The future of downtown: fresh perspective

Some want hammers, some, designer jeans.

Our historically vibrant downtown has thrived on

the sheer variety of the offerings – from the wholly

functional to the (arguably) silly and extravagant – offered by local merchants. We may have no use for one line of merchandise or another, but we should be pleased whenever any entrepreneur is confident enough in our downtown core to hang out a shingle and invite passersby to consider new wares – ditto for the emergence of new buildings for commercial and residential tenants.

For whatever one’s preference for the many functions a downtown serves – residential area, transportation corridor, hub of social interaction – it is constantly reinventing itself from the inside out through reinvestment, commerce and trade. We expect we’ll be reminded as much the evening of Jan. 11, when the city sponsors the latest in a series of workshops on downtown planning, at 6 p.m. at City Hall. Previous offerings have looked at transportation, and arts and cultural heritage; this month’s slate brings Dave Leland of Leland Consulting, a regional group specializing in downtown revitalization and urban planning. A tip sheet from the mayor’s office suggests Leland will discuss “the economic dynamics that define the possibilities and threats to downtown Winslow,” including national trends and issues specific to our island. Population growth, demographic shifts, housing, local retail and everyone’s favorite bugaboo – parking – are all on the docket that evening.

An adherent of smart growth and the “New Urbanism” – livable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods that emphasize public spaces and social interaction – Leland hails from Portland, Ore., long considered to be in the vanguard of urban planning. His credentials suggest that it will be an informative evening; his firm has been involved with a number of projects in the Rose City, which has in recent years seen the resuscitation of moribund commercial districts and downtrodden areas.

Those wanting a preview of the concepts that will be in play might skim a document called “Achieving Region 2040 Centers,” available for download at www.lelandconsulting.com. Commissioned for Metro, the Portland area’s regional governmental authority, the document presents a series of principles by which to unite public and private interests toward common planning purpose. It’s good reading.

Should we confront and harness change, or will we sit back and let change overtake us?

We would argue for the former, and it is our biggest challenge. Many islanders have an innate sentimental attachment to the ‘50s and ‘60s-vintage buildings that line Winslow Way; yet we can say with certainty that as our community grows, there will be increasing pressure to build up and expand. (There are already those among us who have no idea what the Martinique/Doogals restaurant building looked like, and it was a fixture the main street for decades.)

We need to take the long view and craft the downtown we want to see in the future. On Jan. 11, we expect we’ll get a dynamic new perspective toward that end.

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