Thursday, June 23, 2016

Downtown Advisory Board to get Update on Opportunity Sites

Greenbaum's (right) in the intact Eldridge Block, 1954
University of Oregon
The Downtown Advisory Board is meeting today, Thursday the 23rd, and they are getting an update on the potential "opportunity sites" downtown that might be purchased with Urban Renewal Funding in an effort to kickstart redevelopment on vacant or underutilized lots.

Project concept for State and Commercial
via Nathan Good Architects
In that update is a review of property owners who would and would not be interested in selling or otherwise participating in the "opportunity site" deal.

Owners of one important parcel were not interested. The concept for the corner of State and Commercial is still on! That was good news. But they identified "parking" as their biggest issue. So is that the parking requirements the City is imposing? Is this ostensible market demand for structured parking? The Liberty Parkade is just a block away and the Chemeketa Parkade is two blocks away. How exactly is "parking" an issue? Right now it operates mainly as a slogan for MOAR. Instead we need a more detailed and sophisticated discussion about what constitutes the right amount, where it needs to be, and how it should be funded and priced.

Reopening around the corner, at present site
February 6th, 1919
Scott's also said "no thanks." It was reassuring to see them contacted and participating in the discussion. Especially in light of Greenbaum's closing, our old businesses deserve a bit of extra deference. Their longevity is itself something of a community good.

Just in general terms, based on owner interest it seemed like the urge to aggregate lots into full half-block units was not realistic, and so if the Urban Renewal Agency goes ahead with any acquisition, it would be in units sized around a quarter-block or so. Apart from whatever economies of scale a developer might enjoy in larger parcels, for citizens the scale of a quarter block is better and contributes to a more lively diversity at the sidewalk.

In another instance of language, in an update on the High and Church Street bike lanes, the minutes from last meeting say:
One lane of traffic will be removed to accommodate the bike lane.
Bike traffic is still traffic! We need to ditch this notion that we are "removing" a "traffic lane." We are reallocating an existing and superfluous auto traffic lane and reassigning the space to be a bicycle traffic lane. And because bikes take up less space than cars, this is a more efficient use of road space, and the lane will actually have more capacity than a car lane.

Whether it's "parking" or "removing a traffic lane," there is an old-fashioned autoism in our language that slides over important details, and even it's unintentional this still obfuscates rather than clarifies.

Ordinarily membership isn't that important here, but it seemed significant that some younger business people were on DAB. Archive co-owner Justin Doyle resigned from the board, unfortunately. From a distance, without knowing anything about the dynamics of the board, his voice, and voices like his, seem necessary for movement into the 21st century. Hopefully DAB can recruit more young leadership.

On Your Feet Friday

On Your Feet Friday's not at all an activity of the DAB, but it's certainly in the neighborhood as a "revitalization" action. It serves multiple commercial and non-commercial ends: Promoting the Minto Bridge, promoting walking, promoting shoe brands and Gallagher Fitness, promoting other businesses, and promoting downtown generally. It is pleasantly various.

This July folks are thinking about a record turn-out.

On Your Feet Friday - Not yet Car Free
From "Holding Court" this week:
[T]he crowd for July's On Your Feet Friday could eclipse previous records. Now in its fifth year, the second-Friday-of-the-month event from May through October attracted a crowd of more than 600 people in May, and...June's 400-plus attendance was somewhat constrained only because of drizzly weather.

So they're bracing for an expected 800 or more folks walking and running around the downtown core from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, July 8...

"It's fun and awesome, and we want everyone to have a good time, but we also want people to be aware and safe," Susan said. "Especially those who are concentrating on filling out their passports. Please use crosswalks and care when crossing streets."
But the event also seems more than a little conservative. Not politically conservative, but about taking care not to disturb the status quo. It's interested in working with things as they are and not about working for any changes to downtown. It's a very soft advocacy.

Maybe it's never going to happen, but it sure seems like at some point the event will be so popular that people start to clamor for closed or partially closed streets, right?

At what point do we shift the emphasis from saying to people on foot "please use crosswalks and care when crossing streets" and instead have street closures with special crossing times and places for those in cars? When do we shift the burden to cars and their drivers and instead prioritize people on foot?

Also, the event starts and ends in the footprint of the "Bush" half of the Bush-Breyman building of 1889. It's a parking hole now, but up until 1960 or so, the building was intact.

Bush-Breyman Building
via University of Oregon
and streetview
There's an opportunity here to talk more about the urban form and about the way we might improve the urban fabric. There's an opening to talk about parking and walking and autoism. But that means thinking about change, and Salemites have seemed more interested in recreational opportunities that do not involve changes to streets and buildings.

On Your Feet Friday will evolve organically, and hopefully it will become so popular that people start asking questions. If Salem Sunday Streets has struggled, maybe On Your Feet Friday will morph into something that involves street closure and invites deeper thinking about our urban forms and gaps. We can hope!

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