Thursday, July 30, 2015

Falling in Love Every Day

There are some days where I can't believe I get to do something I love so much, and I've had a few weeks of falling in love every day. Last week at the City Manager's conference at Boyne Mountain I got to hang out with people I love, present to a large group for the first time in my new job and watch placemaking in action at a great event on Boyne City's waterfront. I had great meetings in Traverse City with potential partners/funders on ways we can work together. 

This week I got to focus on my own town as we sought to convert Capitol Avenue in Downtown Lansing (#ConvertCapAve). Back in February we had a design firm review Capitol Avenue, and it needs a lot of help. It's a main artery through downtown with no retail or life (it's mainly office space). We decided to inject some life into it by turning two blocks of parking spaces into "parklets" (inspired by the park(ing) day movement). We reserved parking spaces and closed one lane of traffic in the extraordinarily wide street for two days and created public space instead of car space.

Do I think we should have parks on the street on Capitol all the time? I don't know. What I do know: 

1) Capitol Avenue is way too wide. There was never, even for a minute, a backup of traffic with one driving lane closed. Also I could do this for several minutes mid-day:

You can't even SEE a car in the background.

2) There is an overabundance of parking in downtown Lansing. Just because you can't park directly in front of the Capitol doesn't mean there's "nowhere to park". Stop being lazy people. Walking a block won't kill you. The amount of parking downtown is a little ridiculous. Do you know what happens in vibrant cities? You have to circle the block sometimes repeatedly to park. Eliminating those parking spaces for a few days had zero impact on anyone's ability to find parking.

The project was intended to get people to think differently about using the space and how Capitol Avenue would feel if it were more narrow or two way. The response was exceedingly positive. We have dozens of great suggestions from citizens about what they want to see along that stretch. People were engaged. People were excited. Random strangers sat down and enjoyed the parklets. I got to spend two days outside in the gorgeous hot summer weather talking to people about my neighborhood, and that's pretty much the best work week ever. 

Starting city indoctrination young with my son in our parklet's sandbox

What do I want to see on Capitol Avenue? People. Life. Street cafes. Storefronts in the parking garages instead of faceless brick. A hotel with first floor retail and a great restaurant where city hall currently sits. I want downtown to be more than one street. Capitol Avenue fronts arguably Michigan's most beautiful anchor institution. I want an invitation to slow down and enjoy it. 

The last two weeks have reminded me repeatedly how much I love communities and being part of creating better places. I'm behind on marathon training, emails and I have four presentations in the next two weeks that I haven't started working on yet. But I've fallen in love every day, and that is what really matters.

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