Submitted by Faye Gaston
The Herald has permission to print a series of writings about revitalizing the main street downtown of a city. Jeff Siegler, a Main Street Manager, is sharing practical information learned from his experiences that could help revitalize downtown Union Springs. Part Four reads as follows about "making downtown pretty and pedestrian-friendly."
Revitalization isn't as complicated as we make it. People like nice things. All of them, except maybe the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, he perhaps likes mediocre things. Everyone else likes nice things. Everyone is attracted to pretty places and cool shops, and groovy restaurants. Everyone enjoys funky walkable neighborhoods and fancy old buildings.
People didn't ditch your downtown because they didn't want to walk; they ditched it because no one was taking care of it, and it made them feel sad. Stop worrying about parking and walking and focus on making your downtown pretty and pedestrian-friendly. Worry about making it nice. There is no shortcut to this. Just like self-improvement or home improvement---it's simply a matter of putting in the work; it is the same for your downtown. It will take some money, and it will take some effort, but the one thing it doesn't require is a complicated plan.
Make improvements to your downtown every single day, and simple as that, your downtown is moving in the right direction---again. A colleague reached out this morning and asked if I had ever written anything about permitted first-floor uses in a downtown. I responded that I had not, but hey, the day is young. I love a good analogy. I will beat an analogy to death. We don't have much guidance when it comes to cities, so I look to a good analogy to help make some sense of it all. Typically there is something else we can relate to that will help make more sense of our cities.
I will get to this analogy later, but first things first. So, the question is, should someone be allowed to live on the first floor of the downtown. Simple answer, nope. No, it would be unwise for a city to permit someone to use the first floor of a downtown building as a residence.
Nor should it be used as storage, a church, a karate shop, or any of the other ridiculous things that occupy these spaces.
Of course, it is within a city's purview to do just that, and plenty of cities do, but it's a dumb idea never-the-less. As it is always worth pointing out, a city must use the available tools to try and create the outcomes it believes will benefit the community as a whole. How people are permitted to use their property is just an example.
Before you pull out your "don't tread on me flag" and start talking about your freedoms, I feel compelled to point out that you agree to participate in the social contract as long as you decide to live amongst other people. If you choose to be part of society, you are obligated to follow certain rules that your society deems necessary to hold this whole thing together.
If you don't like it, please feel free to relocate to the side of a glacier in Alaska and behave however you like. For the rest of us, we agree that laws and regulations are necessary guardrails we must adapt to live in a functioning society. As a community, we decide what is and isn't allowed to protect every individual in the community. This is nothing new; society has operated this way for a few years now.
The Code of Hammurabi was written between 1792 BC and 1758 BC, so we have had ample time to adjust. So we understand why a meatpacking facility might not be great next door to our house. Well, why do uses downtown matter, you ask? Because downtown is the central marketplace of a city. It is intended to be commercial, and a city functions properly when allowed to remain so.
Since cities were invented, they have been built around a central marketplace. This gives farmers and producers and anyone with goods or services a centralized location to bring those goods and services to market. Simultaneously, it provides residents a convenient hub to acquire those goods and services.
This is healthy for a city because residents need access to goods and services to remain alive, and it provides residents with a common gathering place where they can interact with one another. I may not have mentioned this, but a sense of community is really, really, really important. People must have an opportunity to be with one another for a city to sustain any type of health.