Will Harrison Square hate pedestrians?

Will the Harrison Square retail development in downtown Fort Wayne make pedestrians more or less welcome? And why would I ask the question, seeing as how there are so many pedestrians drawn on the architectural renderings?

But there’s a potential problem with the above streetscape, and David Sucher’s Three Rules for urban design (PDF) addresses it directly. Allow me to quote from his book, “City Comforts“:

If the problem is to create a walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, much of the answer is architectural. Actually, it is not so much “architectural” in the usual sense of the word, for it ignores style. Site plan trumps architecture. …

The key decision is the position of the building with respect to the sidewalk. This decision determines whether you have a city or a suburb.

  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.

Now, at first, it may seem that Harrison Square meets the conditions. It will be built to the sidewalk, the front will not be bare walls, and obviously there’ll be no parking lot in front.

But take another look at the streetscape above. The retail establishments are not at street level; they are maybe five feet above street level, separated from the street and sidewalk by seven steps and a brick wall.

Now, imagine walking by the retail stores. You would not be eye level with the stores. You’d be ankle level. And when you drive down Jefferson Boulevard, you’ll have the same problem of not being able to see directly into the stores. This elevation of the retail establishments reduces the building’s “permeability” — not completely, but partially.

Another interesting wrinkle is that the rendering above seems to show on-street parking on Jefferson, which would require reducing Jefferson’s four lanes to three. Is that really part of the plan? I hope so, because if not, that small sidewalk with a wall on one side and heavy traffic on the other will not feel so friendly to the pedestrian, trees or no trees.

But here’s the clincher: If you are handicapped, how do you enter the stores?

Well, if you have the misfortune of approaching Harrison Square from the west, you’ll have to travel an entire city block to find a ramp that allows you access to the stores.

Now, before my criticism gets criticized for being too, well, pedestrian, please remember that these details matter. City residents will not approach Harrison Square from the air, as in the virtual fly-throughs. We will approach it on foot. And the way we interact with the building as pedestrians is the only way we’ll ever know.

I know that renderings are only plans, and are subject to change. But since construction of the stadium has been underway for some time, bringing the first floor of Harrison Square down to street level is probably out of the question.

— images from the city of Fort Wayne Web site

Harrison Square news

I don’t know what reader of The Good City wouldn’t also be a reader of the Downtown Fort Wayne Baseball blog, but just in case …

The guys at DFWB are all over the developments surrounding Harrison Square. I’m just going to point you to their blog and say, read up about

  • the Harrison Square groundbreaking
  • the condos going on sale Friday
  • the bridge across Harrison Street getting approved
  • the construction webcam going live

and lots of other news.

And although I previously stated a strong opinion against the sky bridge, I at least appreciate some of the steps the planners are taking to not damage the Indiana Hotel beyond repair.

4 reasons to not bust a gaping hole into a historic theater

Embassy TheatreForget about building a downtown aquarium. Fort Wayne wants to build a suspended, over-the-street, glass-boxed, out-of-town-visitorium.

In an effort to prevent convention goers from ever having to walk on an actual sidewalk, the folks building Harrison Square downtown want to carve a hole into the west side of the historic Embassy Theatre (actually, that side of the building contains the old Indiana Hotel) and build a pedestrian walkway across a two-lane street.

In today’s News-Sentinel, columnist Kevin Leininger applauds the plan:

… the city is considering several incentives in exchange for the Embassy’s willingness to give up most of its third floor for a walkway that would allow visitors to travel indoors from the new hotel at Harrison Street and Jefferson Boulevard, across Harrison though the Indiana Hotel, to the Grand Wayne Convention Center — which is linked to the Embassy by another walkway over Jefferson.

Before we rent the reciprocating saws, let’s consider some possible drawbacks to busting a hole in the side of the Embassy:

  • You’d be busting a hole in the side of the Embassy. You can’t undo this kind of destruction. Will future generations wonder what kinds of dopes we were for saving such a beautiful structure from destruction, only to ram a makeshift shiv into its side? While we’re at it, should we build a walkway from the Lincoln Tower to the courthouse so the lawyers won’t get wet in the rain?
  • You wouldn’t really be helping visitors that much. As visitors walk over two-lane Harrison Street, they’ll be kicking themselves as they realize it would have been faster for them just to use the crosswalk.
  • You’d be using the proximity of the historic Embassy for your own downtown goals. The Embassy doesn’t get any real boost for becoming a conventioneers’ bypass — except for some cash, of course.
  • You’d be telling visitors that there’s nothing interesting about a Fort Wayne sidewalk. Aren’t there going to be shops along Jefferson Boulevard as a part of Harrison Square? Wouldn’t we like visitors to actually walk past them?

The pressure on the Embassy board is tremendous. Kevin again:

If (Embassy) board members zealously protect every last inch of the historic building’s interior and brick-and-terra cotta facade, they risk jeopardizing a project that could bring hundreds of thousands of people downtown every year — potentially benefiting both the theater and prospects for the Indiana Hotel’s redevelopment.

Putting the weight of Harrison Square on a walkway through a historic building is suspicious and unfair. People won’t come to Fort Wayne if they have to cross a street? Don’t people have to cross streets in other, more successful downtowns? Doesn’t the success of our own outdoor Jefferson Pointe prove that people enjoy walking and shopping outside?

Once the concrete cutters touch the side of the Embassy, we can never go back. We must consider some alternatives before we mar the face of downtown’s most precious jewel.

NOTE: Photo credit: The News-Sentinel, crudely Photoshopped by Jon. (Apologies for forgetting this before.)