I have to admit I have a difficult time getting back into school after spring break, so I apologize ahead of time if my post is not particularly moving or insightful. This week’s reading was really interesting, but I am going to try and focus on a few ideas that really stuck out to me. Chapter 9 and chapter 11 were enjoyable readings since they followed very closely to my interests in the histories of downtowns and sprawl. The readings have helped to reinforce the vital role that historic preservation plays in creating dynamic and interesting communities. I think that is why I have had an interest in the Main Street program before this, because it is a way that communities can revitalize their downtown areas while being pursuing preservation. Like the book points out, historic preservation needs to be a part of growth, a part of changing communities. It can’t be preservation for preservation sake, but also needs to consider preserving a way of life or shopping habits by working to keep established businesses in the core.
One of the downsides of this discussion that I need to address is to ask the question: Why do we need to preserve our downtowns? To some they are the remnants of a time when things needed to be centralized, and they served all people’s needs. But today, with sprawling shopping centers and big box stores, what else can a downtown be but office towers? Don’t get me wrong, I love downtowns and believe whole-heartedly that they should be preserved, and all I want to do is work and live in downtown. But downtowns are no longer the same places that they once were, and people struggle monumentally to keep them the same. The book proposes restrictive zoning that would force ‘traditional downtown’ business types to stay downtown, but is this really the answer? It didn’t work in Boise when they tried to force a mall into the downtown; they fought from the 1960s to the mid 1980s before they gave up and the mall located where it wanted to, which was the suburbs. I love downtowns and want them to stay viable and successful, but I think we need to re-envision something different (other than restrictive zoning) for them that will actually give them a fighting chance.
This leads directly into chapter eleven’s discussion of preserving farmland and open spaces on the periphery of cities. I find that I am also very passionate about preserving rural landscapes and working farms for both the environmental and historic Preservation arguments. I think that if we can combat sprawl this way, revitalizing our downtown cores will come naturally. I am also very interested in how to increase cultural tourism in Boise. I think it will give current residents a better sense of place, it will bring new people here and our local economy will improve, as well as our livability.