San Diego you and me,
Filled with possibility,
Beauty far as I can see,
It’s our Downtown. – Lyrics from Our Downtown by Steve Tussey
After selling my home in The Brickyard, I packed my belongings into storage, crammed my car with necessities and together with my two kitties, AlexSandra and CalexSandra, drove north on an extended holiday.
The adventure has given me a new perspective on how neighborhoods create a sense of place–one that is livable, attractive, and interesting. A place where residents greet neighbors as friends.
Back in time, once just a dirt path to a destination, a building was constructed, and then another, and another, forming a row of buildings, first on one side of the path, then on the other.
The expansive pathway became known as “Main Street” and it was now the destination.
On market day, residents would “go into town” to pick up their mail, shop for groceries and hardware, and gather the local news. As they walked from shop to shop, they lingered. There was a sense of place and community.
As I walk through the Old Mill District in Bend, the Pearl District in Downtown Portland, and Orenco Station in Hillsboro, I discovered these communities share a few fascinating attributes.
The streets are narrow (“skinny” streets in Orenco are 20’ in width!), often times without centerline striping, and offer limited on-street parking. With corner pop-outs, crosswalks, and intersections enhanced with distinctive pavers, each junction signals a place of importance.
Both the Pearl District and Orenco Station present residents with light-rail as the solution for traveling longer distances. And, Portland’s light-rail and streetcars share lanes with vehicular traffic.
Most importantly, the sidewalks are nearly as wide as the streets, allowing ample space for cafes to spill out with more than enough sidewalk remaining for pedestrians to pass comfortably. (Oh, and I can’t recall above grade utility box anywhere!)
Everyday, rain or shine, the Main Streets in these communities team with shoppers and residents. Some walking with purpose, others for enjoyment.
Which begs the question: Why don’t we narrow our neighborhood Main Streets by increasing the adjacent pedestrian right-of-ways? Merchants argue customers want handy parking and won’t walk the few blocks to their shops.
Isn’t a mall basically a path lined with shops? A modern-day Main Street without the interference of vehicles? A commercial shopping district void of living units due to the vast parking lots and structures that repress residential development? And, don’t we as consumers walk much further through car-peppered parking lots, or even more unpleasant, through massive, dark, eerie structures to reach the object of our desire?
I pose…Aren’t we just making paths through our Main Streets?
It’s now time to rethink the neighborhood Main Streets. The structure must focus on the pleasure of the pedestrian with expansive boardwalks, limited short-term parking, and streetcars servicing parking garages.
By creating beauty as far as the eye can see, our neighborhood Main Streets become filled with possibilities, a place of importance, and the destination. -October 2009