Local business THREE CELLARS had their plans for an outdoor Wine and Beer garden APPROVED last night by the Plan Commission.
Perhaps a step toward making the old strip mall on 76th and Rawson a more pleasant place to visit.
Local business THREE CELLARS had their plans for an outdoor Wine and Beer garden APPROVED last night by the Plan Commission.
Perhaps a step toward making the old strip mall on 76th and Rawson a more pleasant place to visit.
"Downtown" Franklin, Wisconsin.
An excerpt from HOW CITIES WORK: SUBURBS, SPRAWL, AND THE ROADS NOT TAKEN by Alex Marshall. See if you agree (more excerpts here):
It's a Saturday night and my house is filling with people. Some carry musical instruments. Some have sheets of poetry or fiction by their sides. Some carry nothing, but are prepared to stand up before a crowd of people and dance, perform theater, or tell a story.
We call it the Coffeehouse. We've been doing it now for seven years. The first Saturday of every month, friends and friends of friends come to our house to entertain and be entertained. Usually about fifty people show up. It's a great time.
This coffeehouse is the highlight of the month, both for me and many of the people who attend. It's not just the music, poetry, and other acts that bring people back, although these are good. It's the chance to meet, connect, and talk with other people during the breaks. Through it, my wife and I have met many of our now good friends, and other people have made similar friendships and bonds. In a city where people come and go, it provides us a mechanism to make new friends as older ones leave town.
Why do I mention it? Because our coffeehouse is a replacement for what does not exist in the outer world. And the fact that it does not exist says a lot about our society at this stage in its history. I would prefer that a corner tavern or bar be down the street, where I could magically meet my friends and make new ones. I would prefer to be held up in a naturally emerging web of friends and family, growing out of the physical place where I live and the work that goes on there.
Our situation is ironic, because if anyone should have community "naturally," it's my wife and I. We live in Norfolk, Virginia, a port city on the Elizabeth River, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. Huge carriers make their home here, as do huge cargo ships that freight millions of tons of coal all over the world.
It's been the home of my family on my father's side for five generations. My great-grandfather came here before the Civil War. He was the first publisher of the newspaper where I started my career in journalism, The Virginian-Pilot. My father grew up one block from where I write this. My wife is a native of the area as well. My newest niece lives down the street.
Looking at my background, one might think that I live a life rich in contacts with the past and the world that molded me, a place where an intricate and perhaps suffocating web of family and friends who have centuries of combined experience support, argue with, and love each other. Which is not the case. I have no close friends from my childhood or high school years that still live in this town, or even the state. Most of my siblings have scattered themselves around the country, as is the wont of professional people these days. Various relatives--second cousins once removed and so forth--do live near me. I know none of them well. As one commentator remarked about Europeans in contrast to Americans, "They still have cousins." Americans do not.
Various forces operating in the country and world today have pulled apart my "natural" community and scattered it to the winds. My own more cosmopolitan bent figures into this. I lived in Europe for a few years, attended college and graduate school in Pittsburgh and New York City. I am not able, nor do I desire, to sink back into the old-boy culture that does still exist here to a degree. I have a community around me, but it is one that I created or sought out, more than one I was born into. My community is in my coffeehouse, in the arts organizations I belong to, and in the civic work I do.
Community--the network of formal and informal relationships that binds people together--is a thin, tepid brew in this country. It has declined to the point where improving it, saving it, nurturing it have become slogans of a variety of movements in different, seemingly unrelated fields. In urban planning, New Urbanism promises to revive community through building subdivisions more cohesively. In political theory, Amiti Etzioni hopes to reduce crime and improve social health through his philosophy of Communitarianism. In journalism, the philosophy of Public Journalism, sometimes labeled Community Journalism, promises to rebuild community and a newspaper's circulation base by having the press foster public dialogue and political participation. Our politics, our places, our press--all of these things run across power lines that jolt us with the message that something is missing in too many of our lives, some sense of cohesion and togetherness.
