St. Albans WV: Welcome Back Motorists!

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

The battle to shape the urban landscape continues, with plenty of planners considering cars machina non gratis. Despite the automotive demonization, some cities have realized that pedestrianization sacrifices commerce on the altar of political correctness. Providence, Rhode Island and other urban centers have learned that lesson the hard way. Add St. Albans, West Virginia to the list. The Sunday Gazette-Mail reports that the town is about to re-open the pedestrianized city center to four-wheeled travelers, hoping to recapture lost biz from the suburban malls. The move is in sync with former New York City urban planner Alexander Garvin theories, as found in The American City, What Works, What Doesn't. "Well-conceived, privately managed shopping centers manipulate the flow of customers from their point of arrival to their destinations. For the most part, cities are unable to do this because they neither own the properties that abut the public streets nor determine who will lease them. In short, "pedestrianization cannot attract a market where none exists."

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Carlisimo Carlisimo on Jul 29, 2007

    I think pedestrian-friendly cities, where you can walk from home to a bunch of different types of shops, are great. I drive to them and spend a day walking around spending money pretty often. But even in Europe, or in college towns here, that doesn't obviate the usefulness of a car. You need to bring in people and let your people get out beyond your tiny borders.

  • Radimus Radimus on Jul 30, 2007

    Pedestrianization always did strike me as a nice idea in theory but lousy in practice. It really only works if you have two things going: Enough people living within or close by the zone to make it pay or enough of a reason to make people want to go to the hassle of driving to the zone, parking somewhere outside it, and walking around in it. The problem with the former is that urban living isn't fashionable to most people who can afford land, and the problem with the latter is that the zone is completely unattractive to anyone who isn't willing to spend a good chunk of time it in. The person running a quick errand or two isn't going to bother with it. With more to do than that they might, but if they still have to head out to some strip mall because they cannot get everything done in the zone then the zone looses since the rest of the errands can probably be accomplished at the same mall or somewhere on the way.

  • Omnivore Omnivore on Jul 30, 2007

    It's unsurprising that cities are getting rid of their pedestrian malls. Any contemporary urban planner worth his or her salt knows that cities are at their most vital when there is a mix of access modes. If city planning allows for either the car or the pedestrian to be dominant, then it will fail. Both downtown pedestrian malls and downtown parking lots/garages tip the balance artificially in one direction or the other. Successful cities organically (dare I say ecologically?) balance the needs of cars, pedestrians, cyclists, trains, and everybody else into an urban ecosystem.