To create an exhaustive list of everything just in the downtown which desperately needs rehabilitation would be exhausting, and I’m lazy. I don’t mean to imply that everything could or should look like Main Street, just that even the most basic and functional places and spaces can reflect the humanity which in some way they were intended to serve. The list breaks down into the “shooting fish in a barrel” type of fixes requiring few resources and even less imagination and the sort of transformations which will take generations if they ever manage to be achieved.
Easy, Small, Incremental
Court House Walk
The sidewalk, lampposts, and storefronts are already in place, the space already gives the impression that it is the sort of place that could have existed in some form in almost any outpost of human civilization in the last 10,000 years. In either direction the terminating vista is grand. Fill it with tiny shops and eateries and you have an instant asset any city would die for.
The esplanade of the original Museum of Natural History
Back away a little:
A little creativity and you can keep the HVAC outbuilding and a few spaces for service vehicles, handicapped parking spaces, and regular parking for the library as well. Making the entryway to this temple of Athena nothing but a cyst on the upper thigh of the Quadrangle is a waste when connecting to the two bookends of active recreation in the downtown (The National Armory site and the Riverfront) is one of the things the city needs to become world class.
The Apremont Triangle
Too much asphalt reduces to an island vignette what could easily be as active a plaza as any in the city. Perform either a Pearl or Bridge street-ectomy, widen the sidewalk on the remaining street and, ba-boom:a safe and beautiful place for children and adults to sit, relax, drink some coffee, or have a sandwich. These buildings were originally built as car dealerships of all things; the automobile may have done something positive for the city after all!
Narrow, tree lined, blessed with interesting topography, remarkable vistas, beautiful architecture, and still with a residue of uses from the late 19th and early 20th century for some of its passage through downtown Chestnut Street is just a handful of well run retail establishments, restaurants, or coffee shops from being a genuine rival to Main Street. With a new Willys-Overland complex already planned, an easily revitalized Apremont Triangle nearby, and renovations at Silverbrick Square the already perfect storefronts from Mattoon Street to Pearl just need positive energy. It’s easy to see this becoming Springfield’s bohemian center as MGM and Main Street become increasingly quotidian to artsy types. Infill could begin north of Willys-Overland and reach into the industrial-storage-homeless shelter wasteland and abomination of desolation which lies just beyond.Even GoogleMaps just says “Here there be monsters.”
Lots of Time, Big Gubmint, Big Business, or a Big Change in the Culture
The Gemini site and nearby vacant lots
A brown field turned into a green field that sits as nothing BUT a field a block from Main Street and within sight of the MGM Grand. To the north and south there are at least twenty more building lots just waiting to be transformed from pumpkin patches to castles for Cinderella by DPZ (no coaches needed, she can walk in this neighborhood). En serio, Andrés, ¿no buscas un reto nuevo, algo diferente? A guy can dream, right?
Union Street (My backyard)
Roughly a two block stretch from Main Street to Maple Street occupied by 4 buildings built to the sidewalk…and 12 parking lots. Two of those lots accommodate the Ambassador apartments on Maple Street, the largest is for the Stockbridge Court Apartments, two are designed for the Park Street lofts, one is for the Radding building on Union Street, three for the Dakin Humane Society which was improperly allowed to be built set back on Union Street, one is for a mixed use building on Maple, one is what was left after the tornado of 2011 destroyed the Zorzi buildings on Main Street, and finally, one is the never used overflow lot for the Visiting Nurses and Hospice also on Maple.
Davenport development in association with MGM still intends to build something on Main Street but, despite the impressive vehicle and foot traffic which will only increase once MGM opens there are no plans to build anything on any of these lots. At any given time well over half of the spaces are available and even a minimal effort at coordinating residential and commercial uses would allow 1/3 of these spaces to beeliminated without any problem. The better long term plan would be to move any necessary parking to side streets and vacant lots on those side streets and develop some two or three story buildings from Main Street to Maple Street.
The New North
What can be said about the New North which hasn’t already been said about the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Ebola virus, cannibalism and pedophilia? Would that we could exhume Le Corbusier’s corpse and somehow have it subjected to all of the above! Lacking the sympathetic magic the aforementioned might provide I think that a plan to re-urbanize these streets should be adopted and that any infill (Hey, it could happen!) development conform to traditional forms and be encouraged to begin as close to Union Station as possible or along Main Street to connect with the North End.
I imagine something like this being built across from the redeveloped station in the next 10 years or so:
and that by the time my youngest reader’s youngest great great grandchild passes away…or experiences the singularity…the New North will be more or less indistinguishable in design from the rest of downtown and that the influence of “he who shall not be named” will forever fade into outer darkness where there will be weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth…and the constant grinding of automobile traffic…and syphilis.
This is the M.O.A.F.U.S.: The Mother of all Fucked Up Streets…and it’s somehow still getting worse; there is ONE building that doesn’t present a blank face to the street from the old post office to State Street (which is the entire downtown length of the street) and it is set to be torn down at any time. The remainder of the 7 block stretch is made up entirely of parking lots, parking garages, and blank façades and, to make things even better, it’s a 3 or 4 lane one way urban drag strip as well. It also divides Main Street, Union Station, MGM, Court Square, and the Riverfront from the Quadrangle, the Armory and STCC, Chestnut Street, Mattoon Street, Armoury Commons, and Classical.
There isn’t enough Prozac in the world to make anyone feel good about walking down this street (copyright James Howard Kunstler, used without permission). In our walkability triage this place comes in dead last. Unfortunately it chokes off and brutally separates what we desperately need to bring together. The new Pynchon Park design may provide at least one link that could be both enjoyable and safe but, look at this photograph taken just this week:
I can think of no better representation of the futility of our efforts than this: an overturned vehicle IN THE CROSSWALK no less, in front of the new police substation adjoining Pynchon Plaza: If three LANES of cars going 45 mph in ONE DIRECTION, jockeying for space, changing lanes, and maneuvering to turn at State Street are still careening down this stretch of Dwight Street when the new and improved Pynchon Park/Plaza opens next year then I don’t hold out much hope for success.
Dwight needs to revert to a two-way, and species of street trees which can grow quickly to give a sense of closure to this wasteland must be planted asap. If there is money to widen sidewalks then, by all means, do it. Special attention should be given to the State/Dwight and State Chestnut intersections to narrow the crossing, slow the cars and make the passage pleasurable. It would be ideal for the crossing at Worthington Street be given some TLC in order to connect the Apremont Triangle to Stearns Square. The idea should be for trees, paint, banners, planters, pop-up art, and any other trick imaginable be used to hide the hideousness of this street. Providing passage from Chestnut Street and Main Street; the Pynchon Plaza, State Street and Worthington Street crossings should be dressed up, dolled up, and made interesting enough for people to engage in the crossing of Dwight Street without fully realizing how unspeakably ugly it actually is.