Yesterday I quoted a reader in Seattle who recounted the long, purposeful process through which that city's now-lively and attractive downtown was willed into existence. Reader mail on this point:
1) The wisdom of Jerry Brown. From a reader in the East Bay:
One to the things that Jerry Brown emphasized when he was Mayor of Oakland was a campaign to get 10,000 new residents downtown. I think that made a tremendous impact on Oakland, both in the downtown and just in reputation.
When I was interviewing Jerry Brown two years ago in his office in Oakland, for this article, he bragged about this same effort and urged me to look around the still-improving downtown. Which I did, and was impressed.
2) Tampa tried and failed. Asheville succeeded ... just because. From another reader:
Your reader's description of Seattle in 1970 applies, word-for-word, to Tampa (where I lived from 1953 to 1994 and have returned to many times visiting family). Yet no one in their right mind would describe Tampa's downtown as a success. The best you could say for it would be, "It's struggling to improve"—but that's what you'd say in 2005, 1995, 1985, and 1975.
The struggle has been long, and the improvement painful. The Franklin Street Pedestrian Mall has long been given over to abandoned storefronts and abandoned people, while the crown jewel of the early effort, Curtis Hixon Hall, was torn down 20 years ago. The 1980s-era Harbor Island and 1990s-era street car have both failed to meet their original goals, and the Harbor Island mall and people mover have long been shut down.
Downtown Tampa's main assets date from its earliest period: The Tampa Bay Hotel (University of Tampa) built in the 1890s, and Bayshore Blvd, first built in 1906 and reaching its present shape in the 1930s.
On the other hand, Asheville, North Carolina's, fabulous downtown (60 blocks for a town of 150,000, and just try to get a parking space after 6 p.m.!) seems to have evolved without any planning at all. Its physical structure dates from massive overbuilding during the 1920s Land Boom, but its current success comes from a large artists' community which occupied it during the 1980s due to ample space at low rent. (The artists community itself dates from private charities establishing crafts coops in the 1910s and 20s in the surrounding mountains.)
Curiously, the downtown district has become so successful that few artists can now afford it, causing an exodus to a 1920s-era factory district that was almost completely abandoned 20 years ago.
This tells me that there is no recipe here; an approach's success in Seattle is meaningless unless you understand why the same approach failed in Tampa. But as to massive, long-term, centralized intervention—Tampa indicates that it's not sufficient, and Asheville [below] shows that it's not even necessary.
We have not yet gone to Asheville (although we've flown near it many times on trips up and down the East Coast) precisely because it's so famously chic and successful a small-ish town. So I'm not in a position to assess the reader's claim that Asheville just naturally evolved its way into its current look. I await views from readers who know more about the story.
3) "Downtown Anaheim no longer exists." A reader who, like me, grew up in Boomer-era Southern California writes about the contrast between two cities in Orange County. These are Anaheim, which everyone knows as the home of the original Disneyland plus the eccentrically-but-honestly named "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" [see also: the "New York Giants of New Jersey," "Washington NFL Team of Maryland," etc]; and Fullerton, which I'll confess I hardly know at all:
I lived in Fullerton during my teenage years and my parents lived there many years longer. In my time, during the 1960's, Anaheim and Fullerton were similar: bedroom communities to Los Angeles with nice little downtown areas. There were not yet shopping malls as we now know them so both downtown areas had a full range of retail activity from small department stores, hardware stores, drug stores, a few restaurants, and small movie theaters. Fullerton had Harbor Blvd (then Spadra) and Anaheim had Lincoln Blvd (then Center St). (On weekend nights Harbor Blvd was like the main street in the movie American Graffiti.)
Some time in the 1970's Anaheim demolished its downtown area and basically turned it into a strip mall with a few high rise buildings. It is no more (the city is now trying to make the area around Angel Stadium its new downtown). At the same time, Fullerton, over time, transformed its downtown into a 'destination' area and built and converted lots of small residential buildings. It kept as many of the old buildings as possible.
Downtown Fullerton is now almost entirely a service economy with dozens of restaurants, boutiques, etc., and it is to some degree a victim of its own success as the many night clubs often attract an undesirable nighttime crowd from the some of the inland areas. This has created some additional law enforcement requirements.
The residential area that I grew up in, consisting of homes on large acreage in the northern hilly areas of Fullerton, are still extremely desirable and Fullerton remains one of the nicest family residential areas within easy driving distance of downtown Los Angeles. (Or, if you have lots of time, the miserable Amtrak and Metro link rail transport services)
The comparison of Anaheim and Fullerton during the last several decades offers a rather dramatic contrast in downtown urban planning and development. I recently had a pleasant daytime walking experience in downtown Fullerton. Downtown Anaheim no longer exists.
* * *
The picture at the top is from the Pudong (skyscraper / freeways / monumental avenues / propaganda posters) side of Shanghai, as mentioned yesterday. I use it mainly because I'm still here, but also as a segue to a point I want to make about the nicer, Puxi side of town, which looked this way on Sunday:
The building at the left with a brown logo is the wonderful Boxing Cat Brewery on Fuxing Lu, in the French Concession part of town. I have loved Boxing Cat since its opening in 2008 because it's a very nice brewpub in a land of historically bad beer; but also because its founding brewmaster, Gary Heyne, was a good friend in the years my wife Deb and I lived in Shanghai and when Boxing Cat was just getting going.
Five years ago, Gary Heyne suddenly died, at age 45, apparently of a heart attack late one night at Boxing Cat. You see a picture of him taken not long before that, at right. I wrote about the sad and shocking news of his demise here.
Neither the "history" nor the "team" page of Boxing Cat's web page now has any mention of Gary Heyne or his founding role. I asked about that this weekend when visiting the brewery, and I've asked subsequently via email. Now I'm asking in this space: This is a person whose achievements in purposefully helping re-create a downtown should be remembered.
To end on a brighter note, our colleague John Tierney has done two very interesting posts on the positive implications, and also the complexities, of the "makerspace" movement and the wider spread of 3-D printers and similar tools. His first dispatch, on the promise of these technologies, is here; the second, on some of the dilemmas and legal/social/economic challenges is here. He also includes links to two Conference of World Affairs panel discussions on these topics last week. The posts add perspective to developments we've seen across the country and are very much worth checking out.
We want to hear what you think. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.