This is the second installment of the R.A.D. Downtown Peoria and Near Walkability Study. [Part I]
Similar to Chicago and many other metropolitan cities, Peoria is a city of neighborhoods. Locals and visitors alike know that most interesting places are found in the genuine and authentic older neighborhoods that have been the foundation of the city for more than a century. Streets, historic landmarks or other boundaries identify each from the next.
Following the contour of the Illinois River upstream is a neighborhood that sits just outside of downtown. The Near Northside may not mean much to most these days, but as one of the earliest settlements in the Peoria’s rich history, the name of the neighborhood is very literal. It’s near all that is happening in the central core of the city – at least it was.
Long before my ship arrived in Peoria, something happened to one of its oldest and closest neighborhoods. At some point in the last century it was decided to abandon everything that was near to pursue the pot of gold that appeared in the distance.
City Hall still remains in downtown Peoria as the central location for local government. With that, I decided to trace the steps of what citizens of centuries past might have experienced and tried to capture what the current landscape looks like today from the heartbeat of the city.
There was a time when walking was not only the easiest form of transportation, but the cheapest. One of my goal’s when taking on my project GO URBAN was to advocate for an increase in the walkability of this neighborhood and from a house which just so happens to stand approximately 1 mile from City Hall.
What is walkability? Quite simply, it is the ability of people to get to their daily necessities by foot and the conditions they encounter along the way.
My Route: A series of 5 minute walks (20 minutes total) from City Hall located at 419 Fulton St. Peoria, Il Northeast on Madison St. to Voris St.
As far as walks go, this stretch may just have some of the best architecture the city has to offer. One could argue that it might also have some of the most significant landmarks in Peoria. But even with all the intrigue and historic mystique, there are many man-made hindrances that give this 1 mile stretch a disconnected feel.
On a path of preservationists’ treasures, you are left feeling that nothing outside of these particular buildings was paid any attention of detail. Starting out you might think you’re in a foreign country, but then you quickly realize that you are firmly cemented in America.
Block by block you can experience the grandeur of Peoria.
Opened in 1926, the Pere Marquette Hotel is undergoing an extensive remodeling, indicating it will continue to be a mainstay in downtown.
Just across the street sits The Madison Theatre, a once prominent entertainment venue. While this property opened its doors 6 years before the hotel,it now sits in a state of flux. It’s easy to see that despite the costs necessary to renovate the building, it can no doubt still serve a versatile asset of this block.
One of the lesser known gems that has stood the test of time is the Peoria Women’s Club on the corner of Fayette and Madison. Although not specifically a venue for entertainment purposes, it houses a range of functions, including a music hall.
If ever there were to be a street called Church Street – this one could fit the bill. Four spectacular churches and the Catholic Diocese stand along this route each one with its own unique charm.
Old neighborhoods offer the diversity and range of buildings that modern-day buildings and homes don’t seem to capture. Traditional neighborhoods were set up to accommodate the masses by serving people of all income levels. Along the walk you will find a variety of structures from apartment buildings, multi-family dwellings, and standard single family residences.
Unfortunately, it’s not the majestic beauty and fine amenities that keeps the Near Northside from thriving – it’s what has been neglected in past decades and an overall lack of connectivity that has severed the people from their environment.
In this 20 minute, 1 mile walk from City Hall you can see that Madison St. is a major thoroughfare but yet for some reason still feel like an outsider.
While each block seems to contain one special structure, the rest of the block seems to be dead space. Your experience goes from high to low and then becomes clear that you’re no longer sharing the street with cars, but somehow a burden.
Once you make it past the uncomfortable intersection at Fayette and Madison, you are forced to cross over Interstate 74. Words can’t really describe how unpleasant this is. You look over the car sewer like a rat trapped in a cage above it.
From there, walking conditions disintegrate each step that you take. You become somewhat nostalgic by walking on the weaved brick sidewalks, but then become altogether confused that they all the sudden stop – pick back up again – are removed – all while navigating the crumbling curbs.
You also start to notice that the continued investment to grow other parts of town has really had some unintended consequences. Empty lots, garbage and other debris, an utter lack of disregard has plagued a part of the city that is so close to where crucial decisions are made.
My mission has been pretty simple. Capture what is here right now and show where the strengths and weaknesses lie. If we continue to head down the path we’ve taken over the past decades we’ll continue to struggle to yield the results we so desperately desire.
What worked a century ago was abandoned not because it didn’t work, but it became easier to avoid putting the time, money, and energy into rebuilding it when it needed it.
The only way to get a true feeling of what doesn’t work is to get out and experience it first-hand, or in this case, first-foot.
I have adopted this neighborhood as my own not because I feel bad for it, but because it represents everything that will lead Peoria back out of the doldrums. Of course I see the threats it faces but I wholeheartedly see the endless opportunities that exist.
GO URBAN, my project that I have been working on day and night, is one facet of what it will take to rejuvenate this neighborhood. I don’t think it is far off from happening – actually I believe it’s a lot more possible in the near future than we might realize.
To find out how you can contribute to rebuilding Peoria please Contact Me
And please check out my campaign on Indiegogo Here