October 16, 2005

Roanoke Downtown Plan Has New Urbanist Imprint

New Urbanist consulting firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. recently sketched out ideas for Roanoke's downtown that include adding outside balconies to buildings, putting farmers market stalls in a structure running down the center of a main street "like a spine," and turning the anchor market building "inside out, so the existing enclosed food court restaurants would face the outside, complete with new glass doors so dining activity could be seen from the street,"the Roanoke, Va. Times reports. "The renderings and initial ideas for a spruced-up downtown were drawing rave reviews late in the week."

The ideas are all aimed at creating a more vibrant pedestrian streetscape, as opposed to a downtown center designed primarily for cars, and a special sense of place that will draw people there.

While some worried about having enough parking, planner Tom Lowe said an attractive enough downtown would make people willing to park in garages or on the fringes of the downtown business district.

As I've said before, a downtown business district can never compete with a mall for easy access and plentiful acres of adjacent parking. However, few malls can compete with a great downtown business district for sense of place and appealing pedestrian streetscape. Going to the Natick Mall is simply a different experience from going to Newbury Street or the North End in Boston. Spending an afternoon in Concord Center is different from an afternoon at the Burlington Mall.

Downtown business districts shouldn't try to mimic the mall experience; they need to exploit what makes them attractive, dramatic and appealing.

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