Goodbye Pedestrian Urban Malls

Today’s Boston Globe editorial entitled "Driving Downtown" bemoaning the failure of the pedestrian mall at Downtown Crossing (Boston) on the local economy got me thinking about Portland’s efforts at being a livable urban city center.  The editorial advocates for the elimination of streets-as-pedestrian walkways in order to improve shopping appeal.

Couterintuitive as it may seem, what the struggling downtown pedestrian mall might really benefit from is the return of automobiles.

Downtown Crossing has a half dozen subway stops within a 5 minute walk
and seems a natural fit for a pedestrian mall, with anchor businesses
such as Macy’s and numerous botique shops clustered together.  However
the Globe reveals the reality (or is it?):

Most have failed as business districts over the past two
decades, often attracting truants, loiterers, and down-market
retailers…store vacancies are growing…

They advocate for the return of passenger vehicles to Winter and
Washington St because according to urban planners (Jeff Soule, American
Planning Association) shopping districts thrive on the friction between pedestrians and autos.
Merchants want to be discovered by passing motorists.  Pedestrians
appreciate the sense of safety offered by car headlights at night.
Downtown Crossing’s open turn provides too many congregating points for
vagrants.  The reintroduction of automobiles could restore the natural
urban balance.

WHAT?  Natural urban balance with auto’s?  That is a stretch if I ever
heard one.  While I can apprecaite the intent of the editorial,
advocating for ideas to stimulate the local economy, how about
rethinking how public investment in economic development is spent?

About Jeff Soule:
JEFF L. SOULE
                  Policy Director, American Planning Association

Jeff Soule has held a number of planning and policy positions in
government and the nonprofit sector. Most recently, as Director of the
Center for Rural Pennsylvania, he supervised research and demonstration
projects, provided technical assistance, and advised state and federal
officials on policy matters. His pioneering series of community vision
workshops has led to a broad acceptance of a locally based approach
that focuses on citizen involvement and manageable implementation
strategies. Jeff became Policy Director of the American Planning
Association in April 1996, and manages government affairs, public
information, and policy for the association’s 30,000 members. In 1997
he launched an initiative with the Chinese government to provide
long-term technical assistance through exchanges and special projects.
Jeff received a bachelor’s degree from Colgate University in Natural
Science, and a master’s Degree in City and Regional Planning at Harvard
University’s Graduate School of Design.

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One response to “Goodbye Pedestrian Urban Malls

  1. sounds like craziness to me – since when was MORE cars downtown a good idea? if there is one area of this city i try NOT to drive in, it’s downtown – because what a waste of gas, parking money and time.

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