Downtown, mall area have different strengths

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

I attended the presentation on downtown parking at City Hall. As expected, there were some negative reactions to the statement that we need to look at “changing the culture” in Janesville, with regard to transportation and parking.
On its face, this does seem a bit harsh and condescending. However, when looking at this from the perspective of a city planner, with long-term goals in mind, we do seem to have boxed ourselves into a corner, with our auto centric approach to planning.
Many cities, large and small, have been very successful at reviving their downtowns, even with minimal parking present. But many Janesville residents have become so accustomed to the retail layout of Milton Avenue that they assume we need to “remake” our downtown to duplicate the success of the northeast side. This will simply never work, and we have historical precedent to prove it.
Retailers left downtown because of the pull of Interstate 90—they're not going to come back simply because there is space available. Business and property owners should realize that downtown and the northeast side should complement, rather than compete with one another. One caters to customers engaging in quick, convenient shopping trips—go in, find what you need, and move on. The other offers unique, specialized shops and services, and many people come for the atmosphere, casually perusing the shops, and lingering around for a while.
 Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of both will allow for a more efficient, streamlined planning and development process citywide.

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