Friday, November 13, 2020

End the Failed Skybridge Experiment Downtown; Refocus on Housing

On the front page today is a large piece on the old JC Penney building for sale. 

At what point will we conclude the mallification of downtown has failed?

Front page today

One part of this is the Pedestrian Displacement System. The City should give strong consideration before, during, and after the sale to demolishing the skybridges.  The concept of downtown as a drive-to, mall destination has failed, and the ancillary details for autoist support, like the skybridges to get people out of the way of cars, have utterly failed to guarantee its success. Instead they drain the sidewalks of life and passers-by, and contribute to the blank walls at sidewalk level. (No amount of free parking has kept these businesses afloat, either.)

Windowless, barren, and hostile:
The autoist mall configuration has failed

Until we have more people actually living in downtown housing, we will continue to see the erosion. Because we have prioritized cars over people, the cars and their drivers are able to go elsewhere. We should instead intensify and continue trends to refocus support for housing rather than for car storage and free parking. With more housing and more people on foot, there will be customers to support businesses. Economic development hasn't taken off to precede or cause new housing, and it is reasonable to conclude that it instead will follow new housing. We have had it backwards.

From 2008: more downtown housing

With the UGM site, the Marion Car Park site, the Belluschi bank site, Nordstrom, JC Penney, the other surface parking lots, Salem has a glut of downtown slackness. We should want to fill these spaces with homes for people rather than offices, new retail space, or more parking. 

If we lose in the center and gain on the edges,
are we doing the right things?

Maybe the City and Council will also give more serious thought to the big picture, the way that we continue to hollow out downtown and shift resources to the periphery, especially the area around I-5 and Keubler, with the new Costco, as well as the cluster of warehouses at the new industrial park. If the City wants to retain mass in downtown, maybe they should think about how much they are subsidizing new development outside of downtown. These are all car-dependent areas also, and they require subsidy in expanded road service and capacity. If we want less driving because of emissions, a strategy that prioritizes the edges will fail us.

(It is true, of course, that warehouse jobs are different from retail jobs, and there are nationwide structural changes in play also. But that does not alter the fact that our mix of incentives and subsidies right now is weighted too strongly for the edges and is working against the center.)

Mixed-use on the corner before Penneys, early 1960s
(Salem Library Historic Photos)

Previously see:

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Hey...It looks like the City is going to do just this. From the January 26th City Manager's Update:

"In the last few months, we contracted with CBTWO Architects to work with some of our large downtown property owners to explore adaptive reuse and feasibility of converting some of these buildings to housing. That work is complete, and as a next step we intend to pull together discussions in late February or early March with a focuson the Salem Center mall, Nordstrom , JC Penney, Liberty Plaza, TJ Maxx/Rite Aid, the vacant ground at Liberty and Chemeketa, UGM/Saffron site, Chemeketa and Marion parkades. This will be an online summit and invitees would include the involved property owners or representatives, and a mix of brokers, developers, investors, and architects to look at opportunities and help us learn what kind of urban renewal assistance will be most needed in the next five years.The goal would be to market opportunities downtown and get input from informed and invested participants on what urban renewal expenditures would be most helpful in overcoming barriers."