For downtowns, architecture is destiny. That’s why downtown revivalists across the country seek to create interesting, festive-built environments.
The usual formula is to take a few dozen square blocks of decaying Victorian commercial structures and figure out ways to finance infrastructure and encourage investment. If all goes well, presto! In a few years, you’ve got an insufferably cool new neighborhood, crammed with lofts, boutiques, upscale bars and restaurants and cool young people doing cool young things.
We’re lucky. Despite the feckless decisions of bankers, planners, landlords and would-be developers during the 1960s, 70s and 80’s, we still have a reasonably intact downtown, especially with the addition of the Mining Exchange Hotel. But except for hotel, and a few lively blocks on Tejon , downtown is a little drab, a little dull, a little uninspired. If there were a local ‘meh’ list, downtown would be on it.
Granted, the downtown streetscape is vastly improved since, say, 1992. Art on the Streets, bumped-out street corners, pavers instead of cracked concrete, trees and flowers replacing yet more cracked concrete, faux-Victorian streetlights replacing 50s faux-functionalism – it’s all good.
But downtown lacks a unifying theme, a signature architectural element that can tie together, identify, and dignify downtown.
Here’s a suggestion: let’s copy the Short North district in Columbus, Ohio.
Short North is a successfully gentrifying mixed-use neighborhood close to the capitol city’s core. It contains elements of Denver neighborhoods such as Highlands, LoDo, or even South Broadway. Its mix of residential and commercial uses, focused on High Street, a central retail avenue that looks a lot like Tejon. A recent article in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/08/realestate/commercial/in-columbus-ohio-the-short-north-arts-belt-is-thriving.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all) described the area’s 30-year evolution from scruffy to artsy.
Neighborhood historians, finding that wooden commemorative arches had been erected across High Street during the 1880’s, decided to replicate them – and then some. Using funds generated by a downtown special improvement district to help pay for them, 17 lighted steel arches were sited along High Street, spanning the avenue at regular intervals.
These airy neo-Victorian structures define the street and the neighborhood. Substantial, inviting and celebratory, they both lift the spirit and impart a sense of security and permanence.
So why not copy Columbus, or Paris or even Manitou Springs? That city’s welcoming arch, forlornly situated in the midst of “no man’s land,” has been held in affectionate regard since it was first erected.
Most of all, a dozen and half arches, spaced at regular intervals on Tejon from the Pioneers Museum to Boulder Street, would be fun, festive and, we could claim, unique to our fair city.
Columbus? Columbus? Never been there…