“Eighty percent of success is showing up.” –Woody Allen
Before us is a fantastic opportunity for place-making and community-building. We have a chance to make a city center that will be welcoming and convenient to pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders. And I’m excited to be in the thick of it.
Since the first public hearing in January, 2007, I’ve been participating in the Vision Fairbanks project. Co-sponsored by the Downtown Association of Fairbanks and the Fairbanks North Star Borough Community Planning Department, Vision Fairbanks is an effort to revitalize our ailing downtown: to attract major businesses and turn it back into the center of Interior Alaskan commerce it once was. Through zoning changes, tax incentives, building codes, and public investment (I admit, those don’t sound too sexy), downtown will be made again into a place people really want to be: a place where they want to go on dates, walk in the park, play with their kids, make their homes — and, of course, do their shopping.
I have an almost-final draft of the Downtown Plan that will be submitted to the City Council for endorsement and the Borough Assembly for approval, but I’d like to get the Downtown Association’s approval before posting it here. (It is theirs, in a sense: they have paid for and coordinated the work of putting it together.) The final version will be public very soon. For now, most of the details can be found in the PDFs from the final public workshop.
Now, to the point: I went Tuesday (two days ago) to the Downtown Association offices for a Vision Fairbanks meeting on development standards and design guidelines. We were given an overview of the downtown zoning as it stands, the proposed “zones” or project areas, the final draft of the plan that will be submitted to the Assembly, and the project areas that will require further detail work after the plan’s adoption. These project areas include:
- The retail “hot spot” on Cushman, between 5th and 6th Avenues;
- The Barnette and Chena office districts;
- The civic forest / cultural anchor from Airport to 8th Avenue;
- The “Chena celebration” of riverfront park;
- The residential anchors; and
- Circulation (autos, pedestrians, bicycles, and transit).
We were to divide into groups, each for a particular area of the plan. Our homework was then to become expert in that area. We needed to become knowledgeable enough about the plan that we could give direction to the professionals who will ultimately write the legal, binding development standards.
Now, besides Bernardo Hernandez of FNSB Community Planning, who led the meeting, and a member of the Downtown Association staff, there were only five of us. Which meant that everybody had something to do, and there would be no shirking.
I wound up, naturally, in the Circulation group. Although I’m excited about the whole plan and would feel privileged to work on any part of it, I am especially happy to be working on specifications that will make downtown a beautiful, convenient, and safe place for pedestrians. Truly, eighty percent of success is showing up.
Now, in an earlier post, I suggested that the solution to bad air quality downtown was
- Get private automobiles out of downtown. Limit motorized traffic to emergency vehicles, utility vehicles, possibly some commercial service vehicles, and public transportation.
- Provide copious public transportation all around the Borough to bring people into downtown.
This is a more radical measure than is called for in the Vision Fairbanks plan. According to Crandall Arambula (the city planning consultants hired to develop the plan), nearly all U.S. streets that have been made pedestrian-only have been commercial failures, because they do not bring in enough people. Most shoppers must still drive to their destinations, and they prefer destinations where they can park their cars fairly close.
Okay, I’ll accept that for now. I do daydream about a car-free Fairbanks, where houses are clustered into little neighborhoods that are served by rail. But that dream is a long way off. For now, there’s the reality that some automotive traffic is necessary to make a vibrant civic center and an environment where pedestrians would want to live.