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 Though, in many ways, it is a very innovative approach to an outdated, failed way of thinking about urban planning.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.
Private development with a centralized plan, is the way to go.
I like that part. I am against using public funds for such projects, except for infrastructure. Drew and Lamar, I would like you both to answer a few questions that I have about, primarily, downtown redevelopment. First, in a walking about downtown area with condos and fewer cars, do we have the population and type of population presently to support such a concept? By that I mean that we are basically only removed one or two generations from a rural based population, that still has an interest in owning land.
Second, do we have enough young people, and by that I mean non-elderly and in shape to walk about, to support such a vision?
Thirdly, real or perceived, there is the fear of downtown area crime.
Additionally, I don’t think a “build it and they will come” philosphy will work downtown. Before we start selling downtown condos or renting apartments downtown, there has to be something besides the Diamond Grill and Finnigan’s Wake to attract downtown residents. I would lie to hear what you have to say on these issues.
Greg these are all valid points. Development of this sort is a bit of a conundrum. You have to build it for people to come, but you need people downtown for businesses to justify building.
My Friends the Carrozza’s have owned the Critic’s Choice restaurants in Alexandria for over (25 I think) years now. The downtown location is great. But, they have always had to deal with striking a balance — do they stay open when there is no business hoping that customers will stumble in, or do they close when it’s unlikely to get customers and take away one of the few food options in downtown. Over the years they’ve done both and when it comes down to it, they have to do what’s responsible for their business which means shorter hours downtown and concentrating their labor and resource pool on Jackson Ext where the business is steady.
Every business operating downtown or considering operating downtown has to deal with these same sorts of decisions. The same will hold true of living downtown or of having an office downtown. If we build it will they come? And if they’re willing to come is it really our job to build it?
Well, 20 years of stagnation shows that someone is going to have to build it, because otherwise there won’t be anything to come to. We as a community took it upon ourselves to destroy downtown because we wanted shopping malls and wal-mart, and six-lane highways that led our very large cars to our very large homes, in our more and more non-functional boring neighborhoods further and further from anyone we may or may not want to have to deal with.
The very fact that we are talking about redeveloping our urban core is a sign that people are simply not pleased with the results we have achieved. Now again as a community we have to take the lead to correct what was by all means just a bad plan (or lack of one). The thing is going to be striking a productive balance between public involvement and private development whereas that public involvement provides the needed impetus for successful and profitable private development that actually serves the needs of and benefits the community as a whole.
As for the specifics you mention: Owning land is great, but in Louisiana as with many other places that comes with a great deal of responsibility. The success of England Oaks as a community in which people can enjoy the benefits of a home without the responsibilities of owning and maintaining a yard show that even here in Cenla the concept is possible.
We have one thing really and only one thing going for us as a city or region or whatever word you want to use — nature.
Central Louisiana more than any other location in this part of the country is home to more trees, forests, outdoor recreation, fishing, hunting, hiking, bird watching, snail collecting, whatever.
When it comes to marketing Cenla our motto should be the ever present environmentalist mantra — GO GREEN.
That’s us. And people from all walks of life enjoy nature. We have it and we have more of it in one place than anyone else around. However, these various lakes, and trails and hunting grounds, they all must be integrated into our development goal.
Nature cannot simply stop at the edge of the city. It should be an integral key component of the city itself. You should be able to ride a bike from downtown Alexandria to the Wild Azalea trail. You should be able to walk or jog to work without fear of getting hit by a car. We should do as New Orleans and turn our levees into multi-use trials where on any given day you see cyclist, walkers, and even horseback riders all enjoy themselves while traveling through the city.
As for the elderly, moving toward more of a pedestrian based model is what’s going to save us from a life of decrepit old age. I just moved back from Germany where people generally go shopping, to work, etc by bike. Everyday I passed countless people in their 70’s and 80’s all biking to their homes or friends. They were elderly, but far from infirmed. Wining the battle against age-related illness and improving life-long quality of life depends on remaining active. Driving a car everywhere doesn’t keep anyone active.
You mentioned us being only a few generations off of a rural land-owning population. You are absolutely right. Growing up I spent many afternoons biking along Bayou Rapides. Just about every plantation around there was either currently owned or had been built by some relative or ancestor of mine. But those same ancestors went to Alexandria regularly. It was their reprieve from life — a good time to be had. Likewise people from other places historically came to Cenla to enjoy the respite of nature.
We just somehow lost this along the way. With our central location Alexandria has the opportunity to recast itself as a unique combination of urban and rural, of city and forest.
The development of downtown is not just a way to bring locals back down there to live. Imagine condos in Downtown Alexandria acting as a weekend residence for visitors from New Orleans or Houston, or Baton Rouge. They could come fish and hunt the days away and enjoy a bit of nightlife in a sedate and convenient urban center.
It’s possible. It’s just a matter of matching up our strengths and our needs and finding a solution that’s somewhere in the middle.
“First, in a walking about downtown area with condos and fewer cars, do we have the population and type of population presently to support such a concept? By that I mean that we are basically only removed one or two generations from a rural based population, that still has an interest in owning land.”
Greg, I am not aware of any market studies that would demonstrate the demand in tangible numbers; however, personally, I don’t think a developer would have any difficulty selling downtown condominiums.
“Second, do we have enough young people, and by that I mean non-elderly and in shape to walk about, to support such a vision?”
Great question. I think it’s a chicken and egg problem. We may not have enough young people right now, but generally, vibrant downtowns attract young people to your region. And considering our current workforce is expected to be tapped out by 2011, we need to get to work attracting (RETAINING AND TRAINING) the next generation of Alexandrians.
“Thirdly, real or perceived, there is the fear of downtown area crime.
Additionally, I don’t think a “build it and they will come” philosphy will work downtown. Before we start selling downtown condos or renting apartments downtown, there has to be something besides the Diamond Grill and Finnigan’s Wake to attract downtown residents. I would lie to hear what you have to say on these issues.”
Downtown crime is a perceived problem. I think we have already possess most of the elements of a good downtown. Once there are residents living and working in downtown, private industry will recognize ancillary needs.
I also don’t necessarily believe in a build-it-and-they-will-come philosophy, but I’m with Drew on this one: “The very fact that we are talking about redeveloping our urban core is a sign that people are simply not pleased with the results we have achieved.”