Monday, March 02, 2009

Permanence or Success

Michael Earl Patton brings up an interesting idea involving public projects and their "permanence" over at the Arkham Beacon.
Streetcar advocates argue that rails in the roadway promote the idea of permanence to real estate developers, merchants and others. If you are old enough, you probably remember driving over the abandoned rails of the last streetcar systems. Then, again, even though the old streetcars are gone, many of the current bus routes are nearly the same as the old streetcar routes.
Patton goes on to discount the city's Skywalk system. It was designed to separate people from traffic, provide a shelter from the elements and to build a second story of retail and services in the same geographical footprint. Then, again, if you are old enough, you remember just going into buildings and walking up the stairs to businesses on upper floors. Another goal was to recreate and compete with the suburban mall experience downtown.
I tend to wince when I hear the streetcar argument of permanence. I think the real issue is how long does something have to work to be considered a success ? One generation ? Two ? A hundred ?
The real goal of the streetcar is to recreate/rejuvenate viable neighborhoods. If that is done and lasts 30 - 40 years but the streetcar is abandoned in 20 years, it is not too permanent but it will have been a success.
But even then, if we are talking about just the idea of permanence - if potential developers and residents actually perceive something as permanent, isn't that sufficient ?.

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