The recent commentary in the Reporter on the Town Center’s inadequate parking has been helpful. I’ve lived on the Island for a decade now. Throughout, city leaders have stressed the importance of making the Town Center more shopper-friendly and walkable. Despite much new construction, little real progress has been made.
As others have commented, the Town Center remains a crazy quilt of ample private parking lots, cloistered below-building lots, and a few difficult-to-navigate public spaces. Without a friendly parking environment, you simply cannot have a commercially successful and appealing downtown.
While we certainly have to keep the pressure on our leaders to come up with better solutions, in my view, we also have to take one more big step. We need to admit to ourselves that downtown’s underlying layout is fundamentally flawed.
Seventy-seventh Avenue is a river-wide boulevard that consumes more roadway than necessary. Seventy-eighth Avenue is visually appealing, but it is so constricted and cut up by berms that it frustrates the shopper whether you’re travelling by car or foot. Most damaging, the hodgepodge of the mini-shopping centers and larger stores with patrons-only lots is affirmatively hostile to parking, strolling and shopping.
If city leaders really want to transform the Town Center, they need to take a multi-decade view of how, over time, the basic layout might be adjusted to better serve everyone’s interest in a more vibrant — rather than tolerable — downtown. Without that holistic, long-term view, we seem destined to tinkering around the edges, to ongoing frustration, and to a downtown that tries to look shoppable but really isn’t.
Seldom-used benches slapped on the sidewalk, more plantings and more signs pointing us to pigeon-hole, below-building parking won’t get us there.