmington Waterfront Park in Wilmington, California. The winning project will be announced at the 2013 ULI Fall Meeting, being held November 5 to 8 in Chicago.

We will have plenty to report about our Fall Meeting host city in the September/October issue. For your summertime reading, however, Patricia Kirk offers a look at the city’s new Bloomingdale Trail, which is reclaiming 2.7 miles (4.4 km) of abandoned elevated railway for use as a greenway and path for pedestrians and cyclists. The story begins on page 84.

Throughout this issue of Urban Land, stories focus on ways to encourage people to get out and be active in their communities. An urban image is crafted from all sorts of things—technology, visionary thinking, the arts, and food—not least of which is that abundant gift of summer, the tomato.