This desire many people have for richer, more connected lives is a valid one. I believe that a society grows out of its social, religious, and political compacts, on which ultimately even market relationships depend. But like the construction of coherent physical places, the construction of coherent communities is not something to be attempted directly. Rather, one has to understand what produces both places and communities, and what weakens them, and address those forces.
Most of what we call community in the past has been produced as a byproduct of other things: making a living, shopping for food, keeping ourselves and our families well, protecting them and our society from physical harm, educating them. We shopped for groceries, served in the military, and went to a doctor and along the way got to know the butcher, the fellow soldier, and the local doctor. All of these actions have become less communal, and so our society has become less community-minded. We buy our food at the warehouse-style supermarket, do not serve in the military unless we volunteer, and go to the impersonal HMO to get our cholesterol checked. If we want to revive community, then we should look at the trade-offs involved in making some of our decisions more communal again.
Place has something to do with all this as well. Walking to a neighborhood cafe for breakfast is a more communal thing than using the drive-through at a McDonald's for an Egg McMuffin, although relationships can occur at either place. Driving on the freeway is less likely to generate relationships than riding a streetcar. Living in an older neighborhood fashioned around the foot is more communal than living in a contemporary one fashioned around the car. But the physical makeup of our places is just one factor in this trend.
John Perry Barlow, computer sage and former Grateful Dead lyricist, commented once that community is largely generated by shared adversity. This gets at the notion, true I believe, that our social ties, while beneficial, are not necessarily produced by situations we would choose. Although many of us miss community, we don't miss poverty, disease, and war, things that produce community with some regularity. The problem for contemporary Americans is that enhancing social cohesion may mean giving up some things we really like, like personal mobility, low taxes, and a footloose economic structure. We have not figured out yet that creating wealth is not the same as creating community.
I speak without any sentimentality or nostalgia for the past. I believe, however, that the generally fragmented lives so many of us lead break up marriages, disturb childhoods, isolate people when they most need help, and make life not as much fun. We live, to speak frankly, in one of the loneliest societies on earth. If we are to change that, then we should look more closely at the various relationships in our society--political, social, economic, and others--and attempt to construct them in more communal ways. Deciding how to structure these relationships comes back to what I increasingly believe is our most fundamental relationship--politics.
A follow-up to my post about contrasting sunny Sunday afternoons at Ferch's Malt Shoppe locations in two quite different environments. A comment was left by "Anon":
Yesterday, a beautiful Sunday (low humidity, mid-seventies), I traveled to Franklin's Shoppes at Wyndham Village to see how this relatively new component of the local "social ecosystem" was being utilized on such a perfect day.
The answer? Let's just say that all that were missing were tumbleweeds.
ABOVE: Ferch's in Franklin.
Blame the economy? The fact is, at that very hour (about 5pm), while the Shoppes at Wyndham Village version of Ferch's Malt Shoppe was completely customer-free, the original Ferch's in Greendale (see photo below, taken 45 minutes later) was bustling with people - as is typical - inside and out.
Two Ferch's on the same sunny afternoon. What's the difference?
I saw vehicles come and go from Target at the Franklin Shoppes complex on a fairly regular basis. From the looks of it, these were all fairly joyless excursions; single-purpose errands for practical necessities (though one guy came out with a flat-screen TV and a huge smile). Everyone took straight-line courses from their vehicle to the Target entrance and back again. Occasionally you would see someone emerge with a coffee cup, having stopped at Target's in-store Starbucks.
ABOVE: Ferch's in Greendale.
A different story at the original Greendale Ferch's. There is a shaded, building-enveloped courtyard; on this afternoon, every table save one or two were occupied. Young families, elderly couples, groups of teens, etc., all shared this comfortable space and casually interacted. People walked between the courtyard tables and the adjacent park and coffee shop (the small neighboring stores were mostly closed for the day), stopping periodically to greet neighbors and acquaintances. And almost everyone I passed said hi to me as well.
An adjacent park, welcoming "outdoor room" courtyard environment, pedestrian- and bike-friendly local streets, and attached neighborhood make Ferch's of Greendale a vibrant public space. And commercially lucrative.
