In today’s Town Talk, Cynthia Jardon has an oped piece with a great focus — the issues and possibilities of Downtown Redevelopment. She makes some good points and mentions some great projects in the works. Good Job.
She also touches on something that Mayor Jacques Roy has mentioned recently — a very logical point that Alexandria needs to pull the 15 years worth of studies and plans we’ve commissioned for over $800,000 of taxpayer dollars and read them, use them, draw from them, and start making things happen.
Perhaps the centerpiece of this stack of binders though is the Alexandria Urban Master Plan completed during the Randolph Administration by a team led by Patrick C. Moore and Barron, Heinberg, and Brocato. Well, this is one point on which I disagree.
I think we should draw on the points brought up in the masterplan, however its validity under the current situation should be carefully weighed in referencing this plan to modern development.
The plan is a great piece of work. Unfortunately, it’s an old plan based on old ideas. Though, in many ways, it is a very innovative approach to an outdated, failed way of thinking about urban planning.
This is not detract from the great work that went into and the firms who worked on it. But, that plan is most of all fundamentally flawed because it is still based around two concepts that have not only failed Cenla, but have been shown to be fading and failing concepts in development worldwide: The plan is based around centralized shopping (i.e. everyone going to a central mall somewhere), and more than anything it’s based on the car — on the idea that people drive everywhere with the added need for parking and traffic control and such.
We simply don’t need a plan based around cars, parking lots, and shopping malls. That’s how we got into this mess in the first place.
What we actually need is to embrace the proven marketplace and town center concepts so prevalently seen in the cities of Europe and some of the older urban centers of the east coast. This type of planning was successfully deployed in most places around the turn of the 20th century. It was based around small public squares, wides sidewalks and outside marketplaces, mixed use building with retail and restaurants at ground level, offices above, and residences above that — a mix of services, business, and people. These plans are built around walking and cycling and small-scale public transit. They incorporate cars as a necessity not as a centrepoint.
They keep scale small, shops focussed, the cost of market entry low. They put businesses, services, and activities together with the people who support them in a very intimate manner.
These are the types of ideas we need. We should draw from these past studies, But we should as a community and government find no cause to be tied to obsolete ideas and outdated plans. Development along these lines is happening. Perhaps not in the ideal way, but it is happening.
Take developers in Louisiana who have launched such successful concepts as River Ranch in Lafayette and are working on the The Lakes here in Alexandria.
These new developments do have their problems. They are strongly limited to certain socioeconomic groups, and they still are planned too strongly around cars and parking. However they are coming closer than anything else to restoring the concept of useful town centers to our local economy.
We have a lot of open space in downtown Alexandria. Why not create a mechanism in which developers such as those mentioned above can come in and build a unique innovative development in Downtown versus the suburbs. Basically build a new suburb of this type if you want, but do it int he geographic center of the city rather than on the fringe.
Private development with a centralized plan, is the way to go. It is possible to replicate what works in so many other parts of the world. When you have neighborhoods that have remained vibrant for over a hundred years, that’s the sort of plan you need to consider.
Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned, what we’ve planned, and what we want as a community. But let’s spread our gaze outside of our local horizon and develop a public/private plan that creates the vibrant innovative urban core we have so long desired.
That new plan is to be found around the globe and not likely to be found in full sitting on a shelf here in Cenla.