Monday, March 06, 2006

"24-hour" downtown

Beer gardens....hmmm. Maybe they didn't notice that Prairie Rock's beer garden is less than a hundred feet away from River Park Place. Or were they planning to shut that down too? It's funny--or tragic--because the Prairie Rock and its beer garden were part of my pitch to prospective Elginites! What am I supposed to tell them now?

Oh well.

I love old people, but a geriatric downtown is not going to lead to a vital city center for Elgin. We need to mix it up, with old and young. We should understand that people with school-age children are not likely to move into the downtown, which means that to balance out the retirees we need to focus on attracting young people (20s-30s). And young people need nightlife as much as old folks need fiber.

Nightlife is important for other reasons. Safety, for example.

This is widely accepted in the urban renewal field. Jane Jacobs, the doyenne of intelligent urban renewal, stressed the importance of retaining establishments with different hours of operation. Some businesses, like bakeries, should open early in the morning. Some should close at 5:00. Some should be open for dinner, and some, like cafes and bars, should be open after dinner. It's important to maintain a constant flow of foot traffic. You don't want a block where the doors are all locked at 5:00 pm. That leads to empty and desolate streets, which invite trouble. Foot traffic provides safety. The presence of eyes--that of customers and proprietors--keep a city's streets safe at night...

Don't throw me off the cliff just yet. The idea of a downtown Elgin nightlife is not mine. This isn't a bizzarity I pulled out of my hat (though the word bizzarity is). This idea was here long before I ever started yakking, and it has an official and impressive pedigree. It is enshrined in the Center City Master Plan, which envisions a 24-hour downtown Elgin. I'm not pulling your beard. Here's the proof:
The guiding vision is based on eleven goals that, together, ensure an integrated approach to revitalizing downtown Elgin and its riverfront.

Goal Number 3: Create a "24-hour" downtown
But are we committed to this vision? Or was its formulation just a case of consultant's utopia and our acceptance of it then a brief lapse in judgment?

Entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, developers, retailers, investors, banks and I would love to know.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem to be frustrated with the way things are progressing with the "new" downtown.

Wasn't Gilliam the one who said that the downtown was almost finished? I believe he said that just a few months ago. He couldn't be further from the truth. Elgin has a long way to go to fully revitalize as some like to say. That word means nothing if you can't truly believe in it beyond rhetoric.

Was it Mayor Schock who made the rally cry that we should all get off our behinds and get over to the Centre, since Elgin's BMI number is large for a suburb? According to what he says, however, he hasn't been in the Centre for some time.

The point to all this blather is that these people don't seem to have a real plan, save for nice quotes and big money going to the same contractors. Moreover, do these people frequent the downtown businesses that they chastise? If not, they have no place passing judgement. It's late, so I'll wrapup.

Now don't get me wrong. I feel what has happened and what will happen is an improvement. But I must agree with you: Elgin loves to make things difficult for those people, businesses that try to make roots in the downtown. A neighborhood bar can be a legitimate business. There are many in Chicago's yuppie enclaves and they're all respectable. Who are these people running Elgin? Puritans? Here's a thought: live a little, take some risks and enhance your city's already dynamic flavor.

You can't have it both ways,and if they try to, this downtown will end up being quite a sterile place.

8:47 PM  
Blogger The Elginite said...

Thanks for the comment. I couldn't agree with you more that we need to accept some risks in making the downtown a dynamic place.

Like you, I like downtown revitalization, and think it's important to include new housing. But I don't think it's necessary to destroy landmarks to do so. When there are empty lots, such as north of the GBL, those empty lots should be the preferred place to build new buildings.

Again, thanks for the comment. And thanks for following the blog.

4:30 PM  

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