South 24th Street: Omaha, Nebraska
South 24th Street Business District puts pedestrians first. A road reconfiguration project project, mosaic installation, and unique light posts makes taking a stroll down South 24th Street like walking through a Midwest wonderland.
The main thoroughfare of South 24th Street is a half-mile section between L Street and Q Street.
South 24th Street in Omaha, Nebraska, a main street business district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, dates to the establishment of South Omaha in the 1880s. As a company town for the Union Stockyards Company, the district grew into Omaha’s second largest “downtown,” home to a variety of immigrant groups. By the late 20th century, the stockyards were waning and many of the families once connected to it moved to new parts of the community.
Propelled by the growth of the city’s Latino community, the historic district has experienced a true renaissance. A flowering of new shops and restaurants has restored the street to one of Omaha’s liveliest places.
The street invites people into businesses with glass fronts and unique signs for shops along the sidewalk. There is a minimal amount of street parking and transit running along the corridor. South 24th Street was converted from a four-lane street with parallel parking to a two-lane roadway with diagonal parking. Pedestrian crossings have extensions, and signals at intersections were replaced by four-way stops. The result has been a 40 percent increase in on-street parking and a much more pedestrian-friendly environment. Traffic moves in an almost processional manner, becoming part of the urban scene.
South 24th Street is known for its spectacular artwork, a main feature being the sidewalk mosaic that starts at L Street and ends at Q Street. At the entrance to the business district where the mosaic begins, a metal sculpture of a Tree of Life with medallions as leaves reflects the many nationalities — Czech, Polish, Croat, and Mexican — and cultures that built South Omaha. While many of the materials — tiles, paper-cut forms, and metal work — reflect elements of a Latino townscape, the symbols are universal to the diverse ethnic groups whose members made homes here. It is an integrated piece of public art that functions on many levels, and as a destination icon that brands the district as it winds through it. The artwork is finished to be resistant to foot traffic.
The art and pedestrian-friendly planning are made doubly special through community effort. The emergence of the streetscape design, including the overarching tree of life theme, resulted from a grassroots effort led by the South Omaha Business Association and an independent community liaison — the city’s retired planning director.
The plan included a detailed survey that focused on potential new customers within 15 miles. The second part of the process asked people, businesses, and property owners who know South Omaha best about the condition and potential of the district. This was accomplished through surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Many elements of the streetscape, including folk art, were derived from a community survey and market analysis. The survey indicated the importance of a quality public realm that would appeal to a broader customer base.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- The street design includes a number of functional aspects alongside its symbolism. The landscape is designed to mitigate runoff as well to provide an enjoyable experience for visitors and to go along with the tree of life theme. Vividly colored circular seats promote social interaction along the thoroughfare. Teardrop street lighting recalls the traditional lighting that once graced South Omaha and makes the space welcoming at night.
- While substantial private funding was committed, the bulk of the project was financed with CDBG funds allocated incrementally over years. The initial phase set the new curb lines to increase parking and establish a pedestrian friendly street. For many business owners, that advantage compensated for the gradual pace of construction. The finished concrete pathways were completed on a block-by-block basis, with enhancements and artwork following. The result was an active project that did not obstruct businesses or inconvenience people.
- In May, Omaha celebrates Cinco de Mayo with a vibrant fiesta that includes live entertainment, traditional dancers, live music, authentic food, rides, and an area just for kids. The highlight is the parade, which fills South 24th Street with colorful dancers, floats, and marching bands.
- In September, South 24th Street holds a two-day celebration of Mexican Independence called El Grito Festival, which includes a charro show, mariachi and salsa dancing contests, food vendors, a beer garden, live music and more.
Pertinent Plans and Documents
- Tree of Life Artwork Webpage
- South 24th Street Walking Tour Brochure
- Reconnaissance Survey of Portions of South Omaha Nebraska Historic Buildings Survey
- South Omaha Development Project Plan (2010)