Sunday, May 12, 2013

A big ho hum

The new management of Westdale Mall rolled out their plans for redeveloping the moribund commercial space. It may work for them, but from the community perspective it's nothing special. It does nothing to make connections where they are lacking in this city, and does nothing to prepare for a future without cheap oil.

Here's the new map, from Friday's Gazette...
(Cedar Rapids Gazette, 10 May 2013, p. 1A)

... which also has an online report with pretty pictures.

This is definitely old stuff. What they're essentially going to do is rearrange the many many parking spaces, and reconfigure the stores. Beyond the parking lots, the new Westdale will be no better integrated into the city than the old one was. Westdale is an island of sorts, bordered by wide roads that bear heavy car traffic: Williams Boulevard, Edgewood Road, Wilson Avenue and 29th Avenue. It's part of a bigger swath of land from 16th Avenue to US 30 that is a hideous succession of commercial strips. To see what I mean, map a location like "2315 Williams Blvd SW, Cedar Rapids IA 52404" and zoom out to see the area around it.

The designers' schematics all show happy people walking, but they all got there by car. Technically you could walk or bike to the new Westdale--just as you can now--but you would be foolish to make the attempt.

To be fair, changing the future is probably too much to expect from one project, which is about converting underutilized space back into profitable commercial territory. There arguably is some public interest in achieving this modest goal, although the $10 million the city is expecting to kick in is surely excessive. But for those who hope to make Cedar Rapids a better place to live, the new Westdale will be a big ho hum.

I wish they'd put the casino out there.

[Added 10/7/13: TED Talk by Ellen Dunham-Jones on retrofitting suburbia, with many more imaginative ideas]

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