Planned to death

Okay, I don’t think it’s going to get that bad in the New! Improved! Downtown! But look what’s going on inside Doug Loudenback’s head:

Left-brain says: “The plans I’ve seen so far look anything but eclectic and chaotic. Those plans are ultra orderly and rather look like a suburban residential model which has been transformed and plopped into downtown grid with nice rows of things showing where everything ‘should be’ and in ‘just the right areas, sort of like a gated downtown without the gates.’ Everything is ‘just so.’ Am I wrong?”

Right-brain agrees, but says, “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

“Wait a minute. You want things eclectic and chaotic?”

You better believe it:

[F]or many years, the model for successful urban life has been the noise, disorderliness and messy mix of people and traffic of SoHo, New York.

Alongside, creativity has escaped linearity and order: be it ironic, awkward Britart, whimsy, casual Goldfrapp, the popularity of feature-length social documentary film-making, the chaos of social networking and exotic packaging of securitised debt.

And yet we’re choosing to scrape the surface of our towns and cities and turn it in to clean, clear and crisp pavement.

In its wake has come outdoor food courts, not street markets and a sweep of control orders that segregate access to the streets.

An irony is that all of this has been done in the name of winning back public space.

We already did this once, didn’t we?

Addendum: Meanwhile in Tulsa, Michael Bates quotes Rocky Frisco:

The more the city government has tried to “develop” the downtown, the worse it has become. I firmly believe that if had been allowed to develop naturally, without all the wild ideas for “development,” it would still be an exciting, successful part of the city. I would like to see the city government stop meddling with the downtown area, re-synchronize the traffic lights and stop killing the area with excessive revenue generation based on parking tickets, fees and fines. The first fatal blow was the loss of the Ritz, Orpheum, Majestic and Rialto Theaters; the second was the ill-advised “Downtown Mall.” It has gone downhill from there. The time to stop “fixing” a thing, even when it’s broken, is when every attempt to fix it breaks it worse.

We pulled off one set of fixes that worked. There’s no guarantee that the next set will do the same.


  1. fillyjonk »

    9 September 2009 · 12:05 pm

    In my limited experience, “non-organic” (i.e., planned) development of a downtown can led to lots of unhappy people, and perhaps lots of vacant storefronts.

    The small city where my parents live is undergoing a facelift-by-fiat; the local Town Council, deciding they wanted to make names for themselves, voted in a large, taxpayer-funded hotel and convention center, encouraged “upscale” businesses and restaurants, encouraged developers to buy buildings out from under long-established businesses (forcing them to either move or close).

    The downtown looks not unlike a miniature version of Boston’s “Big Dig” right now, most residents I’ve talked to are unhappy, many of the long time business owners are unhappy, profs and students at the local university feel like they’re being priced out of the downtown they used to patronize.

    So yeah, the town council made names for themselves, just not ones it would be ladylike for me to repeat.

  2. Doug Loudenback »

    9 September 2009 · 6:51 pm

    Hooray for chaos & serendipity, and thanks for the link.!

  3. Mel »

    11 September 2009 · 1:06 am

    >> New! Improved! Downtown!

    What. Has Downtown! OKC! Been! Bought! By! Yahoo! ?

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