Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

You don’t need brick pavers to remake a downtown

As I count down the months until I move to Ellenton (almost two months left) I am eager to experience the wonder of the long walk again.

In Gainesville, of late, walking in my area was never that much fun of an experience, and you couldn’t do much walking at night because of the neighborhood. During the day, it could also be a hassle due to the large trucks, people running red lights and more that happen when you mix pedestrians and vehicles.

In Covered Bridge in Ellenton, the interior roads are not perfect for walking, just very, very, very good.

The big problem in Gainesville is that they’ve caught downtown dress-up fever, and that means that to create a “walkable” community, it has to be “unwalkable” for months while the brick pavers are installed. In addition to the need to block the sidewalk, installation of the pavers requires very loud equipment to cut the bricks to shape them just so, which means lots of noise so you can’t hear podcasts or music, and lots of dust and crossing the street to avoid being hit by a car.

Projects to remake an area also can be hazardous to the health of the businesses already there. The infamous Main Street project in Gainesville turned the road into an obstacle course and killed a number of businesses before it was finally finished.

Back in the 1990s, I remember that the U.S. 1 improvement project through Boca Raton nearly wiped out the business district. When it becomes too hard to drive into a parking lot for a business, people vote with their feet.

My favorite catastrophe brought about by a redevelopment plan happened in a private strip mall area, though. Back in the late 1990s, I was working as a copy editor for an outfit called Bankrate.com, and our offices were across the street from a plaza that had parking outside, and a ring of storefronts facing inward. You parked – or crossed U.S. 1 – and entered through an opening in the ring.

On my first visit, I found a place to eat and it was OK, but a few weeks later, it was like entering Hades. The owner had decided to spruce the place up and had chosen an Italian look. This meant brick pavers and lots of other work, and the ringed-in area was full of construction workers engaged in all the activities associated with cutting bricks and other activities that seemed to involve lots of noise and dust. The workers also smoked incessantly.

The air was dense with brick dust, the noise of the brick cutters was brutal, and the parking lot was filled with construction vehicles. Business owners were gathering together to complain that they were being ruined by the noise, dust and more. Men with leaf blowers fanned out at times to blow the dust into the air.

“This is killing my business,” one woman business owner shouted to another over the howling racket.

The eateries closed down eventually, killed by the access difficulties and the fact that you couldn’t have a quiet conversation in the restaurants. When the work was finally done, the plaza looked really nice, but it was deserted.

Most downtown redevelopment schemes I’ve seen seem to work at cross-purposes, mainly because the people often don’t know what they want.

For example, suburbanites like myself are used to the easy availability of parking spaces. Bringing us to places where you might have to drive around and look for a spot, then parallel park on a busy road, can be a challenge. Throw in the fact that suburban shopping places offer free and reasonably parking, and the downtown areas invariably try to charge for parking or levy fines for overstaying an arbitrary limit, and you have a recipe for disaster as people come to downtown for the amenities, then must watch the clock and leave early to avoid a parking ticket or towing.

There has to be a middle ground somewhere.

One interesting thing about walking is that I could walk another route, but it’s far less interesting and also annoying. Employees of Shands Hospital congregate and often block the sidewalk because they can smoke on the sidewalk, and it can be a pain to have to dodge smokers and hold your breath while you walk.

Plus, my favorite route includes the university, and the view is always great.

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January 6, 2012 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , ,

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