Riverside, California is betting on its downtown pedestrian mall, contrary to the contrarian bet of Fresno, which is reopening its pedestrian street to cars, as Jim Fallows has reported here. (And for background on Riverside and the nearby similar-but-very different city of San Bernardino, see Jim’s previous post here.)
Fresno closed its downtown Fulton Street to traffic in the early 1960s. Riverside was part of that same early wave in creating pedestrian-only commercial street back in 1966. In 2008 the city doubled down, investing another $10 million to renovate and upgrade with landscaping, lighting and to add outdoor benches. We’ll have more to say about the rationale behind the second re-investment soon.
Jim and I walked Riverside’s pedestrian Main Street mall early on a lovely March morning with the city’s dynamic Mayor and multi-generation native son, Rusty Bailey. We started with coffee at the top of the walking street, choosing an outdoor table where the popular mayor would be a little less likely to be spotted by patrons inside. Then we strolled with him down the length of the street to City Hall.
Well, we didn’t stroll exactly. Bailey was pushing his bike, which he routinely rides to work, at a brisk pace, and I got the idea that “stroll” is not a word readily associated with Bailey. For context: he’s a local boy whose forebears were among the region’s original farmers and ranchers. He went off to West Point, served as an Army helicopter pilot and platoon leader, and then came back home to Riverside, where he worked as a public high-school teacher. He’s also clearly in the category of “happy mayors” we have seen around the country: people who feel as if having influence in and responsibility for a community they care for is about the best job now available in American politics.
As we scrambled to keep up with the mayor, we watched the street life start to wake up around the historic Mission Inn (more on this iconic hotel soon, too). Bailey pointed out the Culver Center for the Arts, the Museum of Photography, and an elegant free-standing Seth Thomas Clock; and he outlined plans for other classic buildings up and down the street. We also passed several people who had either spent the night on the new benches under the palm trees, or were planning to spend the day there.
What really caught my eye was the series of six larger-than-life-sized monumental bronze statues, anchors of the so-called Peace Walk, from the Mission Inn to City Hall.