I care deeply about ideas, concepts, and philosophies. I enjoy discussing things in abstract and perhaps even Platonic ways. But in the end I am a philosophical materialist in the sense that I view things as bound up with and constrained by reality; the ability to dream it does not confer the ability to do it.
In sending my essay on the differences between a baseball stadium in Georgia and a casino in Springfield I was hoping to illicit from readers as well as from those who had written about the baseball stadium their thoughts on the differences between the two. Most of the readers gave their thoughts on a project that wasn’t; complaining about the governmental expenditures, and likely cost overruns, of a privately funded project which has already put millions into government coffers and which has committed to hundreds of millions more.
What a great example of what I was trying to demonstrate; the knee jerk response which completely misses the point:
“Here’s that $50 I owe you”
“No, I’m not lending you any more money”
I read with interest the opinion of one reader who shared his experience with a casino in Windsor, Ontario. He talked about how the actual downtown and the casino were effectively distinct entities and how they seemed to have very little impact one upon the other. Here is a GoogleMaps image of what seems to be the pedestrian entrance to the property:
This is the face the casino presents to the street:
Does anyone see any difference between that and, say, this?
I do. Does it guarantee that the interface will work? No. Is there a risk that the quality of the MGM development will simply wipe out a lot of locally owned establishments? Yes, there is. Because, forgive my frankness, we suck. The customer service in Springfield often puts the “M” in mediocrity. There are exceptions: Red Rose, Panjabi Tadka, Frigo’s, the Student Prince; but I’ve had so many embarrassing experiences with visitors I’ve lost count. What kinds of experiences? Restaurants simply closed when their schedules say they’re open (too many times to recall), hostesses who ignore you until you give up and leave, and kitchens closing early just to name some restaurant related greatest hits. I love the place, but in terms of customer service, Springfield has a face only a mother could love. Our local enterprises will need to raise their game.
But I digress.
The most interesting insight in response to my essay, apart from the one’s which echoed my ideas, was from the editor at Strong Towns who expressed a few concerns. One was the ceding of so much importance to one private entity, and another regarding the opportunity cost of the project; if we hadn’t built it, what would have come?
I’d like to address the last one first as I anticipated this question being asked years ago and wrote this blogpost: If they don’t build it, what will come? If you’d rather not click the link I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version: if past experience is any guide it would have become, in Strong Towns parlance, Taco John’s. Might some private developers, inspired by the Millenialls’ urge to live downtown and the Baby Boomer trend toward urbane downsizing have built a handful of new, small scale, walkable buildings which would come together to create the critical mass necessary for the tornado ravaged South End to re-emerge, LIKE A PHOENIX FROM ITS ASHES?!?!?!
No. That’s ridiculous. That wasn’t going to happen, Jiminy Cricket. No amount of clapping was bringing Tinker Bell back to life, Peter Pan. Hell,the process of destroying walkability in the South End continues apace despite the MGM project!
On the other question, allow me to recount an experience which I find analogous. While working with the city’s tree warden we were discussing the placement of trees along a tree belt on Union Street. The funds for said trees from the state were only available for Union Street, but because utilities on Union Street had been moved from the street to the tree belt the tree warden felt it irresponsible to plant them there given that someday they might be damaged due to repairs the utilities might need.
“So. We aren’t going to plant the trees we have, which we can’t plant anywhere else, because, if we do, they might get damaged someday…and then Union Street won’t have any trees…so we won’t plant them at all and then there’s no risk of them being damaged.”
MGM is going to dominate the entertainment side of things downtown, and if the project fails it will have a huge detrimental impact…roughly taking us back to the status quo ante. “Oh, no, if the project fails we’ll be back right where we started!” Remember, MGM is taking over the management of the Mass Mutual Center, Symphony Hall, and CityStage, but they didn’t build them. They’ve been there…each one struggling to survive, for decades. If their movie theaters close we’ll be back to the place we are today: a downtown without a movie theater. Ditto the bowling alley and the skating rink.
In another point made by the editor, but easily dismissed, he questions the “adaptability” of the “mega project”. If, however, he were to look at the actual design he would see that it has been built to be disaggregated: the hotel, movie theaters, retail spaces, restaurants, office spaces, and workshop areas are no more or less inseparable than any other urban block. At some point it looks as though my townhouse and the one next door were connected by a passage of some sort:
Mega Project! Then the passageway was bricked up: incremental desegregation(?)!
Doors and walls. We could do this.
The silence regarding the ACTUAL QUESTIONS is deafening: If secretive public financing of infrastructurally dubious auto oriented suburban mega projects is bad, does it follow that privately funded, infrastructurally sound walkable urban mega projects are also bad? If you think so, make your f-ing case!!!!!!!!
I’m tired of this ideologically rigid pseudo-libertarian b.s.. I’ll take a stand, I’ll tell you what I think: Development which supports, enhances, or creates walkable environments which encourage less car dependency and smaller carbon footprints is good whether done by ma and pa developers to make Jesus smile, or whether done by horrible evil corporations in service to Satan in order to enslave all mankind…muuuuaaaahhahaha.