A better Barr Street, or a barren one?

April 8, 2008 at 7:14 pm 3 comments

(Jon) We at The Good City are all for downtown development, but I wonder if the improvements happening on Barr Street will have anything more than a cosmetic effect.

Above is the artist’s rendition of what the area will look like. The Journal Gazette said this:

Over the next three months, the city will fulfill a plan to make Barr Street more attractive with new trees, sidewalks, streetlights and curbs.

The streetscape project is part of downtown improvement plans and will enhance the Cultural District on the east side of downtown.

The city of Fort Wayne says this was a good street to develop:

City officials selected this area for investment because of the buildings already in place — Fourth Wave, the History Center and Barr Street Market, Renaissance Square and the First Source building.

“We don’t want to put in new trees and sidewalks in an area that could soon be under construction,” said Redevelopment Director Greg Leatherman. “Since this section of Barr Street is already developed, it was a perfect place for us to put these ideas into action.”

The street is developed, but consider how it’s developed. Below is a photo:

The street is not much more than parking lots and blank walls. On one side, the First Source building offers the street enormous garage doors. On the other side is a blank brick wall.

A block south, the Renaissance Plaza building is no better with its mirrored windows.

As David Sucher writes in City Comforts, a pedestrian friendly street is lined with buildings with permeable walls — this connects the inside of the building to the sidewalk.

In the artist’s rendition at the top, the white pavilion with tables and people is now a parking lot — but there are no real plans for anything but a parking lot.

And without on-street parking, Barr Street remains very wide. That encourages drivers to speed and discourages pedestrian traffic.

Hopefully, the trees and curbs will help. But with buildings and parking lots that discourage pedestrians, the Barr Street experiment won’t bring a lot of pedestrians to the street.


Entry filed under: Downtown, Jon Swerens, Urbanism. Tags: , , , , .

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  • 1. Zachary Benedict  |  April 9, 2008 at 5:54 am

    I have always seen this street as a great opportunity to become an extension of the park and Arts United Campus to the north. These “blank” brick walls (i.e. the Verizon building) would make great back drops for art installations such as sculpture, fabric, lighting, etc. and begin to reintroduce the idea of Barr Street being a pedestrian connection from the Barr Street market to Headwaters Park. I agree that new trees and banners won’t change the vitality of the street at all, but if it is treated as an extension of a sculpture park and/or Friemann Square, it may begin to have a unique and “walkable” personality.

  • 2. Jon Swerens  |  April 9, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    I agree with you, Zach, and good points. But my fear is that it “won’t work,” and then efforts at building future pedestrian oriented spaces will be curtailed.

    Curbs and trees are important, but if this doesn’t become as popular as desired, I hope the city realizes the deficiencies of the streetscape.

  • 3. Tom Cain  |  April 9, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Please don’t take the rendering verbatim. It is an illustration from the Downtown Blueprint that shares a vision of Barr St as a more lively place than it presently is. Public infrastructure that looks like it ties the arts venues together along Barr St. is a start. The vision includes making blank frontages into lively ones. Don’t forget Park Place Grill, conveniently not shown in the photo, just to the right. And the Barr St. Market, used Saturdays in the summer, just out of view. Public infrastructure alone is not intended to cure all Downtown’s problems. It can set the stage for adjacent private development and help establish a personality for a district, giving it an identity. And make the area safer and more interesting to walk in the interim.

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