Oh the pedestrian mall. On the surface, it seems like such a great idea, yet somehow still draws a lot of ire. For example, this recent post over at PlaceShakers and NewsMakers.
The post gives a very brief history of the pedestrian mall, then points out that it poses many of the same problems it seeks to fix. Like car-development before it, the pedestrian mall adopts an all-or-nothing approach. In other words, streets were at one time ceded to cars while pedestrian malls cede them back to people. The better solution, author Scott Doyon argues, is somewhere in the middle.
Doyon goes on to explain that the examples that do work usually have tourism, universities, dense housing or some combination of similar factors. For places that don’t immediately have those advantages — among which downtown Provo would be one — more creative thinking is required. Streets should be complete, welcoming different modes of transportation. He continues,
Today the conversation is about rethinking the street, who’s entitled to it, and how it gets used — which, it turns out, doesn’t have to always be the same way. Flexible street programming, we’re finding, can shift and morph to meet our ever-evolving exercise of community. Even on a day to day basis.
I still think something approaching a series of “micro pedestrian malls” would be a positive addition to downtown Provo. As I argue in this post, I think they could do well in the centers of the city’s long blocks; right now, after all, that space is generally reserved for gravel, trash, alley cats, and, at best, parking. If those spaces were opened up, it would create more development-ready space, offer more choice and convenience to pedestrians, cut down on the heat islands, and maybe finally give Provo a public square or two.
What isn’t going to work, however, is any sort of debate that ends up being about the pros and the cons of pedestrian traffic, or malls, in downtown. As the PlaceShakers post points out, the time has come for more nuanced thinking.