I vent a bit of frustration at the Boston Globe for suggesting that we should open the pedestrian mall at Downtown Crossing to cars, to increase the popularity of the area.The Globe editors had a horrible idea today.
IT MAY take more than free wireless Internet, increased code enforcement, or even the addition of a popular, moderately priced department store to enliven Downtown Crossing. Counterintuitive as it may seem, what the struggling downtown pedestrian mall might really benefit from is the return of automobiles.
"Counterintuitive" is an understatement.
For those of you not familiar with the area, Downtown Crossing is where all the subway lines come together; the Blue line, the Green line, the Red line, the Orange line, the Silver line. The gang's all here. There are some large chain stores, like TJ Max (forgive me for not looking up the proper spelling or punctuation), Macy's, Filene's and Barnes & Noble. There are a billion cell phone stores, Staples, Starbucks, a bunch of random lunch-oriented food places and carts, some banks, some clothing stores --- pretty typical stuff.
This is my favorite quote from the editorial.
Downtown Crossing's open turf provides too many congregating points for vagrants. The reintroduction of automobiles could restore the natural urban balance where space is precious.
Who gets to decide what this "natural urban balance" is? Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman?
Downtown Crossing looks grungy. There are a lot of pigeons, there are young black men in baggy clothing selling homemade rap CDs. There's an old white guy blaring Pink Floyd out of a portable stereo at 9am selling newspapers. Sometimes he has a sidekick. There are people who don't speak good English staffing various pushcarts. There are, in fact, many "vagrants" congregating.
Apparently people are worried that the dirt might rub off on them. Not to say that people don't get hurt in crimes. To address that, perhaps we ought to hire some police officers, and consider our social welfare programs and the state of the general economy, instead of using the money to build more parking garages.
But hold on, part of what makes this suggestion absurd is that you can already drive into Downtown Crossing. We are not talking about a large area that is pedestrian-only here. It's far smaller than something like the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, smaller than the similar area in Salem, MA. In fact, it's smaller than the Meijer (think Wal-Mart) parking lot in Rochester Hills, MI. I'd wager that no point of Downtown Crossing is more than 75 feet away from a place you can drive, and I think I'm being conservative. It is a tiny patio of public space in an ocean of highways and streets. The real issue is parking.
They don't like the kind of people congregating there, so they want to eliminate the space where those people congregate. Those people are getting in the way of these people going to Target. This is an explicit use of automobiles and their infrastructure by one group of classes to disappear another group of classes. As if those people just grew out of the pedestrian concrete, and when the pedestrian concrete is gone, they will simply vanish along with it.
Can we think a little deeper, please?