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Local Shopping will Kill the Mall

The mall is dying. It's not a pleasant place to be. Online shopping is holding the smoking gun. Local shopping could put the final nail in the coffin.

It is the perfect moment for Main Street to remind us how pleasant a community space can be.

For the record, my favorite holiday moment so far this year was meeting Santa in the hot tub at the Fairfield Inn. He threw his back out hoisting kids onto his lap. His eyes were twinkly and when I asked where he was from, he leaned in to reply, "Where do you think I'm from." 

He works at the mall 47 days of each year, employed by the photography company. This way he manages to keep his retirement investments untouched. And he loves the work. 

We avoid the mall, but I took my kids downtown during the kick-off weekend to the Holiday Shopping Season. My goal is to truly enjoy the season while teaching my kids good habits. 

There were enticing activities, like free portraits with a different Santa, ice sculptures, and a trolley. The highlight of the holiday season for my kids, so far, was the trolley ride. Hands down, they loved it best, and it contributed to making the place-based experience so memorable. 

The State Street businesses sponsor the trolley and everyone on board gets a bag of coupons and a bottle of water (easier that hot cocoa?).

East Johnson Street is our really local Main Street. There is no trolley (yet) but I love the red ribbons around the new street lamps. I've checked off much of my holiday to-do list on that street.

The businesses are eclectic, all locally owned, and they are poised to attract the coveted street culture that the neighbors want to provide. The Jam On Johnson, a street-party to get folks hopping from shop to shop, made that potential clear.

Meanwhile, East Washington Avenue is gunning hard to reframe itself as a nice place to be, too. The City has made it financially feasible for developers to do their thing, and many are trying to push their vision forward. They imagine the blocks between the Yahara River and the Capitol Square as a Madison Avenue like Chicago's lively boulevard. 

And why not?

Increasing Density

There are two new proposals, in addition to others already on the table, that would all add to the population density of the neighborhood:

-T. Wall Enterprise proposes to build an apartment building with approximately 185 units on the Reynolds Crane Lot (700 block of East Mifflin Street at Livingston). The proposal includes parking underneath, with exits on both Livingston and Mifflin, and a pool in the courtyard. The proposed height is a mix of three and four stories. Learn more here.

-On the 1200 block of East Washington, at Few Street, Lance McGrath has put forward two ideas, which will be discussed at a public meeting on Tuesday (7:00 pm December 9, 2014 Tenney Park Garden Apartments Community Room, 302 N. Baldwin Street): three stories with demolition of the American Auto buildings, Mad Motors and the Patriot Glass building, or four stories with a step back at the rear and retention of the E. Washing Avenue half of the Patriot Glass building for a restaurant, bar or brew pub. Either way, the buildings would include 70-80 units of market rate housing, a fitness room, ground-level office space, and one level of below grade parking with approximately 74 parking stalls. Read the story here.

Urban density, brew pubs, coffee shops, work spaces, living spaces, it sounds like a nice place to be! But wait, it's alongside a highway. A multi-lane highway. Cars drive fast during rush hours, traffic backs up, and then at other odd hours, it's a desert of pavement. It is hard to cross the street on bike or foot. It's an unpleasant place to be. And, sadly for the City, it was reconstructed and improved just a couple years ago.

The Project for Public Spaces says it like this: "Not only is fast-moving traffic less likely to stop, but speed kills a street’s sense of place and diminishes its value for all users."

In order for East Washington to become something more than an artery for getting from point A to point B, it needs to be a place. Like State Street and downtown, like East Johnson Street is trying to be. 

Why not make the curb lane a parking lane to add a buffer for sidewalk activity and make it easy for cars to stop n' shop?

Why not make the cross walks more obvious (paint them?), make the walk-lights more reasonable, and add some human-scale landscaping?

Why not widen the grassy islands in the middle and move the bus lane into the center, with bus stops on the islands? 

Why not a real trolley?

Why not? Real places might conspire with Amazon to kill the mall. 

Again, from the Project for Public Spaces: "Main Street is far better positioned to fulfill [our need for human interaction] than malls. Being geographically positioned within walking distance of neighborhoods, Main Streets are suited perfectly to evolve, via Placemaking, into the great destinations of the 21st century."

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