Back at Wyndham Village, I noticed a couple of random benches on islands in the asphalt sea. I sat on one for a while -- long enough to contemplate exactly where I was. Why would anyone want to sit right here, in the middle of... nothing? What would bring a person to this particular bench in a strip mall like this, so obscenely out of synch with any sense of human scale?
Judging by the quizzical looks emanating from the windows of vehicles whizzing past me, I was not the only one wondering what I was doing there.
ABOVE: Ghost town.
I walked the entire Shoppes complex via the exposed strip of sidewalk; no enclosing "street wall" of mature trees and/or buildings to create a comfortable walking environment. I was the lone person on foot in the entire area for the entire period of my visit; again, cars passed me and looked me over as though I was dressed at the lead guitarist for KISS (which I was not). Needless to say, no one said "hi." After all, what the heck was I doing there?!?!
No, the people of Greendale are not inherently friendlier than the people in Franklin. This is an example of how our built environment creates us as much as we create it. Build formless, uninspiring, unwelcoming commercial spaces and you create single-purpose destinations that discourage the sorts of interaction and "lingering" that is crucial to the success of local (i.e. non-big box) businesses -- and, by extension, you strangle local economic livelihood. Who's in a hurry to lease space here as opposed to any other anonymous strip mall?
By contrast, Greendale offers a superior physical environment that attracts people whether or not they need to shop. The small, locally-owned businesses benefit, and a real community is maintained.
More on this later ...
More photos at: Shoppes at Wyndham Ghosttown - a set on Flickr:
At last night's Common Council meeting I presented a short description of my coffeeshop/co-working plan for the city civic center, and the council voted unanimously to allow myself and fellow Economic Development Commissioners to make queries in the city's name. It's a tiny step, but a vote of confidence for exploring this sort of nonstandard approach to encouraging economic development and active community space.
It was not without potholes. Not even an hour before the meeting, the mayor emailed me to note that he now recalled that the fire chief did indeed have possible plans to expand the fire department building and may desire the plot of land under discussion. Also, alderman Tim Solomon made it known at a meeting the night before that he was 100% against non-park, non-fire department usage of the land. Fortunately, there is quite a bit of open space in the area pictured above in which the concept could work; the building doesn't have to sit exactly where I initially planned. I was gratified by the unanimous affirmative vote and the supportive comments made from the council dais.
So, at this stage we question and query the "tentpoles"; MATC, Franklin High School, the Library (I met and enjoyed a long conversation with a library trustee last night; I'll speak at their next meeting), fire department, etc.
The idea is to gather the needed elements and put a "situation" in place so a Kinkos/FedEx or local-owned/franchise coffee shop can come in and feel comfortable with a nonstandard setup; one that enlivens community life, has an excellent educational and vocational training component, engages the "creative class," and stirs further walkable "commercial amenity" development in the area.
And off we go ...
Posted at 01:02 PM in Bicycling and Walking, Close to Home, Community Coffee-Shop/Workspace Co-venture, Community Concepts, Coworking, Current Affairs, Economic Development Commission, Food and Drink, Franklin Photos, Good news, Politics, Retail design, Things to do in Franklin, Third places, Traditional Neighborhood Development, Transparency | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
To move mountains, start with a scoopful of sand.
Here is the admittedly low-ball request for council action (hard to say "no" to something that costs nothing and obligates no one) related to my community co-venture coffee shop/co-working space scheme:
Posted at 12:58 PM in Close to Home, Community Coffee-Shop/Workspace Co-venture, Community Concepts, Coworking, Coworking sites, Current Affairs, Economic Development Commission, Food and Drink, Good news, Politics, Retail design, Third places, Traditional Neighborhood Development, Transparency | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
My last item on the agenda was titled simply: “Discussion Relating to City-Owned Land Between Fire Station and Public Library - Member Michlig.”
Call it a challenge. Call it a symbol. Call it tilting at windmills.
Franklin has never had any sort of “downtown”; in fact, city leaders have long disagreed on where the “city center” is. The strip mall intersection at Rawson and 76th? The new Shoppes at Wyndham Village? Sendik’s and long-languishing Fountains of Franklin at Rawson and 51st?
