Are chain stores bad for downtowns?

From The News-Sentinel:

BLOOMINGTON — A task force appointed by Bloomington’s mayor is going to consider steps other than his proposed ban on new chain stores and restaurants to protect the character of the city’s downtown. …

Mayor Mark Kruzan asked task force members in September to start considering chain store restrictions. He has said he wants to protect areas with distinctive business identities.

How can a ban on certain kinds of business ownership save a downtown? Even the most traditional downtowns of the 1950s had chain stores like G.C. Murphy’s and Walgreens.

The mayor should perhaps instead consider The Three Rules of Urban Design for his downtown:

  1. Build to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).
  2. Make the building front “permeable” (i.e., no blank walls).
  3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

It doesn’t matter who owns the store. It matter where the store is located on the site plan. Because nowadays, big chains such as Subway and Starbucks can easily meet these urban standards. The problems arise when stores in an urban area ignore the simple steps above that would make any building a compliment.

Photo by NNECAPA from Flickr

Results of downtown design survey

Here is the press release sent out by the City of Fort Wayne this morning:

DOWNTOWN SURVEY RESULTS SHOW PUBLIC PREFERENCE FOR DURABLE DESIGN

Input from nearly 700 people to help create Downtown Design Manual

Fort Wayne, Ind. – Fort Wayne residents have once again expressed support for thoughtful design in downtown Fort Wayne through the downtown design survey earlier this fall. An internal team and an advisory group will use the survey’s information as they create a Downtown Design Manual by early next year.

“Engaging the public in the revision process is a critical element to ensure that we are planning with people, not for them,” Mayor Tom Henry said. “We received an outstanding response from the public and will use this information as we shape policy that will leave a lasting legacy for our downtown and entire community.”

Respondents expressed a decided preference for an appealing pedestrian experience in downtown, particularly for anything that includes landscaping, planters and greenery. Other preferences included the use of durable materials such as brick and stone, street-level windows, lower ground-mounted signage and wide, unobstructed sidewalks.

“Fort Wayne residents consistently tell us they care about how their city looks,” said Community Development Director John Urbahns. “Information from this survey as well as the input from the comprehensive plan process and the Downtown Blueprint points to how people value and appreciate the aesthetic experience of public spaces.”

The City will use the survey and information from the internal team and advisory group to create a Downtown Design Manual. The existing Downtown Design Guidelines is an advisory document that provides general recommendations. The new manual will continue to have recommendations but may include required elements that would be incorporated into a zoning ordinance amendment, which would need City Council approval. Required elements would need to be quantifiable and not based on a specific taste or style. Once complete, the draft design manual will be made available for public review and comment.

“One of the things that makes downtown Fort Wayne an interesting place is the variety of styles: the Allen County Courthouse, One Summit Square, the Lincoln Tower and the Grand Wayne Center for example. We want our design manual to maintain architectural diversity while encouraging features we know Fort Wayne residents appreciate and want to see more of,” Mayor Henry said.

The survey, taken by 693 people, had respondents evaluate building materials, signage, sidewalks, windows and other design elements of buildings and public spaces. Respondents could also indicate if the feature should be encouraged or required. A full summary of the responses is available at www.cityoffortwayne.org/designsurvey.

What’s your verdict on Calhoun Street?

Calhoun Street in downtown Fort Wayne from Washington Boulevard to Berry Street was demolished, and rebuilt, and is now a two-way street. What do you think?

Please leave specific comments, either criticisms or commendations, in the box below. If you’re a first-time commenter, your comment won’t appear until it’s approved.

Oh, and if you post a photo of the new Calhoun Street online, please post a link to that, too.

Photo © Scott Spaulding

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?