Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Death of Walkable Retail

This evening, as I came home, I altered my normal route and passed through the Chevy Chase shopping area. In doing so I was reminded of the comments of a former councilmember about the conditions facing the folks of the Chevy Chase community. Mr Farmer addressed the Council work session yesterday and again reminded them of the, should we say, less than enthusiastic welcome that they have given to the new parking arrangements for the shopping area.

Earlier this year I wrote about this and still I have no clue as to what they are thinking.

The Chevy Chase area and its surrounding neighborhoods are imminently walkable. Everybody from young school children to the senior living nearby can walk to the shops and entertainment facilities located along Euclid and E High St. The hills are not too steep and the block faces are not too long. One can usually see UK students riding or walking back the their dorms or apartments with bags of groceries from Kroger and other shops. Many people do walk in this area.

I was reminded this evening of a time nearly half a century ago, when the Chevy Chase commercial area was not so large or as dense as it is today, yet there was a greater presence of service for the automobile than there is today. At that time the storefronts along High from Ashland to Euclid were all right on the sidewalk(all parking was to the rear). Gas stations seemed to dominate just about every corner. From the corner of Marquis(formerly Lafayette Ave) and Euclid, with an Exxon station, to Clay, with a Speedway, to Ashland Ave, with a Sinclair(Hancock's video), to the intersection of E. High, with an Ashland and a Texaco. There was a Gulf station at the corner of High and Ashland(approx Starbucks location) and a Chevron at the corner of Park. A Ball Dairy store with drive up at Cochran but this does pre-date the gas station which eventually became Billy's Bar-b-que.

This appears to be a lopsided proportion of service stations in a very pedestrian area. Add to that the drive thru windows for the liquor stores and the dry cleaners and the auto centric nature of the area begins to come clear. The very strange fact is that none of them remain today. NONE. But there is much more surface parking available than there was and still the problems remain. People used to walk from blocks away, and a lot of local residents still do, but those who just have to drive from a longer distance cannot walk for half of a very shot block.

The shopping area along E. Main, from Walton to Ashland, was smaller but similar. Five gas stations and a drive thru restaurant in a block and a half, and the remaining Chevron was not there then. And this just a little over a quarter of a mile from Chevy Chase.

I could go on and equate how Idle Hour, Meadowthorpe, Romany Road and even Georgetown St.'s Westside Plaza have changed over the years. Walkable retail used to be available in the first-ring suburbs and still have accommodations for the auto but now the auto does not want to make accommodations for the pedestrians. Have you watched any of the old movie from the turn of the last century, the carriages and horse drawn wagons, the streetcars gliding down the street, and pedestrians EVERYWHERE? People crossing the street in mid block, walking along with the traffic and cyclists weaving through them all? How about the western movies with the dirt main street, horses and people, carts and wagons, the stagecoach all mixing in the street( and scattering when the gunfight broke out)? That can't happen today, with or without the gunfight.

Walkable retail seems to have died when we took zoning to its extremes and started trying to serve more with less. More customers with less employees, more variety with less stores, more shopping with less real service.

More isolation in our homes and less interaction with a larger cross-section of our neighbors, but that is the way I think most people like it. I don't.


lexdan said...

I don't like it either! What's ironic is that people love to go to Europe on vacation to towns where you can walk every where and they love it. It just doesn't seem to occur to people that we could build our towns like that here.

lexdan said...

The worst is all the crap in Hamburg. There you have a mall and you are almost forced to drive between stores! It takes a lot of planning to come up with something that bad.