In truth, the only real -- and well-used, by the way -- public space in Franklin is the Public Library. It’s next to a public park, which in turn is next to a subdivision that has paths connecting it to the large play areas, tennis courts and shelters. Rental housing and apartment buildings stand on the other park border, and City Hall is in the same area. Senior apartments are only a few yards south. It’s a unique multi-purpose area in town. I’ve blogged before about the incredible amount of available space in this area -- the library is surrounded by a huge lawn, for instance.
So what’s missing? Despite the presence of residential (owners and renters, young and old), municipal (library, city hall, police station) and park zones, a piece is badly needed.
As it happens, the city recently bought a house that sits between the library and the firehouse. The property is on a corner, separated from the library by a street and the residential areas by the park. Because of asbestos contamination, the whole structure will be removed, leaving an empty parcel of land.
Here is a short sketch of the proposal/challenge/Quixotic quest I described to the EDC:
The city of Franklin, along with partners that will become apparent, builds on the site where the residence once was a COFFEE SHOP and CO-WORKING SPACE. Two stories, built right up to the sidewalk (no setback) on two sides (no drive-thru), with a courtyard in back that segues into the park - a beautiful public space that sits at the intersection of the library and the park that residential neighborhoods can easily access on foot.
The missing piece!
Following a model established at the Blatz building in Milwaukee, where Milwaukee School of Engineering students run the building’s cafe, the city partners with Milwaukee Area Technical College; the students, as part of MATC curriculum, run the coffee shop, handling everything from accounting to grinding beans. Franklin High School can also be involved, as students can work there for credit.
Want to learn business? Run a business!
Want to encourage wonderful public space around a commercial amenity? Build an example for others to follow!
Corporate sponsorship is not at all out of the question: OfficeMax, FedEx/Kinkos, Starbucks, Dunn Bros., Starbucks, Northwestern Mutual Foundation, etc. A community/educational/economic development effort like this is something great to be associated with.
As they advise in vaudeville, go out on a high note.
After facing blank stares (and worse) earlier in meeting while talking about complete streets, smart growth, and preparing for transit (see part 1 and part 2), this idea seemed to resonate with everyone in the room.
So it's off to the Common Council to get authorization for a subcommittee to pursue the idea.
I'll call it a happy ending. For now.
Posted at 03:33 PM in Bicycling and Walking, Close to Home, Community Coffee-Shop/Workspace Co-venture, Community Concepts, Coworking, Coworking sites, Current Affairs, Economic Development Commission, Food and Drink, Fountains of Franklin, Franklin Photos, Good news, Politics, Retail design, Shops at Wyndham Village, Things to do in Franklin, Third places, Traditional Neighborhood Development, Transparency | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The Common Council meets tonight at 6:30 at the monumental Franklin Law Enforcement Center.
On February 27th, the Wisconsin DOT sent a memo to Franklin outlining new deadlines for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus fund applications.
There were no emergency meetings of committees and boards of which I'm aware. (The Economic Development Commission, in fact, canceled our 2/23/09 meeting for reasons to which I'm not privy).
On March 2nd, one of the city's construction consultants, R.A. Smith, sent an email to Franklin's city engineers:
John & Ron,
On behalf of the Village of Greendale, we would like to know if the City of Franklin has interest in pursuing Round 2 stimulus funding for the S. 51st St. project both municipalities discussed last year?
We have attached a map of the segment and the WDOT round 2 stimulus letter for your review.
That was all we needed, apparently. On March 10th the Board of Public Works recommended pursuing the project. It does not specify a four-lane urban highway, but that is the only cross-section available at this point - - reason enough to be concerned.
So the list of possible stimulus funded projects now reads like this:
a) W. Puetz Road (S. Street to St. Martins Road)
b) S. Street (Puetz Road to Drexel Avenue)
c) S. 51st Street (North of Rawson Avenue to College Avenue in Greendale)
d) Additional Project
Did I miss the brainstorming session that came up with these projects? Or, do we determine projects based on the recommendation of contractors who can bill us for the project they suggest?
