Guest Post: Are Bigger Blocks Better?

Guest Post by: Keith Glascock – Peoria resident, avid cyclist, downtown advocate & urban observer. 

Is bigger always better when it comes to the size of a city block?  The short answer is no. The long answer is also no.  So allow me to elaborate….

City Blocks

Let’s take as an example the block I work on and analyze its usage. 

What was historically two separate blocks in years past is now some super-block with sub-par results. The block, as it is today, is a large, mixed-use block that is trapped between two four lane one-way streets.  These streets are Adams which borders to the East and Jefferson which borders to the West.  As you could imagine, without anything to calm the 8-5’ers, the streets flow like rampant rivers carrying motorists swiftly along in haste.

Jefferson

To me, the block itself feels like an island, and most days I don’t leave this island until I leave work.  This super-block if you will,  contains one multi-story building with apartments, several office buildings, a handful of banks, three bars that are a staple to the downtown (Richard’s, Sully’s, and the Locker Room), a steakhouse in a basement (Jim’s), law offices, some other smaller restaurants and candy shops, a small satellite college campus, two enormous parking decks and probably a few other things that are unbeknownst to me at this point in time.

My place of employment is at the far south end of this block.  Like most, since there isn’t adequate places to live downtown I have to commute. For lunch there is no food service in my building, but that allows me to walk around and explore. It opens your eyes to your surroundings and is one of the best way to get to know an area.

Tooley's Peoria

While I work a standard work schedule I wouldn’t mind sticking around if there were things to do. However, since most things close up shop after the daytime workers go home, that leaves you feeling alone and isolated if you stay. It’s downtown, but where are the people?

I’ve been trying to figure out why the block I work on doesn’t function better. Something’s amiss. It’s right in the middle of downtown Peoria, but with the lack of people on a full-time basis, this block might as well be located on the outskirts of town. So what could be done? What could we do to get some more life on the street and get people like myself to use this space better?

Jefferson/Fulton

Scenario #1  Remove the park – Reintroduce the street

I’m not sure who did it, or why they did it, but the “park” on Fulton Street doesn’t seem to help energize the street life. Returning this greenspace back to a street would essentially divide this block up back into two blocks – you know, the way it was originally designed.  This would create extra street parking and better access to the Illinois Central Community College campus, the Riverfront Museum, and Civic Center Plaza across Jefferson Street.

Fulton St. Park

This does not have to come with a loss of seating, removal of sculptures, or displacement of flowerbeds. The existing park benches could inhabit the sidewalks, sculptures could be placed along the way making it more interesting, plant flowers lining the streets, and bicycle racks could also be installed (this would encourage the most fun form of transportation in my opinion).

Scenario #2  Bring the Restaurant fronts to the park

Say the park stays… the space still has much to offer even if the street is not reintroduced.  While the bars and restaurants along Main Street have a steady lunch business there isn’t much else unless if there is a big event in town. If new restaurants were to locate on this block in select locations near the park they would have plenty of room for outdoor dining which is currently lacking in any downtown eatery. Think Paris without the café seating – it wouldn’t be Paris.

Blank Wall

The greenspace could still be used as public seating, more sculptures and artwork could be added, something hands-on to engage children, and even adding bike racks in better locations could spruce up what is now just deadspace.

Fulton St. Park II

If we have explored all of our options and this is the best we can do, then we are settling for something that is under-performing. We can’t just look at one block and say its good enough just because people are forced to pass by it. It affects other blocks, and as a result, it spreads its inefficiencies throughout the entire downtown.

So are bigger blocks really better? If they were stimulating and engaging to all of its users and were active all day, certainly a case could be made. But that’s not the case. In the case of our example block in downtown Peoria, the answer as we see on a daily basis is no.

• Note From The President •

Blogging has opened up a world of people here in Peoria I hadn’t met before. Keith is one of the great people I’ve had a chance to meet along the way. His quiet demeanor doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything to say, quite the opposite. When he sent me an idea for a Guest Post I was actually kind of blown away. While he isn’t a planner, architect,  or consultant by trade, he said something I had seen before.

In fact, what Keith, an everyday observer of Peoria noticed was something we all feel and that had been brought forth in a plan a decade before. A world-renowned planning firm had given the City of Peoria a well thought out vision of what could be done to improve downtown in the Heart of Peoria Plan. I’ve mentioned it here on my site before, but I thought I’d compare Keith’s great ideas as an ordinary citizen of Peoria to what the pros designed. It goes to show that sometimes the people closest to the situation and that use the space on a daily basis might just be the best community designers of them all!

DPZ Fulton

DPZ Fulton Rec

My hats off to Keith for his shrewd analysis! If you would like to be featured as a Guest Poster or would like to contribute to RAD Peoria, please contact me.

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