Editorial: Walk the downtown bumpoutsPublished 9:56am Thursday, July 26, 2012
The city has placed orange markers at the junction of Broadway Avenue and William Street because it wants feedback on what are called bumpouts.
We suggest Albert Lea residents judge the bumpouts not merely from the seat of an automobile but also from the view of a pedestrian. Get out and walk, then decide.
Bumpouts shorten the distance that pedestrians have to walk to cross an intersection. Believe us when we say we have witnessed motorists drive from Refunds USA across the street to Shoff Chiropractic.
Making downtown Albert Lea more pedestrian-friendly gives it a better sense of place, which could happen during the city’s proposed remodeling of the downtown streetscape. That’s because downtown merchants in any city benefit greatly from window browsing. The more pedestrian-friendly a downtown can become, the more viable and vibrant it remains.
Besides, there is human nature at work, too. When a person is in a car and sees people walking around, it seems like a place to be. They want to get out and walk around and join the crowd, too. When a person is in a car and sees nothing but other people in cars or just going straight from stores to cars, there’s little to no desire to get out.
If a downtown is to compete with other business areas in its city, it must have a strong sense of place. It must be the cultural heart of the city. Residents should frequently ask themselves, “Hmm. I wonder what’s going on downtown.”
Albert Lea’s downtown merchants have taken excellent measures in this direction — such as Strawberry Festival, Albert Lea Farmers Market, expanded Fourth of July plans, Wind Down Wednesday, ACT managing the Ross Center, the American Legion staying open, Christmas and Halloween events — but there is more to go.
It has a morning attraction in the form of a coffee house. It is growing in terms of salons and spas. It still is the financial center. A big step would be evening activities that attract middle-age-and-older residents: another choice for a sit-down restaurant (Italian would be nice), a classy bar with wide selection that people don’t feel embarrassed for entering, sidewalk or outdoor seating, guest regional or national artists showing their work at the Albert Lea Art Center, romantic two-location deals (such as couples learning to spin clay or waterpaint on Valentine’s Day at the Art Center, followed by trying wines at Crescendo) and, of course, live outdoor music that doesn’t hurt the ears.
That is because — news flash! — there are empty-nesters and thirtysomethings alike in Albert Lea seeking cultural life, and no other part of a city can provide a better sense of culture and a sense of place than downtown.
The formula is simple and it has worked in downtowns from White Plains, N.Y., to Ellensburg, Wash., to Prairie du Chien, Wis.: Become the clear cultural center of the city and downtown becomes the retail hub once again. Things like specialty stores spring up. But to be a cultural center, a place must be walkable.
So when you walk the bumpouts, think about the entire future of the downtown. Imagine what it takes to have a vibrant downtown. Does Albert Lea want to be another decaying Midwest city that has given up and is stuck in 1975 automobile-is-king thinking or does it want to be the kind of place that continues to surprise and impress visitors with its beauty and charm?