We are on the cusp of another missed opportunity to rise above mediocrity and more "entropy made visible."
Franklin's streets and roads - both the pavement AND the network - are in desperate need of rehabilitation
The city of Franklin almost flamboyantly thumbs its nose at the idea of traveling from place to place without a vehicle. Residential roads are built wide and curvilinear for maximum speed - kids and bikes be damned.
Nearby is still far away.
There are neighborhoods close enough to Franklin High School to be illuminated by the sports field's lights - yet the residents of those houses have no way to walk or bike to the high school! Is it any wonder that so many vehicles are on the road at the beginning and end of school days? That's an embarrassment.
Pleasant View Elementary remains accessible by a single thin road with not so much as a shoulder to retreat to if you should attempt to walk or bike to the school. Another embarrassment.
In fact, the County Sheriff has determined that all of Franklin School District is in an unusually hazardous transportation area. Therefor, all students in the district are entitled to bus transportation.
Subdivisions that get to hear the trucks loading and unloading at the Sendik's on 51st and Rawson have no access to it via foot or bicycle, which would make their proximity a pretty spectacular amenity.
And that's all right with us? We're not going to bother to address any of that with stimulus funds?
Franklin seems content to ignore opportunities to increase connectivity. I have a list of almost 600 Wisconsin bicycle and pedestrian projects funded or co-funded by the federal government from 1993 to 2007. FRANKLIN DOES NOT APPEAR ON THE LIST AT ALL.
Not. Even. Once.
What happened to Complete Streets?
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding should not be used to expand a system of roads that do not provide safe travel for people who are walking or bicycling. Too many Franklin streets are designed to be wide and fast, without sufficient sidewalks, crosswalks or bicycle lanes. We, in fact, CREATE traffic with huge roads and no alternative.
Little or no consideration has been given for the safety of older people, children, or people with disabilities. These incomplete streets are dangerous and create barriers for people to get to jobs, school, the doctor, and fully participate in civic life.
Basically, Franklin's system of ever-widening collector streets without regard to interior grid roads - a blatant concession to subdivision developers - does nothing but concentrate and increase traffic, create noise, and make it impossible to travel from place to place without firing up an internal combustion engine.
This is not an environment that encourages businesses to move in and take root. It is not an environment friendly to commercial enterprises that benefit from the ability to linger (book store, coffee shops, etc.).
So, tonight, the Common Council will vote on a hastily thrown-together package of road projects - - unless they dare to rise above and call for further discussion IMMEDIATELY to better maximize the opportunity presented by stimulus funds.
And I mean meetings that start TOMORROW and incorporate input from various interested parties and persons who have expertise beyond TRAFFIC ENGINEERING.
Ah, "traffic engineering." Evidently, the pure basis for all growth in Franklin.
Keep the following excerpt from the book SUBURBAN NATION in mind at tonight's meeting when engineers cite "traffic analysis" and "throughput forecasting":
Those who are skeptical of the need for a fundamental reconsideration of transportation planning should take note of something we experienced a few years ago. In a large working session on the design of Playa Vista, an urban infill project in Los Angeles, the traffic engineer was presenting a report of current and projected congestion around the development. From our seat by the window, we had an unobstructed rush-hour view of a street he had diagnosed as highly congested and in need of widening. Why, then, was traffic flowing smoothly, with hardly any stacking at the traffic light? When we asked, the traffic engineer offered an answer that should be recorded permanently in the annals of the profession: "The computer model that we use does not necessarily bear any relationship to reality."
So, let us hope they spare us their "projected traffic" studies. (More on concepts like INDUCED TRAFFIC and LATENT DEMAND in later postings.)
More to come ...
Posted at 01:33 PM in Bad Planning, Bicycling and Walking, Books, Close to Home, Commentary, Community Concepts, Current Affairs, Economic Development Commission, Food and Drink, Franklin Photos, Politics, Problems, Recommended books, Retail design, Stimulus, Traditional Neighborhood Development, Traffic/Transportation, Transparency | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)