The expressway that never happened

Brian Stouder left an interesting comment on the previous post about my “Longing for a City” talk:

If I was going to ask a question – it would have been what you thought of the old Fort Wayne’s massive mistake of NOT adding an expressway along with the railway elevation project, back in the day. My dad (who grew up in Fort Wayne in the ’30’s and 40’s, and came of age in the ’50’s) always used to express mortification at our city’s decision to skip the expressway – and the reasons for that rejection.

Indeed, the News-Sentinel ran a very big and informative feature series on just that subject something like 10 or 15 years ago (written, in whole or in part, by Alan Derringer, as I recall) which confirmed all the things my dad always used to say.

If the expressway had existed, the bypasses wouldn’t have the glitter (and the concurrent development) that they attained, and the city would be all the more vibrant – in my opinion.

Which begs the question – why WOULD we really “miss” (at least the attitudes) of old Fort Wayne? They certainly had consequences.

The reasons for that rejection, if I remember correctly, was pure and simple racial prejudice, at least according to The News-Sentinel article referenced above.

Now, that’s a lousy reason, but I’m not sure an urban expressway — that would later have become Interstate 69 — is an 100 percent positive thing.

One obvious problem is the destruction of in-the-way neighborhoods and buildings, and considering we’re talking about the 1950s, who knows what treasures we would have lost.

But a second problem is the cleaving of the city in two along this manmade border. An interstate highway is a dead zone through a city with too-few connections, and those connections are stark bridges and dark underpasses.

But what do you think? Would the benefits of an urban expressway have outweighed the detriments?

Come, let us rezone together

I’m completely ripping off The News-Sentinel’s headline above, but it’s too good not to. (BTW: Great headline, Caleb!)

In his column today, Kevin Leininger comments on the proposed rezoning of 633 properties in a “downtown edge” zone.

On paper, perhaps, the proposed changes — intended to codify earlier downtown improvements plans — don’t seem all that consequential. It would limit the location and size of gas station/convenience stores, for example, establish guidelines for heights and setbacks, and would seek to limit common features deemed too “suburban,” such as surface parking lots and drive-through service lanes, while promoting so-called “mixed-use” projects combining housing, stores and other urban features.

But recent history shows how even seemingly benign guidelines can conflict with market decisions.

Consider planners’ preference for “pedestrian-friendly” development that eliminates parking lots between the sidewalk and door. When Subway Systems Inc. built a new restaurant on West Jefferson Boulevard earlier this year, it included a parking lot and drive-through — passing up a city grant in the process — because an earlier location had taught that foot traffic alone could not sustain the business. And when Woodson Motorsports moved to East Washington at Clay two years ago, it lost a city grant when it put a modern metallic façade on the historic brick building.

In each case, the owners decided to act in their own perceived best interest – even though those interests were not necessarily compatible with planners’ interests.

If their properties had been rezoned, however — and both are included in the proposed “downtown edge” area — those decisions could have been made more complicated.

Personally, I’d hope that such rezoning would not mandate urban-style development, but at least put it on even footing with “normal” suburban-style development. Because it seems to me that current zoning is not in any way “neutral,” despite Kevin’s perspective.

Suburban-style development, including minimum parking standards, is the only one codified, with everything else having to be submitted for “exceptional” approval. Unless I am wrong, the code the city is considering would only open a new urban-like avenue for development. Is that true?

Interview with the new DID president

Be sure to read the column Kevin Leininger wrote after his interview with the new president of the Downtown Improvement District.

Lots of good sense coming from Richard Davis:

“I’m alert to the ‘Big Project’ syndrome, where the ‘titans’ decide what should be the thing to change the face of downtown. But success never depends on just a single project,” said Davis … .

Davis … will be looking for projects that may seem small — until you put them all together.

“You’ll see (the district) target the kinds of businesses we’d like to be here, like a pharmacy, and we’re putting data together to make that case (to would-be downtown businesses),” said Davis, who succeeded Dan Carmody, now head of Detroit’s Eastern Market. “We need to pay attention to how suburban amenities can fit in an urban format. We need to find a niche so downtown becomes a destination. You’d only find a place like Stoner’s (gift and novelties shop) downtown, and they were hurt by the closing of Harrison Street (to allow the expansion of the Grand Wayne Center).”

It’s nice to hear Davis talk about the little things that make a city more livable.

Read the column here.