Helping a North Little Rock neighborhood find a prosperous path forward

Little rock trolley streetcar
The Rock Region Metropolitan Transit Authority operates the Metro Streetcar connecting North Little Rock with downtown Little Rock across the Arkansas River

The Baring Cross neighborhood of North Little Rock, Arkansas grew in tandem with an enormous rail yard to its east, with many of the yard’s employees finding homes in the adjacent neighborhood. Today, some residents and local leaders in North Little Rock believe this unique neighborhood could benefit from a focused effort to revitalize the neighborhood while protecting what makes it unique.

With enthusiasm from residents and local staffers alike, North Little Rock requested assistance through Smart Growth America’s Technical Assistance program to help the city and the neighborhood make the most of its public resources and spur economic development and growth that is both sustainable and equitable — improving the quality of life for all of the neighborhood’s residents.

The neighborhood doesn’t lack valuable assets, enjoying proximity to the Arkansas River waterfront, jobs in the nearby rail yard now operated by Union Pacific, downtown Little Rock, and access to parks and bike trails. Yet many feel like the neighborhood suffers from underinvestment and isn’t reaching its full potential. “I want to take it back to the wonderful neighborhood it was when I was growing up,” Mayor Joe Smith told a local TV station earlier this year.

Baring Cross map overlay north little rock
Baring Cross is roughly the area shaded in blue, west of the rail yard and across the river from downtown Little Rock.

Back in the spring, SGA staff members Mayor John Robert Smith and Elizabeth Schilling traveled to North Little Rock to conduct an Implementing Smart Growth 101 workshop focusing specifically on the Baring Cross neighborhood.

Over the last 15 years, developers have taken an interest in leveraging the valuable waterfront and revitalizing the neighborhood. Developers recently built single- and multi-family residential units at the site of an old nursery along the waterfront. The site had been abandoned for decades and all traces of the nursery greenhouse had disappeared except for its tall chimney, which now sits at the center of the new development. Developers have also installed a boathouse for local residents, making it easier for residents to access the river. These new units sit on a 60-acre stretch of the old nursery, much of it still undeveloped. Local developers plan to continue their efforts with new properties, parks, and commercial establishments.

SGA designed this process to encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions and spent much of the workshop guiding participants through a collaborative community discussion, focused on identifying the best near-term and long-term investments for equitable growth throughout the neighborhood. Workshop participants had no shortage of ideas for the future of their neighborhood. The ideas mentioned included the desire for bike paths, commercial corridors, and new approaches to zoning enforcement.

Toward the end of the one-day session, SGA split up participants to discuss the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities in the Baring Cross neighborhood. SGA urged residents to focus on the most practical and feasible paths to improvement. By the end of the day, participants had a better understanding of the many different perspectives in the community and put together a list of what was most important for the neighborhood’s future.

Participants highlighted the need to upgrade the area’s parks and trails to improve access to outdoor recreational activities and the many trails running through Baring Cross or the rest of the city. Residents also called for the creation of new, walkable commercial space within the neighborhood, along with a complete streets makeover for Pike Avenue, which runs along the eastern edge of Baring Cross and was the historical main street of the neighborhood, separating the rail yard from the housing and small commercial main street.

This work was made possible through Smart Growth America’s Technical Assistance Program, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities. North Little Rock was one of seven communities that received free technical assistance in the 2016 round of the Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities grant program.

For more information on Smart Growth America’s Technical Assistance program and how your community can request assistance from SGA on a variety of land use, development and transportation challenges, please visit this page to learn more.

Workshop Materials:

Technical assistance