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

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?

In Defense of Fake Authenticity

This essay is a response of sorts to a post on Scott Greider’s blog in which he criticizes a local Uno’s Pizzaria for looking like an old urban building but actually being a new suburban building. I agreed with Scott’s concerns, but offered a different perspective. The Uno’s in question has since closed.

My friend Scott is frustrated with a pizza place.

He enjoyed the food, he liked the prices, and he thought the service was acceptable.

But he still feels like he’s been lied to — by the building itself.

“What made this place so cool — primarily its atmosphere — was … well … inauthentic!” Scott said on his blog after his visit to Uno’s Chicago Grill in Fort Wayne.

“You see, this was a brand new building out in the sprawling suburbs on a lot surrounded by parking spaces that was intentionally trying to look and feel a hundred years old.”

He’s right, especially when he compares the Fort Wayne restaurant to the original Uno’s in Chicago.

My family and I ate at the original Uno’s last year, and while we ate deep-dish authentic Chicago pizza elbow-to-elbow around a table a bit too big for the tiny dining room, even the youngest of us knew we weren’t just taking in a pizza. We were taking in history.

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