Either before or after reading this post I highly recommend listening to this podcast from Strong Towns to have a better understanding of the concepts that underlie my reasoning. This specific topic is addressed starting around minute 15.
There has been a flood of good news around here involving potential future developments; MGM appears poised to begin an $850,000,000 development in the South End, Umass has opened a satellite center in the downtown, a giant Chinese manufacturing concern is eying the city for an expansion of its production facilities into North America, and the Union Station project is actually moving forward. It is exciting, and much like a year ago when green shoots were visible all around I have no doubt that some will bear fruit and others will not. What is also clear is that these projects should be designed for success; not just that they should be designed in such a way that they might succeed, but that their design should assume the dynamics of the project’s own successful implementation.
The city’s economic development director Kevin Kennedy cited a recent article in the Wall Street Journal which highlighted new developments, transportation infrastructure, and market rate housing construction as indicators of a city on the move and rightly noted that the third of those is really the one Springfield needs to focus on given the movement of MGM and Union Station.
Keeping in mind the caveats of formulaic programming, I couldn’t agree more, but the design of the Union Station should assume or at least accommodate its own success and the arrival of the third. While spectacular in many ways, the design of the Union Station falls way short in that regard.
I wouldn’t argue the necessity (at least as of right now) of including parking in the Union Station project. It is being called an intermodal transportation center and the automobile is still at the center of American transportation whether I like it or not. But, just as with the Umass Satellite Center at Tower Square, if one of the primary goals of the project is to enliven the downtown then creating walkability should be of the utmost concern. Just having the garage will facilitate the use of the station for people coming in to the area from a distance, that, by definition, will make downtown living less comparatively advantageous.
To restate: If your only goal is the success of the individual project then, given the primacy of the car in today’s world, by all means make it as convenient as possible to motorists. Hang the pedestrians! It must be recognized however that doing so will limit the benefits the project will have in terms of engaging the rest of the downtown. The “car friendly-people friendly” dichotomy is more or less a zero sum game, better for cars is worse for people and vice versa and it’s clear where the priorities are with Union Station.
Walkers are demanding. Not only are they unlikely to walk more than 5 minutes to get what they want, but if the first few feet and the first few moments of perambulation are unrewarding then they will quit. From the latest (and I believe final) design of Union Station what you see is a front entrance to the facility which leads to nowhere and which requires an unrewarding walk of at least TWO BLOCKS in order to get to any enjoyable street-level urbanism. This is because the bus bays, the parking garage, and the Main Street Arch underpass all lie between the Union Station front door and the non-Corbusier portion of the downtown. What makes matters worse is that the design of the parking garage does not incorporate anything of interest to a human being at street level. It is as if this garage had been designed in a world where Jane Jacobs had never written a book, William Whyte had never lived, and New Urbanism had never existed. To place a parking garage on Main Street in 2014 takes a special kind of idiocy, but to do so without a nod to, or even a feigned interest in the pedestrian beggars belief.
A design which existed in an earlier phase of planning clearly showed that there was at least some understanding of the importance of creating a pedestrian friendly streetscape:
This appears to be the current design:
Upon exiting the front door of the station, this is the view which will await:
If this is the design we are stuck with, then remediation is in order. (To have to contemplate REMEDIATING a project that has been decades in the planning and hasn’t yet been constructed nearly leaves me dumbfounded) The front entrance will need to be merely ceremonial unless and until either the project itself or the revitalization of the city creates the demand necessary to completely redevelop the North Blocks. The “back door” on Lyman Street then (or the Dwight Street underpass) will need to be the link from the downtown core to the station, and Lyman Street then becomes the key to the success or failure of this enterprise. (This is more than a little reminiscent of the McMansion with a giant atrium at its main entrance, but everyone enters through the side door or the garage anyway)
This entrance could be made much more impressive by replacing the 1970’s era overhang with something more akin to the one being restored at the front entrance:
The former Post Office (now state office building) even when viewed from the side as it would be by a traveller exiting the station from Lyman Street, is stately, grand, and has a miniature plaza across from the station’s back door. Lyman Street has a few teeth missing (wonderful historic structures torn down to make space for surface parking) but its enormous north side stone wall, the excellent design of the remaining buildings, and the spectacular terminating vista provided by the Massasoit Building can combine, if given a little thought, to be just the pedestrian friendly boulevard that might make the Union Station project a success…in spite of itself.
The view as you leave through the back door:
The little plaza:
The view across Lyman Street toward the south:
The view of Lyman Street to the west with the stone wall, some well designed buildings, and the Massasoit Building at the far end: