Saturday, May 08, 2010

Downtown Courthouse - Guilty of bad planning

The new Downtown courthouse is scheduled to open up this summer. The building is striking, although I'm not sure if I'd call it modern. It has this 1960's futuristic look to me. However from the rear the building it is cold and dreary, which is more than disappointing considering that side faces the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast. Why wasn't more consideration given to how this design and this building would fit into the community?

Such considerations don’t seem to have entered into the decision to build the new courthouse Downtown. The senior citizens who live nearby have expressed concern about the 'element' the new courthouse will bring and the impact on their safety. Businesses located near the current courthouse have expressed concern about the potential impact on their business. And of course the lack of parking has always been a concern.

It seems that any of these concerns were brushed aside by those few in power who decided that downtown was THE perfect location for the new courthouse.

Now it is here and we'll find out for sure how it impacts, safety and business. Let's hope our leaders were right in their thinking. However we’re still faced with a problem that the city has long put off, a lack of parking.

How can we still have no parking solution in place? In a recent Herald News article Ken Fiola says it will all work out. How? You either have enough parking or you don't. If there is enough parking, then sure after some growing pains it will sort itself out. What if we don't? How tough is it going to be to come up with a solution after the fact?

A letter to the editor published in the Herald brings up a good short-term solution. The city could locate an available lot and provide a shuttle service back and forth. What about long-term? I still think a possible solution would be to build a parking garage or high-rise with parking on the lower levels, at the location of the current district courthouse at 45 Rock Street. We could also look into building such a structure at the location of the old police station, which would give us a reasonable eminent domain claim for the property.

Back in the mid-70’s South Main Place was built with the idea that it would revitalize downtown. Three decades later it was torn down to make way for this new courthouse, which is supposed to help, revitalize downtown! In both cases I wonder if they’re guilty of bad planning.


Taurus3254JA said...

I read the recent article in the Herald News about the parking situation, or shall I say, Lack of parking around the new Downtown "Justice Center". The way I see it the City of Fall River currently has two dilemmas on hand regarding the Downtown. One, being but of course the lack of parking in the Downtown area, and Two, a need for a permanent home for the SRTA Bus Terminal. So I thought to myself how can this be accomplished? Simple, The City purchases the St. Mary’s School property from the Diocese of Fall River, rehabilitates the current building into housing the SRTA Bus Terminal surrounded by green space with tree lines streets and a large loop driveway allowing Buses to enter from Second Street and exit onto Third and Rodman Streets. The first floor could house the Ticket Counter and a Visitor Information Center, a CafĂ© and News Stand and on the upper floors Office Rental space for Lawyers etc. The property where the current Bus Terminal trailer sits could be built upon as a new and desperately needed parking deck that could span Third Street and connect to the existing parking deck. Thus creating several much needed parking spaces above the street and resolving the issue of parking in the Downtown area.

Youth_in_Asia said...

The parking won't be as bad as everyone seems to think it's going to be. The employees and people who are utilizing the facility will be able to park long-term in nearby garages with little hassle. Shorter term users can park on the street. It's not very difficult to find a spot on the street even during the busiest hours, especially if you're willing to walk a block or two.

That being said, if you DO hope to sustain continued growth in downtown, you're going to need a new garage to expand parking capacity in the long run. The idea of a garage with offices (or any other mixed use) on top is great, but only if you put retail space on the ground floor. Parking garages are one of the biggest blights in an urban space (the only thing worse being vacant lots and surface parking lots). If you build a new one, it needs to be dressed up properly (i.e. retail at the pedestrian level) to blend well.

Urban centers (like downtown Fall River) were designed to accommodate the pedestrian first and foremost. If you switch to planning for cars first, you negate what the downtown district was designed for. If a pedestrian has to walk two blocks to court, that's a GOOD thing for local businesses (after all, they can stop and pick up a coffee, sandwich, etc between their car and their destination). When you add foot traffic, you get a more lively area. It's that simple, really. There is a catch 22 in revitalizing downtown areas like Fall River's. Busy (in terms of pedestrian activity) streets are attractive for businesses AND shoppers, while quiet streets are not (Downtown Fall River is mostly "quiet"). The problem is that in order to improve you need to attract more pedestrians and pedestrians are attracted to busy streets. It's hard to get one without the other. The courthouse will do this to a degree.

The bus station will also help. My one concern is the call for "Green Space." It seems at every proposal for a new development, residents (everywhere, not just Fall River) demand green space as if a patch of grass and trees is the solution to every problem. That's not the case. In fact, poorly planned green space is often times the cause of more trouble (let me ask, at night would you prefer walking through a big park, or a well-lit busy urban street?). Urban areas work because they're urban... dense pockets of pedestrian-friendly shops, restuarants, offices, etc. They're counter balanced by rhe occasional respite of green parkland, and plaza space. When you add "green space" to every new development you throw off the functioning ratio. Almost every new (since 1960) construction downtown has some form of open space (Government Center, the new Courthouse, the housing project along Central Street,and even the open plaza on the corner of S. Main and Anawan St). Government Center's is poorly planned. Even if it were green (covered in grass and trees), it would still be wasted space. Same goes for the New Courthouse's spot which will be void of activity too (just watch). How many of you go hang out at the park along Central Street? Didn't think so. How about even the grass in front of the library? Nope. A great park can do wonders for a neighborhood (see: Boston Common, Post Office Square, or even Heritage State Park), but a bad one can make it 100 times worse. If they're going to build the bus station and add green space, they need to do it right (it's hard to find a good example of newer parks... Post Office Square in Boston comes to mind, but not much else). I'm willing to bet we'll just get another "front yard" that appeases the masses in the renderings but turns into nothing more than a suburban development in what should be a vibrant urban zone.

Lazurusisus said...

I think there is merit in much of what you have said, but I do think any chance we hyave to GREEN our enviornemt makes us better in the long run.

I see the downtown with numerous problems. Parking has been a serious long term problem and an impediment to revitalization of the CBD retail business. Also adding to that is the paultry mass transit servicing the City's polulation and truncated hours of operation. Yes, a CBD like ours should be made to induce and enhance foot traffic of the type the CDB neeeds, working and shopping types, the folks with disposable income.

Also, there needs to be more done to brinmg back legitimate retail outlets to the downtown area, as well as an effort to attract a wider display of the many cultures that exist in Fall River, opening ethnic restaurants, of which there is a market, in the CDB area. I'm not talking about high-priced meals by any means, but a higher grade than a Dunkin Donuts (which plays a vital role in a busy work enviornment), but something that will be a draw after the M-F, 9 to 5 hours. Bring back the businesses and and the shoppers that left 20-25 years ago to head out to malls in the area. It can be done....just look at a places like Harvard Square, Coolidge Corner in Brookline.
Yes it takes some imagination to think that someday the downtown of Fall River could be a place of community businesses and entertainment, but it could happen.

Why not re-create ourselves an arts and music center, and a cultural center as well, for all the many racial, ethnic and cultures that make up this City! Who could produc e better sea food than on the southcoast and right here, in Fall River...we'd have the freshest product possible!

If there was any way to provide parking on the outside of the CBD and make Main Street in front of the court house and the rest of the businesses there an open mall, with green areas and trees, a place for foot traffic only, that would work nicely....I think.

Lefty said...

I agree that there is a lot good thinking in these comments.

Taurus, I really like what you're suggesting for numerous reasons. One, I like that it would reuse an existing building. Holding on to our history is important and maintains the character of our city. Two, having the building house retail shops on the 1st floor would help expand the footprint of downtown beyond the traditional North and South Main stretch.

I also agree that creating foot traffic is key to bringing back any vibrancy to downtown. Although I do think small patches of green space add tremendously to ambiance of an area. I agree that their use should be judicial.

I also agree that developing our downtown with an arts and cultural economy is a must. I don't think traditional retail will ever come back to downtown but to be vibrant it needs more than 9-5 businesses.

The thing is there are people who are tying to move our downtown in that direction. To make it work it needs to be universally backed and the key consideration to every move the city makes. So far that hasn't happened. We've also got to realize it is not going to happen overnight. This city has a real problem with sacrificing long term goals for short term solutions. I think about the thoughts behind South Main Place and wonder could it have been successful if more effort had been made to reinvent downtown to fit that vision? I don't know but I think that maybe it could have been. IF that vision had brought with it more parking and an effort to restore the Academy Building with for independent movies and plays. If the mall had included outdoor eating areas and maybe some sidewalk shopping. But again to make it work would have required more than just throwing a mall downtown and to make the arts work requires more than just an overlay district.

Thankfully the Durfee Textile Building has been spared from the awful mistake of low income housing and hopefully will become a central piece of an arts development in our city. I would love to see it be a hub of activity. I can envision that it with the Armory building hosting festivals and events, closing that section of the Durfee Street to allow for street vendors and outdoor entertainment. It comes down to what to we envision for our downtown and making sure we stick to that vision and do nothing to contradict it.

Anonymous said...

The "traffic" is a great idea, but what kind of people will be part of this "traffic?" I will tell you: lowlife gang banging thugs. That's what. What kind of people do you think are at courthouses all the time? People who break the law. I understand why the old people across the street are having a fit. I understand the businesses are having a fit because of all the lowlife trash that will be loitering around Main Street all day. Fall River sucks now downtown...the court house will only make it worse. Delete this post and I will just repost it because I am not violating your nazi rules.

DAG said...

Those who make these plans are always exempt from any blame when their plan does not achieve the desired results. It just does not seem right that planning boards can make mistakes with other peoples money, (tax dollars) with no accountability.

Anonymous said...

First, the new courthouse is what, six blocks from the old one?

Why can't the people who work there walk over.

I am not surprised Ken Fiola screwed this up - just like he screwed up the bus station and everything else.

We should have put the bus station right IN the courthouse. They could have had a secure location for the bus station as well as transportation to the bus station.

Also - just so everyone knows - Mayor Flanagan spent today with Mike Herren getting him help to move into his now office on North Main and talking about the PBL.

Our mayor at work.

Anonymous said...

Will Flanagan = A Mental Midget With No Substance, a.k.a. Empty Suit