I’ve asked why it is if bureaucracy and government interference are the causes of bad urbanism that the places most known for those things have the best urbanism: The Northeast, The Pacific Northwest, and Europe. To be clear, I don’t think that laissez faire capitalism is necessarily the primary cause of the woeful state of the American landscape, and it’s fairly clear that the Eisenhower interstate highway program, and federal subsidization and support for suburban single family home development are and were clearly part of the problem. But it’s also true that many of the worst cases of auto-centered development are in places with a reputation for being the most conservative and the most Republican: Arizona, the Deep South, Texas…
This question has re-emerged for me because I am stunned at how clear it is that Springfield is thoroughly experiencing two wholly contradictory processes at the same time: Urban rebirth; and Rust Belt auto-centered self destruction.
All over the country places like Omaha, and Oklahoma City seem to have already gone through the process of auto-centered self destruction and are ready to begin the inverse project of becoming people centered walkable environments. In Springfield the process of going car centered was so slow that it continues at the same rate today even as what I’m sure will be an equally slow, and contradictory process of restoring walkability begins to take shape.
Here in Springfield it’s amazing to watch the same people (!) who say all the right things about walkability and urban revitalization at one moment, in the blink of an eye not only allow, but advocate for car centered development to take place in startlingly close proximity.
My own South End neighborhood provides a perfect example. The powers that be understand that success from the MGM development will only come if people leave the MGM property and walk down Main Street and State Street to the performance venues, the museums, the restaurants, and the shops located blocks and blocks away from the resort complex. At the same time, however, they press for and celebrate demolition of historic pedestrian scaled buildings to be torn down to make way for auto oriented development at the center, on the periphery, and throughout of the neighborhood.
A local car dealer is buying up and tearing down building after building after building EVEN ALONG MAIN STREET in the South End for car storage and it’s being celebrated as ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT; another developer wants to raze these buildings at the edge of the highway in order to put in place some kind of Taco Johns style project to replace that which they perceive as “old and blighted”:
and the city is pushing to expedite it!
And the saga of the Shean Block continues with even people at the forefront of making the downtown walkable shaking their heads as if unable to confront the cosmic stupidity of placing a surface parking lot at the core of the new, billion dollar initiative to create a walkable downtown despite the region’s largest ever parking garage being less than a block away. (More on this soon)
All of this at the same time that government sponsored organizations and local non profits work together with the city to bring together the precious gems of downtown into a more cohesive unit with park improvements, way finding programs, public transit initiatives, bike infrastructure plans, and too many other things to mention all focused on creating a people centered downtown.
They’re giving a few blocks a blood transfusion as they attach auto oriented leaches to every extremity…and at the heart.
My hypothesis then is that in Springfield we have just been slower, not less willing, to annihilate that which was best in our built environment than much of the rest of the United States, and as we slowly allow the influence of the urban Renaissance to impact our decision making here it will continue to move forward in concert, somehow, with our continuing self destruction.