Monday, November 19, 2007

why would we want uniformity?

During the recent West Federal Street median removal debate of 2007, a local talk show host asserted that one relevant reason to alter the streetscape of the current configuration is to get the entire street to look like the already-altered East Federal Street.

My friends, this is simply not a good reason.

Carbon copying a lackluster streetscape throughout the downtown is not the best idea.

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To review this arguement, let's take a pictoral stroll downtown - a downtown that is everyone's neighborhood.

Here is the current setup on West Federal. Mature trees along the side and in the median, brickwork on the sidewalk, well-proportioned public spaces. Nice.

Here is a redone part of the street as exists today:

Let's analyze what's wrong with this picture . . .

Orange barrel in place of where tree should be. Dead tree, or at least a tree with no leaves (this picture was taken in July) to the right. Small uncomfortable cheap-looking bench between the orange barrel and dead tree. Fire hydrants surrounded by concrete. Akward diagonal parking. Excessive concrete.

On another trip to downtown, an elderly woman with a very adorable czech accent who lives downtown saw that I was taking pictures and pulled me over to this tree next to the Reality Building.

"This tree is dying," she said. "No one takes care of these trees. I wish someone would care."

Here is a series of these benches next to the Huntington Bank building. Some of these benches, still years after their original installation, have stickers attached to them from the original purchase.

And another good one, a sign in the place of where a tree once stood. A beautiful and thoughtful replacement.

Looking left, looking right, in front of Silver's Vogue Shop and Barley's. A sea of concrete expanding for quite a distance. Very little green, very little comfortability. Ugh.

And finally, these permanent electrical units were recently placed in a few areas along the sidewalk. Big, obtrusive set-ups, that may well have a functional purpose, but were designed and planned poorly. Was this the only alternative?

Do these photos, which have just been presented, give the appearance of a community that cares about how its number one main avenue though the downtown looks?

As people from around the country and the world come to our university and the Youngstown Business Incubator, is this what we want to show them?

To me, it seems like there are two "big picture" concepts, battling each other for the future design of the downtown.

In one case, you have a concrete-heavy, minimal green, excessive parking infrastructure that caters to big-time events and their demands.

In the other case, you have a scalable, living place that is attractive to potential downtown residents and successful business people.

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And of course, like many arguements, perhaps the answer is somewhere in the middle.

But in my opinion, we are unfortunately drifting towards the first case, when we should be working hard to reach the second one.

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two concluding thoughts.

First, the current setup of the already redone part of Federal Street needs to be corrected instead of replicated.

The dead trees need to be removed. Life needs to come back to the streets.

Who is responsible for the maintenance of Federal Plaza?

Second, we as a community need to have a serious discussion, with all stakeholders at the table (especially the public), about what we want our downtown to become.

We want the people who have made the personal investments in the coffee places and the restaurants years ago, when they had a vision and very few would support them, to succeed and expand without interruption.

The time for this discussion is now. And the new city council, along with the public, needs to work together to plan out their vision and actionable steps for the next several years.

so, what do you think Youngstown?


Tyler said...

No argument here. The reconstruction of Federal Plaza needs to be a priority. It creates a stop-by-then-pass-through mentality.

We need to centralize parking in accessible garages, restore parallel street parking, and fashion comfortable gathering places on the sidewalks. If we want people to inhabit downtown, it should be obvious that the setup should invite them to stay.

Federal Plaza as it exists now says "Get in, get it, get it out, get it gone." Not good.

Accent Media, LLC said...

For the most part I concur with your observations, green over concrete is always ideal. Some random thoughts on the subject are as follows........

A narrow street with wide concrete is an okay setting if there are living and green tree's where they have existing earth for them, and the concrete is used effectively, such as outside seating and bistro area for the current, and hopefully future cafe's, restaurants, etc. Narrow streets are designed to have the public drive slower thru them and see what is there to offer. You do have to have the greenery for outside seating to work though and not get choked up by the exhaust fumes.

I commend the City and Clair Maluso for attempting to get the lighting up around the downtown area, and I am assuming that is what those god-awful junction boxes are for, but I agree they could have tried to make them at least a little more ornamental in the outside design.

I actually made a challenge at our blog today about bringing back the Christmas Windows in the old Strouss/Pharmor/City building at 20 place. I am asking the City today if Accent Media can design a christmas Window Display, and I challenge other buildings at 20 Federal Place, and the rest of the dowtown business owners to do the same. Warren, Ohio has lately taken up the charge of asking the owners of the unfortunately many empty storefronts in it's downtown if they can make faux displays in these empty windows that promote other options and businesses in the area. A GREAT idea, as far as I am concerned.

Finally, Parking for West Federal Street is really bad for clients and customers of downtown businesses. We need a return of the Strouss parking deck on Commerce street. Lets face facts, people are too lazy to walk more than 2 blocks anymore. All the main public parking structures are on the East end of the plaza. Currently the two lots across from the Pharmor building and Cedars are permit parking only, so no clients there.

Thanx for the thought generation, I hope we do get a coalition of concerned politicians, business owners, students, community leaders, etc. to take an interest in the look of downtown while the time is ripe for change............

Lou said...

Restoring the visual appeal of Downtown Youngstown needs to be a priority.

Recently we went to see TSO at the Chevy Center. We parked at the deck across from the Y and exited at the steps in the rear onto Champion street. The older couple behind us was from out of town and asked where the arena was. We told them to follow us, but they were scared of the narrow, busted sidewalks, and instead circled around to Commerce because they saw the crowds of people on that side, nearly circling the entire block.

This is a real problem. I can tell people all day how we enjoy The Oakland Center's Stage, The Chevy Center, YSU, DeYor, Cedar's Etc etc etc. But they trust they're own eyes more than me. I can say parking's fine downtown, but when they park in a rusty, potholed deck and have to navigated weedy, broken sidewalks, they don't believe me. I can say Downtown's safe, until they see broken trees and stolen signs.

We can't run down to Stambaugh and Ignore the fact that Wick Park is falling apart. I can't Take my guests to the Chevy Center, and try to distract them as we head back up South Avenue.

Mike Prelee said...

That is quite a wide expanse of concrete. It looks large enough to play basketball on. Some nice shade trees and comfortable benches would certainly help the asthetics.

Rick Rowlands said...

I really don't see the problem. The City does the best it can with what it has available to it and what it has to do by law. Just be happy that we aren't stuck with the old plaza and lenticular central square. Besides if you place your faith in government to get it right you will be disappointed every time.

Don't obsess about a dead tree downtown when there are entire dead neighborhoods a mile away. Don't obsess about too much concrete downtown when some streets haven't been paved in twenty years! Downtown is looking good. Lets stop nitpicking and now concentrate on those bombed out patches of roads that lead into the city.

Paul said...

Those are very good points, Rick. I don't believe Janko intends this post to be a directive to ignore other parts of the city, though. On the contrary, it seems to be a call to the citizens to hold City Council and its Departments accountable for ALL of neighborhoods in the City. Now that we, as a city, are gaining international recognition for revitilization efforts, every project that the City undertakes needs to be thouroughly thought through so as not to have to redesign it again in 20 years (as, to use Federal Street as an example, has happened time and time again, and if reconfigured as last suggested, we will surely be doing again by 2027).

I want to make it clear that I agree with you; Downtown IS looking good, or at least good enough that the City should save the money allocated for this project and invest it somewhere else. But that doesn't make me want to stop fighting for something better.