BENTONVILLE, Ark., Oct. 26, 2020 – The Walton Family Foundation is amplifying its efforts to enhance the region’s public spaces with three new Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program projects. As part of its announcement, the foundation also released a new report assessing the program’s impact and lessons learned.
“The Design Excellence Program champions a diverse mix of public buildings and spaces that connect communities and help celebrate the region’s unique culture,” said Karen Minkel, Home Region Program director. “These new projects will build on that momentum by supporting inclusive gathering places, neighborhood-scale experiences and vibrant outdoor destinations.”
This year, the program will provide grants for the:
Enhancement of The Jones Center’s 52-acre campus: The Jones Trust will redesign its campus as a regional destination and create stronger physical connections to downtown Springdale and Luther George Park. The space will include park-like green spaces, inviting bike paths, infrastructure improvements and enhanced recreational amenities to serve diverse communities in an accessible and welcoming environment.
Reimagined network of alleys in Downtown Rogers: The City of Rogers will transform five blocks of alleyways into an arts-focused neighborhood destination and pedestrian network. Located at the heart of many downtown destinations, the project will create more social space, spur economic development and build on the unique historic fabric of the city’s downtown.
Design of The Commons in the Quilt of Parks: The City of Bentonville will complete the design for The Commons, a plaza in the Quilt of Parks and an extension of Bentonville Square. The plaza will include recreation spaces and areas for public events, outdoor dining and community gathering.
With the addition of these new projects, the Design Excellence Program now supports 15 public spaces across the region’s five largest downtowns. The foundation partnered with Gehl, an urban design firm, to determine the program’s impact, strengths and challenges by assessing completed and in-progress projects. The report shows the program is helping balance authenticity with world-class design; creating places for community connection; expanding access to arts and culture; exhibiting the highest standards of sustainable design; elevating the profile of the region; and helping revitalize the region’s local economies. Additionally, according to the foundation, program participants have been able to leverage ambitious designs to ignite community support – resulting in more than $100 million in public and private funds for construction of these projects.
In addition to these successes, the Gehl report notes the need to improve how everyday users are integrated into the design process, particularly traditionally underrepresented communities. It also flags potential connectivity challenges from the projects to other downtown hubs, which grantees could address with a more comprehensive planning process moving forward. The assessment also spotlights persistent regional challenges that may limit the program’s future impact, including inadequate mobility infrastructure, a piecemeal approach to sustainability and a lack of inclusion in the community engagement process.
The foundation is making the framework, metrics and methods from the Gehl assessment available for public use. The materials will be an asset for design professionals and communities working to create inclusive and engaging public spaces and as a toolkit for measuring success. To access the materials, please visit
About the Walton Family Foundation
The Walton Family Foundation is, at its core, a family-led foundation. Three generations of the descendants of our founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and their spouses, work together to lead the foundation and create access to opportunity for people and communities. We work in three areas: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in our home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. In 2019, the foundation awarded more than $525 million in grants in support of these initiatives. To learn more, visit waltonfamilyfoundation.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.