Friday, November 17, 2006

Why West Federal Street Shouldn’t Look Like East Federal Street

While the new Federal Plaza has certainly been well received, the removal of the West Federal Street median (Vindy article here) for the purpose of additional parking seems unwarranted. While there has been a marked increase in downtown activity as of late, I have yet to notice a shortage of parking. Do we really need the extra spots on the street? Is there a way to satisfy any additional parking needs with a deck that serves the west end of town? The things that have me concerned about the total removal are:

1) The disruption that will be caused to new businesses on West Federal.

At this tender moment in Youngstown’s re-emergence, when every single event held in downtown contributes to its renaissance, the severe disruption to traffic and to the walkability of Federal Street during the long construction process threatens to drive people away. It offers them a reason to avoid downtown.

2) Variety is the spice of life.

To make West Federal look like East Federal (as depicted above in this doctored photo) is to take away a big part of its character. “But West Federal didn’t originally have a median,” you say? True, the boulevard is not a part of our own historic architectural language, but it is there now, and, compared to its cousin “Federal Plaza (circa 1970’s)” it is a sensitive addition. Besides, having different features and design styles throughout a city is a way of marketing to diverse groups and thereby creating a lively street. Which brings me to…

3) The median offers a way to manage the space.

The best explanation for this can be found in “How to Turn a Place Around” by Project for Public Spaces, Inc. The following pictures and text were borrowed from that book:

A main street is not a highway. One should not fear crossing the street so much that the activity needs to occur in groups.

Crossing the street should be an easy comfortable activity. Even if you have to wait.

4) The median has trees

And I mean mature, well-established ones, not just little saplings. I will spare everyone the tree lecture, but be aware of the difference between full grown trees and new plantings from a visual and physical characteristic standpoint. A sapling won't shade your car when you are parked next to it on a 90 degree day.

While there are many more nit-picky arguments for why the median should or shouldn’t stay, these four have a tremendous impact on the urban design of the street and, in turn, its success or failure. Their implications should be considered very carefully before moving forward.

P.S. - Other improvements associated with this project (new curbs, lighting, and paving) are certainly welcome.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Very interesting. Medians, when designed correctly, offer a more human scale to the street. They allow streets to focus on pedestrians as much or more than the vehicle.