This is the building they want to eviscerate, particularly along State Street, the very frontage seen most completely here in all its permeable(In pedestrian terms) glory.
It is 3:34 a.m. and I can’t sleep. A local developer has released a plan to rehabilitate one of the most beautiful buildings on the city’s central plaza: Court Square. Retail on the ground floor, commercial space above, and by all accounts, doing everything the right way.
Then comes the companion plan: To rip the guts out of a beautiful, if somewhat tired, building on the same block leaving only the façade and retaining “some” storefronts on one side.
Understand, this is a classic Main Street building literally on the 100% corner not just of the city, or of the county, but of the region: The corner of State Street and Main Street in downtown Springfield. The local newspaper around two decades ago invited an expert from The New York Times to take a look at our little city and tell us what we were doing right, and what we were doing wrong. Firmly in the “wrong” category was the parking lot at State and Main, he declared, and the city finally remedied that in just the last few years with a convention center which, while showing very little love to State Street, at least frames the corner and shows to Main Street a visually permeable front and also frames Court Square to the east (another of the expert’s recommendations).
So now we stand on the threshold of undoing that progress by taking a huge step back at the most important corner downtown. The plan, apparently, eliminates some retail space on Main Street, and all of the storefronts on the State Street frontage of the building. This is wrong. Not slightly misguided, not “just off the mark”, but fractally wrong. Completely. This is throwing water into boiling oil, invading Russia in winter, the Edsel, Grady Little leaving Pedro Martinez in, not seeing The Beatles at Candlestick Park because you’d catch a show on the next tour, making out with your cousin, dating your teacher, the three fifths clause, Chappaquiddick, a presidential visit to Dallas in November of ’63. This is “Dewey Defeats Truman” wrong, Vietnam wrong, Pickett’s charge wrong. It’s wrong.
It’s so wrong that I will wait and place at the end all of the quotes from and links to the greatest minds on the subject that express just how wrong.
As it is the downtown has too much parking. To the ignorant and the uninitiated the opening sentence of this paragraph makes no sense: Having too much parking is like being too attractive or too rich. But viewing parking as an asset, instead of a liability or, at best, a necessary evil, shows a total lack of understanding about what makes a city work and what distinguishes a city from a strip mall.
Any city that tries to play the free parking game against suburban sprawl development will lose every time. Like Guillermo Vilas against Bjorn Borg you will only lose and lose and lose because it’s their game, and they do it better! At the core of this horrible strategy is a belief that you can build a successful city for people who don’t like cities. At best you’ll become the city that the person who hates cities will least detest, but they still won’t do business there or live there… because they hate cities! The person who loves cities won’t be attracted because the city has divested itself of the characteristics which a city lover wants!
It’s behaving like a pathetic jilted lover changing everything to please a former flame who will never take you back. Stop trying to please the people that hate you, and focus on the ones who might not!
People choose urban locations for the amenities that an urban area can provide to the pedestrian. A thousand parking spaces are not worth one storefront, especially in a downtown with hundreds and hundreds, thousands (See: The Myth of Inadequate Downtown Parking), of unused parking spaces less than 5 minutes walk from the new development and the new development can include some new spaces in an interior area which will not impact the street at all.
As a matter of fact, a wise developer would give up some parking spaces to capture MORE value on the State Street corridor.
The absolutely amazing thing is that the block they want to gut has both the best programming AND the best pedestrian oriented design of all the buildings on this corner. (It even has great “Second Story-ness” potential…but I’m trying to explain why building a parking garage at the most important intersection downtown is a bad idea as if this were 1966 so I’m not even going to bother with “Second Story-ness” right now!) The new convention center is not the worst I’ve seen, but there isn’t any programming on the corner of State and Main, the beautiful old Mass Mutual building’s only programming at street level is a group (Develop Springfield) whose job it is to improve on the street level programming.(!) There’s a bank in the old Masonic building, but the Shean building at least has a Crown Fried Chicken and windows all around on the corner. Pretty pathetic for the 100% corner of downtown Springfield, but it is still the place which creates the most energy.
A parking garage at the corner of State and Main? How could anyone think that this is a good idea?
People aren’t downtown because there isn’t enough here, not because they can’t park to get to…that which isn’t here. Reducing the opportunities for creating experiences and capturing value is a losing strategy.
The most embarrassing thing is that the out-of-town corporate big wigs of MGM have more of a clue than our local people! The Shean building is not just historic and beautiful, it comes from a time when businessmen understood cities, and understood how to capture value.
As promised, some relevant links and quotes.
James Howard Kunstler (Author of the Geography of Nowhere)on building parking garages:
Jane Jacobs (Author of the Death and Life of Great American Cities. Quotes from different works included)
“Not TV or illegal drugs but the automobile has been the chief destroyer of American communities.”
“Visually, they (parking lots, garages) are disorganizing to streets, and so dominating that it is hard- – sometimes impossible– for any countering sense of order to make much impression.”
“The problem is how to cut down drastically the absolute number of vehicles using a city.”
“Erosion of cities by automobiles entails so familiar a series of events that these hardly need describing, The erosion proceeds as a kind of nibbling, small nibble at first, but eventually hefty bites. . . . More and more land goes into parking to accommodate the ever increasing number of vehicles while they are idle. No one step in this process is, in itself, crucial. But cumulatively the effect is enormous.”
“…the more space that is provided cars in cities, the greater becomes the need for use of cars, and hence for still more space for them.”
William H Whyte (Author of City: Rediscovering the Center)
“The worst discontinuity is parking.”
“The blight of parking lies in what is not there. People. Activity. Function. The…storage of vehicles is not a highest and best use, but it is treated as if it were”
“The only hopeful action…[is] not adding more parking.”
Norman Garrick. Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Connecticut (via theatlanticcities.com)
“In our research at the University of Connecticut, we’ve found that cities with higher levels of automobile use generally supply more parking, perhaps as would be expected. But what is unexpected is the degree to which these cities also have a much lower density of what matters in cities, residents and jobs. American cities in our study with small numbers of parking spaces have two to four times more people per square mile. This seems to have a lot to do with the amount of space that is needed for parking. In other words, space used for parking is simply not available for more productive uses.”