Downtown

[If you like the idea of a real “downtown” for Round Lake Beach, please visit this page regularly. We will post additional content, discuss options, gather opinions and ideas from the community, profile how other municipalities did it, etc.]
—————————————————————————————————————————————–

Conventional thinking would have us believe that we “missed the bus” for ever having a traditional-format small-town “Main Street” type of downtown.

Here’s what we have to work with…

RLB_Downtown

Holy Cow, look at all that parking for our Central Business District! (The orange outlines the old WalMart property.) After living here for 14+ years, we (and the friends, neighbors, and co-workers we’ve shown this to) believe that this picture really does acurately represent the amount of parking that’s used on a day-to-day basis. Sure a little more on Saturday mornings and at Christmas, but most of the time… kinda like this.

With the help of “developers” and “modern zoning practices”, we committed and built ACRES of parking to accomodate “worst-case” capacity (Holiday Shoppers) for use year-round, which means that for a LARGE majority of every year, most of the parking is barely used, and (here’s the kicker) is not available for anything else. That’s because conventional (aka: “modern”) zoning hates “mixed” or multiple uses!

You can see the “Civic Campus” in the upper-right of the picture above. In true “campus” style, each building is independently plonked down with little integration or access (other than car), there’s not even a sidewalk to the Village Hall or a bike rack there; a design like that is more appropriate for “Radiator Springs”! (If you’ve ever tried doing much walking or biking into town, you’ll realize it was designed for cars instead of people anyway!)

[From the motion picture "Cars". Copyright Disney/Pixar]

[From the motion picture “Cars”. Copyright Disney/Pixar]

OK, so we have plentiful parking… what’s the problem? Well, all that acreage typically gives a very meager Return-On-Investment (“ROI”) compared with the same amount of land dedicated for a more mixed-use arrangement… say, a “downtown”. This “Parking Mecca” is also not much of a tourist draw, isn’t very appealing for our own folks, isn’t pedestrian or bicycle-friendly in the least, created a huge storm-water management problem, isn’t conducive to start-ups, small businesses, or entrepreneurs, doesn’t contribute to space for civic/public use , etc., etc.

For centuries (Millenia actually, but no need to be greedy), people have demonstrated their preferences for “village centers” by the way they built them. Though the styles and materials have varied through time and by region, the basic elements are the same:

  • “Human-scale” construction
    ( |__| as opposed to |_______________________________| )
  • The “Living Room” of the community
  • Density is good
  • Near the “cross-roads”; easy access
  • Everyone is served: businesses & resident, locals and visitors
  • Marketplace, sized for people
  • Important places get attention
  • Appearance has value
  • Shade: awnings, umbrellas, balconies, porches
  • Often two entrances to shops (front/rear)
  • Seating is provided, ample, and scattered
  • Much to see & do
  • Small-business friendly, esp. entrepreneurs, food vendors, and “buskers
  • Arts & cultural venue

Consider the historical perspective: Back when we had to rely on manual labor, the property owner, neighbors and the each worker literally had to think about the purpose, placement, and relationship of EVERY building, and then every brick, stone, and timber as they crafted each structure! Until the “American Dream” hit the scene, a lot of thought USED to go into deciding what needed building, where it would be built, and how it would serve and interact with the community!
Why did we decide to abandon that practice?

In the US, we kept up pretty well with incorporating essential elements in our small towns as we gradually spread across the country. Even with the artificial growth due to the railroads, where a small town was “POOF!” created every 5-7 miles along the rail lines, the towns were designed for success using established and time-honored principles of civic planning (not perfect, but robust, right down to the “Opera House” and the “Public Square“). Over the decades, some towns did fail, but this was often due to issues like poor local leadership, changes in market preferences, or loss of the railroad which was used to transport local goods/crops.

In OUR case, working without a “Village Planner” or even a long-range plan for growth, our previous administrations went for quick growth instead, plonking down village elements randomly as the opportunities presented themselves. The intent was good (growing the village, building a tax-base, housing for residents, etc.); the results… not so much.

So… what do we do now?

While the rest of this site, and our Facebook page, are focused more on the short-term, low-risk, “Lighter/Quicker/Cheaper” kinds of things we can do…. this page will focus on the idea of a “downtown” for Round Lake Beach (as a gradual “in-fill” over time as opposed to a huge Public Works project), utilizing concepts found in the “Sprawl Repair Manual” and used to rebuild/repair/repurpose places & spaces in towns all across the country.

Mall Sprawl

Much more to follow… we’d love your suggestions!

Link: “Project for Public Spaces (PPS) – Downtowns

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s