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
"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"
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?