Friday, August 14, 2009

Let's talk window shopping

The Caldwell Street item sparked some interesting back-and-forth (here's a link) about whether one-way or two-way makes much of a difference for pedestrian comfort.

One commenter points out that the newly reconfigured intersection of Stonewall and Caldwell is so wide that it isn't pedestrian friendly (or bicycle friendly or even motorist friendly) at all. Others say sidewalk width and street-level retail are more important.
Here's my take: They're all important.

If the sidewalk is narrow (one commenter mentions Seventh Street uptown between Seventh Street Station parking deck and Tryon) pedestrians will be turned off.

If there's nothing interesting to look at – that is, if you're walking on a wide sidewalk but you're going past a vacant corporate plaza, a surface parking lot, a parking deck, a blank office wall, or even windows into office buildings – pedestrians will be turned off.

And if the cars are zooming past, as they tend to do on one – way streets when the lights are timed to let you cruise at 35 and hit them all green – then pedestrians will be turned off.

So reverting one-way to two-way is a good first step but if it's the only step it may be a waste of time. I continue to maintain that street-level retail shopping (or as the late jeweler and City Council member Al Rousso used to cry, "Window-shopping! We need window-shopping!") is what's key for uptown, and it's going to be incredibly difficult to achieve because:

• We've spent two decades demolishing storefront buildings until the few that remain are too far from each other to create any retail synergy.

• The city's uptown zoning still allows new development without street-front retail. It requires ground-floor retail, not street-front. Thus we get Founder's Hall and the shops inside office towers. To window-shop requires leaving the sidewalks and streets entirely. Unless you're in an urban scene as dense with stores and lively sidewalks as, say, New York or Paris, that's anti-urban.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I think you bring up some good points. Whenever I'm walking around uptown I feel like I make it down Tryon in a flash, and that's because there's never anything to stop me. All I'd like to do is be able to stop by a few places to see whats inside, be it art galleries, shops, or restaurants. And you're right, Founder's Hall doesn't tend to attract the attention of anyone other than those working there.

I also agree that we need to make sure we have more complete streets that are friendly to everyone, but especially peds.

J said...

Let me offer another perspective. I just spent some time in Minneapolis. I keep hearing that MLPS inspired our Overstreet Mall, and that planners are now convinced that a skyway system of this sort and street-front retail are mutually exclusive. That is utter nonsense. There are 80 blocks connected by the MLPS skyway system, and they have... get ready for this... MAJOR street-front retail - Macy's, Nordstrom, Saks Off Fifth, Target, to name a few.

Charlotte's problem is that we did both Overstreet and street-front retail half-@$$ed so that neither one of them works well, and each option says they cannot exist with the other one present.

capt. obvious said...

Good luck changing the zoning to require storefronts. The zoning dept won't change anything without developer support, and what developer would want to build something practical? "Uptown" boosters cheered the Epicentre - why wasn't anyone at the time asking why its inside out? Its been called CityFair 2 and I wouldn't be surprised if that came true within a few years.

If you ask most any person in this city what it could use downtown, they would say shopping. Specifically storefronts. So why is no one building it?!?!? There are still a few sprinkled here and there that are empty. Too bad they're owned by idiots.

Anonymous said...

Mary, before you can have your plethora of ground and/or street level shops in uptown Charlotte, you need to have people – a heck of a lot more than the 8,000 to 10,000 who supposedly live there now. Retail follows the people, not vice-versa.

SouthPark neighborhoods boomed and then came the mall. Pineville boomed and then came the mall. Ditto for the northside, Ballantyne, etc. Too bad the recession slowed down the uptown condo boom.

Even if gasoline soars to a consistent $5.00 a gallon, folks in the aforementioned areas of the city or county would just switch to shopping closer to home. I don’t care how many light-rail trains or buses you throw into the mix, residents are still not going to move en masse to center city, or shop “uptown”. The only way that would happen is if city council passed a law requiring all the Walmarts, Targets, Best Buys and T. J. Maxx’s to locate only in center city.

And then no one would shop there because the high rent would only lead to higher-priced products.

Having the wealthy attempt to retrofit a 200-year-old center city is a fool’s errand. Developers aren’t going to sacrifice. They want a quick and lucrative return on investment. But if they only build luxury condos, the only ones able to live there will be uptown workers who earn sufficiently high salaries to afford them, and a few wealthy empty nesters moving back from the ‘burbs on a whim. Most retirees and the middle class will neither be living nor shopping there.

We’d need a lot more tourist attractions than the NASCAR museum to bring in temporary crowds that might sustain many of the uptown stores. And for a city which is already slipping in its major industry – finance – we’d need several more diverse Fortune 500 companies there to generate the pay that would enable employees to buy the condos or rent the apartments that provide the reason for their owners to shop there.

The solution is to pray for more fuel-efficient, lower-polluting, cheaper hybrid and electric cars to sustain the sustainable, instead of wishing for the unobtainable.

If CCP, the Chamber and City Council would put as much effort into improving and maintaining city streets as they do into moving everything into the center city, we could focus on the real problems facing ALL of Charlotte.

Anonymous said...

How much "synergy" has the arena provided?


Time to find a new vapid buzzword.

Anonymous said...

"The fall of a great nation is always a suicide" Arnold Toynbee

The Spoofer said...

All that the powers-that-be need to do is take off their blinders and move the mythical limits of “center city” to the edge of our existing city limits. That definition would be valid, because the city of Charlotte is the center of this region, and its suburbs sprawl across Union, Gaston, Cabarrus, York counties, etc. Voila! We’d automatically have more ground and street level shopping, more people, more attractions, etc. in “center city”. With that pressing problem solved, and the Chamber of Commerce and Center City Partners finally satisfied, maybe they’d focus on other parts of Charlotte that really need attention.

As a side benefit, the Observer could save money by reducing the number of “neighborhood” issues of its Sunday Neighbors section. They could just continue to publish the Center City issue. (No need to thank me for saving your job, Mary).

consultant said...

Over the last 40 years or so, we've created commercial and residential architecture that has turned its back on community.

Downtowns are mostly one huge void, with no one on the street. The mixed use projects are a start, but the rest of our downtown areas require major retrofitting.

Our homes? Look at them. Most stuff built in the last 30 years orients the family to the back yard, or, what's happening inside. The public realm and the street are completely ignored.

I've long thought that is one reason why caring for "community" has declined so much in this country.

Anonymous said...

Changing those streets to two-way only doubles the chance that the self-absorbed cellphone-constantly-to-ear crowd, whether they be pedestrian or motorist, will be involved in an accident.

But if that helps thin fools from the herd, it may not be such a bad thing after all.

The Jetsons said...

Window-shopping became obsolete with the arrival of the Internet, the impact of which on retail trade was lost on Al Russo's generation, and even on the current clueless uptown merchants.

As webcam usage, high-speed connectivity, and computer literacy increase, not only will street-level retail become unnecessary, but commercial real estate will take a nose dive as firms realize it is just as feasible (and much cheaper) to let employees work from home. I predict the two-earner household will be replaced by the three or four-earner variety of such persons, all working for multiple employers from their house.

Or, we can climb into our horse and buggy and pretend that storefronts along uptown streets are the next big thing.

Anonymous said...

Taxation is theft.

Anonymous said...

Taxation is streets, police, schools, colleges, firemen, medics, Social Security, Medicare, water, sewers,homeland security, Army, Navy, Air Force..........etc.

If all those who think taxation is theft would give willingly and voluntarily to support the services they enjoy, we could end taxation!