To help you imagine…

Without even the wreckage of an old “downtown district” or village center from which to “re-build”, several residents have told us that they can’t even picture what a downtown here would look like, were there to be one in the wastelands between Kohl’s and the former Dominick’s grocery at Mallard Creek Shopping Center.

We’ll give you some help visualizing! First, here’s basically what we have now (slightly dated photo, taken just before the WalMart relocated). Notice all the parking which is unused, generates a minimum Return-On-Investment (ROI), and is not allowed to be used for anything else.

RLB_Downtown

Design note: Did you ever notice the change in contour in the westerly parking lot, that never-ending descent which often entices K-Mart shopping carts to just “run away” and smash into parked cars? There’s about a 50′ change in elevation from a high point on Orchard Lane (extreme top of the photo above) to the low on Mallard Creek Drive (just above the center).
– We’re in the third-flattest state in the Union; there are other municipalities in Illinois that would GLADLY throw us off a cliff just for just a fraction of the design potential we squandered by treating our last big buildable plot of land as if it was cheap and FLAT.

Even if the idea of “Placemaking” never existed, and the former Village Elders did no more planning than designating this property for “a downtown… one day in the future”, development there would have followed a completely different path, and our downtown would have probably have looked a lot like this:

Looking west. That would be Orchard Lane at the top of the hill; Regal Cinemas is about a half-block to the right of us!
[Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mkumm/3708293823/ ]

Think that’s unrealistic? We’re over 28,000 residents! In most of the world, we’re considered a “town”, based on population. [FYI: Illinois does not have population-based definitions of what constitutes a village vs a town vs a city…]

The larger ANY municipality gets, the more aspects, features, and PLACES it has in common with others of the same size. This is related to the axiom of “form-follows-function”. It’s what gives us a level of comfort when we travel… even to foreign countries. We know that even though there are difference, there are also things which have to be there, or accomodation made for in some way, shape, or form. Examples here include places to eat, market places/squares/plazas, public restrooms.

What economic and social opportunities are we missing by not having a traditional mid-west downtown? What types of businesses have simply bypassed us in favor of neighboring towns and villages because we don’t offer the type of environment in which they could succeed? Do you think the RLB Panera Bread (nice as it is!) would be the default “only place around” to hold small group meetings if a downtown were allowed to be? We’re the largest village in the cluster of what makes up the 2nd-largest population demographic in the entire county (following Waukegan/N. Chicago).

Won’t it be nice (and appropriate) to have  Round Lake Beach “grow up“?

P.S. The downtown photo above is of Marquette MI, population ~21,000. (There used to be a streetcar track running right down the middle of the street…)

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2 Responses to To help you imagine…

  1. Ryan Richter says:

    Sadly, zoning makes the Marquette, MI image shown in your post illegal in RLB. I’m a former resident of the Beach; my parents live in Country Walk. Also, an urban planner by training and appreciate the fine work you’re doing here.

    I’ve long thought that Mallard Creek would be an ideal place for downtown but then a couple of things came to mind.
    1) Downtowns need traffic and visability (congestion is good, it means you have a place worth going to). In this regard, I worry that Mallard Creek has only limited frontage on Rollins and no frontage on 83 because of the CN tracks. So, maybe we need to look at “downtown” differently. Maybe the mixed use/ retail goes along the arteries like Rollins and 83, even Hook to tie in with the Metra station (kind of like Milwaukee Ave. in Libertyville). And Mallard Creek and areas like Home Depot just see higher density residential and mixed use nodes.

    I understand that Mallard Creek was developed in the 80s and failing, like many developments do after the first life cycle. What truly depresses me is that some of the more recent Village leadership allowed those mistakes to continue. After all, how many communities get blessed with a new transit facility (Metra)? And to squander it by building a Home Depot, acres of parking and a “civic campus” is truly a failure in placemaking and strong towns planning.

    Again, I appreciate the work you’re doing in my former town and hope you can make a positive effect on Village leaders.

    • Ryan, thanks so much for your kind comments and experienced perspective.

      We actually envision Rollins Crossing (with the Kmart) as more suitable to gradual in-fillling (ala: “Sprawl Repair”) for a “Downtown” than Mallard Creek. Successful small & mid-size downtowns have often developed parallel to major arteries; there needs to be some room for transition from “Stroad” to “Street” (of which we have none).

      Couldn’t agree more about the misuse of the METRA potential re: “Transit Oriented Developement”. The ½-mile radius of the station would have been “gold”, yet we slammed down a fence to blockade access (we do that a lot in RLB) to ANYTHING to the east, then “sprawled” what was left.

      What a perfect location it would have been for mixed-use residential-over-retail (with view and open-space) to maximize ROI on the property! Aditionally, the 10+ acres to the east occupied by the Home Depot could actually have been developed as a multi-use “place” not only for the train and auto commuters (on Rt. 83), but to serve as a destination for the otherwise “place-less” folks to the east of Rt. 83.

      Please do visit here (and our Facebook page) as you are able. We would love to benefit from your ideas and training, and give you connection to your old home town!

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