Archive for June, 2011

I laughed out loud when I read the Columbus Dispatch editorial stating that COTA buses  are to blame for the 45 empty store fronts along High Street in downtown Columbus.

The editorial states that, according to a downtown strategic plan endorsed last year by the Downtown Commission and Columbus City Council, bus traffic along High Street increases congestion, blocks storefronts and prevents on-street parking.

There are numerous valid reasons why 45 High Street storefronts remain vacant and public transit is not one of them.

We could look back to 1989 when City Center removed pedestrian traffic from once vibrant streets and encapsulated it inside an urban bunker.  While Columbus wasn’t the only city to duplicate sub-urban shopping facilities in a downtown environment, it none the less did what every other one of it’s kind did – it took pedestrians off of the linear path of traditional downtown shopping.

While perhaps a magnet for the fifteen-odd-years of it’s success, City Center didn’t appear to do much for the businesses around it.  It didn’t even shore up enough business at the once acclaimed downtown Lazarus to keep it afloat.

Ten years ago there were dilapidated store fronts along High Street just as there are today.  From Broad north to Gay Street there was nothing of significance, although there was an Arby’s on the west side of the street.  From Gay north to Long one side of the street continues to garner no interest outside of a surface parking lot.

On the east side of the street Cafe Brioso started attracting a lunch crowd right around the time of City Center’s steep decline.  Cafe Brioso is perhaps the one pivotal business that brought about any positive change along downtowns portion of High Street prior to the razing of City Center.

We could also look back to Columubus’ land-use policy and determine that the City spent decades annexing unincorporated land, building out the utilities and thus creating long-term sprawl.  The City of Columbus could have spent that money investing in upgrading existing infrastructure which would have bolstered the health of center-city neighborhoods, keeping and attracting new residents.  Rather, the City let the inner city decay.

We could look at ODOT’s policy of neglecting public transit projects and instead funding the expansion of roadways and interchanges.  Combined with Columbus’ land use policies and inner city neglect its no wonder that retail development followed the population, leaving downtown behind.

But let’s look at what we have today for a moment.  Busses along High Street are only lined up along High Street during non-business hours.  The 9pm, 10pm, 11pm and 12am line-ups do line an entire block on either side of street.  For about 15 minutes.

Northbound busses line up in front of the State House and southbound busses line up on the west side of the High Street in front of COTA’s headquarters and adjacent to a small surface parking lot.  Once they depart, they spread out rather evenly.

Alleged bus congestion did nothing to inhibit pedestrians that joined the protests at the State House earlier in the year.  Bus traffic doesn’t appear to be a hinderance to retail vibrancy in the Short North either.

What hinders business downtown is the perceived lack of safety.  Empty blocks, blank street-level facades of Federal buildings and the deep set back such as the Nationwide campus do nothing to invite pedestrians.  Add in the crumbling plaster, dirty windows and mismatched efforts of 1970’s style “modernization” and High Street does indeed look unappealing.

In Chicago busses line the most magnificent shopping district in the mid-west – North Michigan Avenue.  Lots of busses and the extra-long flexible busses. So many busses that the bus stop signs are printed on all four sides of the post.  The same holds true on Chicago’s State Street in the Loop.

On Minneapolis’ downtown stretch of Nicolette Mall busses are the only traffic allowed.  They connect to the light-rail line.  Minneapolis’s Uptown shopping district is also lined with busses.  To claim that bus congestion is a deterrent to filling vacant [class C and below] retail space in downtown Columbus is ludicrous.

Essentially, there is nothing inhabitable left on High Street downtown.  And COTA busses are responsible for this?

If there’s a place to lay blame it can only be with the leadership of the City and the Columbus City Council.  Poor planning, lack of leadership, lack of vision, lack of investment and a misguided land use policy has left downtown Columbus in a shambles.

And somehow the folks at the Columbus Dispatch believe they have a say in what’s next?  Perhaps it should be noted that the decline in size and content of the Columbus Dispatch coincides with the decline of downtown Columbus.  So, yeah, I guess the Columbus Dispatch is influential.



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As a child of two parents who grew up connected to Lake Street, so was I. It was the elastic band that stretched to accommodate life in South Minneapolis and it seemed as if life couldn’t have existed without it.  For nineteen years my life Lake Street was a mainstay.

Even the events leading up to my life revolved around Lake Street. My Polish grandfather, my mother’s father, worked at Minneapolis Moline, a tractor factory that once consumed acres at the intersection of Lake and Minnehaha. The man who was to become my father worked at Sears on Lake and Chicago.

We lived two blocks from Lake Street. My grandmother, a half a block and an aunt and uncle just two blocks as well. My elementary school was one block off of Lake Street as was my high school.

My dad had his film developed at a camera shop on 27th Avenue and Lake. We’d wait nearly two weeks to see the results of snapshots taken with his Kodak Instamatic. In the same building there was a department store and a ballroom. Our bank was on this block. Woolworth’s was on the same block.

Across the street was the Town Talk Diner. It was the only sit-down restaurant for miles in any direction, though there was a drive-in on 21st and Lake. Kresge’s on 20th and Lake had a lunch counter.

27th and Lake – photo credit:  J. Johnson

But 27th and Lake, with all of it’s riches was a a world away, nine blocks away from our section of Lake Street. At the intersection of 36th Avenue and Lake were the smaller businesses that served us. The grocery store, the drug store, the bakery, the flower shop, the hardware store – all referred to as “the” because these businesses were, at the time, the sole providers.

Lake Street was also the last street south on which a business could get a liquor license. Mixed in with everything else were bars – neighborhood gathering spots which my surrounding family never frequented. They weren’t taboo, it’s just that my dad’s consumption was limited to a PBR on the back porch after he cut the grass.

A decade later most of what remained of my mid-70’s childhood were the ubiquitous bars. The addition of a second car and working mothers gave physical and financial access to larger, nicer and newer businesses further away and thus the decline of what were completely self-contained neighborhoods.

A long-time friend from my neighborhood captured these images in 1983 and recently sent me the scanned images.

Lake Street looks much the same today.

Poodle Club – 30th and Lake

Duffy’s – 26th Ave at 26th Street

36th and Lake looking southwest

36th and Lake looking east

Dan Za Bar – 38th and Lake

Fine Used Cars – 38th and Lake –  photo credits:  L. Pederson

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