Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Maybe ODFW Passing on Capitol Mall is a Good Thing

Yesterday Michael Rose wrote about Oregon Fish and Wildlife's decision to by-pass downtown and the Capitol Mall.

It is complicated, of course, and while I'm not sure that the Fairview Industrial Park is the best location for the life of the City, I am sure that yet another single-use office building on the Capitol Mall would only add to the death of the City.

Those are strong words, I know, but continuing to build out superblocks or even regular blocks of single-purpose office buildings is one of the things that is killing downtown.*

For the City - again, not for the State or for any other entity - for the life of the City, the best decision might have been as part of the mixed use Boise project, and it's too bad we can't learn more about what the possibilities might have been at that site.**

I have written before about the ways our institutional development near downtown has girdled downtown proper. Residents and regular pulses of traffic into downtown, especially pulses by those on foot, on bike, or on transit, but even those in cars, face formidable barriers on the south, east, and west.

The Capitol Mall is large part of this. But it wasn't always this way.

(The block bounded by Summer, Winter, Marion, and Center,
side-by-side in 1926 and 2010 - homes to parking lot

At one time there were houses here - it was a thriving residential neighborhood!

Now we have single-serving office buildings and parking lots. You can see an abandoned rosebush at a driveway.

(Click on the dinky images to enlarge!)

We talk about strip mall development along busy corridors like Lancaster, South Commercial, North River Road, Mission Street, and elsewhere, but in tandem, we've stripmined the close-in residential neighborhoods that used to nourish a thriving downtown. It's not just that the State and other entities have large parcels of land exempted from local property taxes, it's that these entities have replaced homes, and replaced them with large parking lots and single-use buildings that promptly empty at 5pm on weekdays, and are empty on weekends.

That's the death of a city.

Here's a picture of Commercial and Court from around 1915 - you'll recognize Copperjohn's on the left - with streetcar tracks running down Commercial. Look at the crowds, and all the different ways to travel: Horse and cart or buggy, autocar, bicycle, motorbike, street car, and by foot.

Here's the corner of Liberty and State Streets, circa 1950, with people walking and two-way auto traffic.

An important part of the reason downtown was busy is that more people lived downtown, and more people lived very close to downtown, in easy walking and biking distance.

You know. Customers!

Upper photo is one half of an amazing 360 panorama of Commercial and Court Streets, circa 1910-15, which you can see in a huge enlargement on the wall inside Fox Blue.

This is why mixed use development is so important. Big is not necessarily bad; but single-use monoculture most certainly is.

It's too bad that being part of the Boise Redevelopment didn't make sense for ODFW. Having a significant State agency in a substantial mixed use development in the center of downtown would have been a wonderful thing to happen to Salem and its downtown!

* The problem is that concentrating people who live elsewhere in downtown during work hours is that they leave. That's single crop, monoculture - more efficient in some ways, but ultimately it robs the soil, the civic substrate, of fertility. It's not sustainable.

** On the other hand, with more offices out at Fairview, maybe this will help create a thriving residential-commercial nexus at Sustainable Fairview. That development needs to be mixed as well.


Stephanie Matlock Allen said...

Virginia Green has an amazing presentation she created showing the destruction of the Piety Hill neighborhood and how it was replaced, slowly & purposefully, over many years. I don't think it's online yet, though.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks, Stephanie! And you're right, it is a terrific presentation. You can find parts of it here - and click on the right hand arrow for the next slides, though they aren't exactly in the right order, and I think it's only part of the total slide deck.

Tell Virginia she needs to post the whole thing on SHINE! It was part of a series of pieces the Marion County Historical Society newsletters, I think, and the whole story needs more air time.