Friday, May 19, 2006

the appearance of Federal Street in twenty years

This month’s YAEDA meeting included presentations by Dave Trabert of Channel 33 and Mayor Jay Williams. Mr. Trabert’s observations about how the community perceives itself were particularly interesting and insightful. The entire event can be seen here.

I singled out some of Jay Williams’ points from that night to frame a debate which I have written about in the past on other websites, but not particularly on my own blog. Mr. Williams made references to such things as “a different atmosphere when you come downtown” and “it’s great to see the trees illuminated” and “each destination downtown does not need hundreds of parking spaces right next to it”. I don’t really want to get in the habit of putting words in the Mayor’s mouth, but perhaps he would agree with the following statement: our downtown is an unique place in the Mahoning Valley that may benefit from landscaped boulevards not inundated with excessive parking.

I bring this up because of the possible changes that may happen to West Federal Street, using the same style that occurred along East Federal Street. I would like this blog posting to be a reservoir for public comments on the issue. Please add your opinion, either agreeing or disagreeing with later points.

First a caveat before my comments: I acknowledge you choose projects based upon your budgets, and not upon ideal conditions, and that the city can only afford certain things.

I have spoken to people who do urban planning in different cities across America who have come to Youngstown and looked at the remodeling of our main street. Four criticisms have always been repeated to me over and over again:
(a) Too much concrete in the most recent design.
(b) Diagonal parking may be convenient for businesses, but may be hard for vehicles to back out of and is an inefficient use of street space.
(c) The exposed electrical box in the central island looks out of place.
(d) The benches are small and not too practical nor comfortable.

And I would like to add an additional comment:
(e) Removing the trees and flowerbeds from the central median would detract from the beauty of the streetscape. Future plans for Wick Avenue and 5th Avenue show adding medians, which seems like a step in the opposite direction than what the university is planning.

But to be sure, additional factors such as handicapped accessibility, parking proximity to businesses, and new sidewalks are also factors that should impact the final design considerations.

But my fear is this: by not incorporating attractive design criteria into our remodeling efforts, we may have streetscape just a bit “off” that will not change for thirty years. By ripping out the trees, the existing brickwork, and the lampposts that currently occupy the space, and replacing them with mostly concrete and parking spaces, are we moving backward instead of forward? Can we have a Federal Street that incorporates both smart function and good design into the final product?

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