Put A Little Heart In It Peoria!

I haven’t done much posting on things in Peoria, and really I don’t have an excuse why. Peoria, famous for its slogan “Will It Play In Peoria?,” is only about 12 miles from me, and is the “heart” of central Illinois. Over the past 16 months I have worked on and off in Peoria, and I have spent plenty of time navigating around the place getting to know it.

To most that are familiar with Peoria, it is an old manufacturing city, is, and has been the global headquarters of Caterpillar, Inc [link]. It’s heyday was well over 90 years ago, and most new development in the time since has been sprawling away from its core – so it’s just like most typical rust belt cities of America.

for more great reading on all things Rust Belt – www.rustwire.com

Among Americans these days, no one asks if it will “play in Peoria” anymore. Just like the era of Vaudeville, the city has long been forgotten. It can’t compete head-to-head with Chicago, nor is it the state capital (Springfield), Peoria’s identity in Illinois has been blurred since prohibition. There have been developments here, there, and everywhere, and many marketing attempts to try to put it back on the map, but they haven’t hit the mark.

It’s hard to ignore the online commenters of the local newspaper, to write-off the thoughts of the local bloggers (pun intended), or to dismiss the feelings of the area’s citizens of how the area is underserved, underperforming, and just not living up to the potential of what has been promised for years and not agree with them. At the very least, it’s hard not to understand where they’re coming from.

As an outsider, I see Peoria, and the outlying area’s for what they are. I see the good, the bad, and the ugly. I also see the potential of what could be. There are architectural treasures sprinkled all around, there is natural beauty with its bluff’s, prairie’s, and views of the Illinois River, and a great stock of older homes in older neighborhoods (which as you know… I love).

Back in 2002, The Heart of Peoria Plan was put together as a how-to template of things that need to be understood and implemented in the area. While it was accepted by City Council, it never really was taken to heart. The brains behind the Plan were the firm Duany, Plater-Zyberk & Company. They are architects, planners, authors, as well as the innovators behind the New Urbanism movement. I’ve previously familiarized myself with their work, and hadn’t realized that they had anything to do with the study until about 2 months after I moved here and looked more closely at the Plan’s creators. Low and behold I was shocked and impressed. Impressed that they had anything to do with Peoria, and shocked that nothing has materialized from the Plan in the last 10 years.

The Heart of Peoria Plan [Full Version]

From what I’ve found in little over a year of on-site research and 10 years of passing through, that’s the story of Peoria. There’s a lot of talk, a lot of studies, and maybe some folks with good ideas, but nothing takes hold and really positively impacts the area. So what the hell, I’ll throw my hat into the ring as another one of those folks. I’ll be trying to post and write a little more on the heart of Peoria in the days, weeks, and months to come.

For anyone who is looking for an advocate of repairing the core of the city, restoring the older neighborhoods, creating a small business friendly environment, making things more enjoyable for people of all ages, races, and incomes, and ushering in a new era of thinking, I’m on board! Call me… email me… whatever, let me know!


One thought on “Put A Little Heart In It Peoria!

  1. Oh, Eric, have you ever nailed this one. If the founding fathers of Peoria had the same tepid outlook, lack of vision, drive and direction that currently abounds here, we would probably see nothing more than a tiny farming community where Peoria now stands, or should I say “sits.”

    It is so monumentally frustrating to encourage anything here whether it be the preservation of the old or the introduction of something new. There is always, always opposition to anything that might require effort or a few dollars and that opposition usually comes in the loudest form from those who have the most dollars to spare and the most to gain from investment.

    I am all for the goals that you have mentioned and vigorously opposed to unneeded expansion. Unfortunately, too many people have the 1950s suburbia mentality that it is better to live in a chipboard and vinyl house where all of the neighbors are of the same race and income bracket (while loudly proclaiming to value diversity).

    Take a tour through the North Valley and you will see how the Victorians did it. You will find homes built by lawyers, doctors and other higher income professionals built right next to small houses that were occupied by dock workers, stone cutters and other manual laborers.

    Now, will someone please bring me a ladder so I can safely climb down from my soap box and continue my advocacy despite the frustrations?

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