“Nothing has changed. Talk has changed but regulations haven’t changed, lending systems for these things haven’t changed. The notion — and I tell you this one even worries me that it extends into New Urbanism—the notion of the shopping center a valid kind of downtown. That’s taken over. Its very hard for architects of this generation even to think in terms of a downtown or a center that is owned by all different people, with different ideas.”
- Jane Jacobs interview with James Howard Kunstler, Metropolis Magazine, 2001
Sorry about the scarcity of postings of late, but sickness befell the Lackmeyer household this past few days thanks to “Typhoid Toddler.” Ah kids… so much fun.
So what was my point last week on retail? Simple – a lot of energy is starting to go into drawing the sort of retail presence that has eluded downtown for 40 years. And downtown is at a point where some of this might just be possible. But the wrong concept, the wrong approach – and bye, bye, an opportunity is lost.
America is littered with examples of failed downtown malls. If you don’t believe me, visit www.deadmalls.com and find out for yourself. Sure, a few success stories are out there. But consider where they are located – places like Boston’s Faneuil Hall have a history and sense of place that really are unique and not really feasible elsewhere.
Could you build a carbon copy of Faneuil Hall in another city? Sure. But don’t be surprised if it’s empty a few years later.
A successful strategy for downtown retail for Oklahoma City may very well end up being unique to – guess what – Oklahoma City. Maybe it will result from some grand plan. But don’t be surprised if the wisdom of the late Jane Jacobs applies here – a random mish-mash may ultimately be the retail we’ve long sought out. Planners might not like it. Developers certainly won’t be comfortable with it. It might not be neat, streamlined or orderly. But it will be the sort of vintage, rich urban stew Jane Jacobs fought so hard to preserve back when she was battling Robert Moses for the soul of New York City.
Think Austin. Rowdy? Yeah. Weird – proudly so. But definitely not boring, and decidedly not suburban. Probably a place that would have entertained Jane Jacobs and horrified Robert Moses.
(Now, for all of you who don’t know who Robert Moses or Jane Jacobs are, go to the bookstore. Don’t delay – I’m told that the written word is about to disappear forever. Find and buy copies of The Power Broker, a biography of Moses, and Jacobs’ 1963 revolutionary urban rallying cry, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Make liberal use of a highlighter pen – nothing makes a better tribute to Jacobs’ memory than a dog-eared, marked-up copy of her life’s work.)