Thursday, July 8, 2010

Swing... and a miss.

I just came back from the mailbox, which contained one article only- this month's Riverside Outlook (PDF), the City's newsletter of fun and interesting things happening around Riverside. It's mainly a forum for the Parks and Rec department to get people out to their events, and for local politicians to crow about their accomplishments. The latter is what I want to talk about here.

Downtown Riverside has been the recipient of substantial investment over the last few years, and deservingly so. While I can disagree with where the money has gone (the Fox Theatre, new parking meters, tearing up and re-building the pedestrian mall), I do like that City leaders see Downtown as a key part of their future economic growth strategy. Some days I get close to thinking that many of our local politicians "get it" when it comes to urbanism and smart growth.

And then I see this month's Outlook, and I realize they've missed the point entirely.

On the front page this month is an article about the Fox Entertainment Plaza, a new development coming to Downtown next to the Fox Theatre. The newsletter lauds this new "mixed-use" project, intended to bring visitors and jobs to Downtown Riverside. Mixed-use development? Bringing people into dense, walkable places? Providing jobs for citizens in a depressed economy? What's not to like, right? Until you read what the City's definition of "mixed-use" is: a 400-space parking garage, a theatre, museum space and two restaurants.

City leaders- this is not mixed-use, and it is certainly not smart growth. The entire point of mixed-use development is to utilize a space at all hours of the day, and it usually means getting people LIVING on a plot, along with jobs and entertainment. There are admirable examples of mixed-use development right here in Riverside- Sterling University Palms and the University Village are both projects that combine student apartments with retail, and in the case of the UV, office space and a police station as well. Putting a restaurant and a theatre on the same property doesn't qualify- and then adding a parking garage to downtown? Ridiculous.

Don't get me wrong- I like the idea of having more museum and theatre space in Riverside. But to call this project "mixed-use" is cynical greenwashing.

But wait! It gets worse! On the inside pages of the Outlook is an article entitled, I kid you not, "Convenient parking available in downtown!". The article takes up nearly half a page in the newsletter, describing all of the "FREE" parking available Downtown- proceeding to break it up by type of parking! (Surface lot, garage, and on-street) Of course, nowhere in the entire newsletter does the City mention the plentiful transit service available to Downtown from literally anywhere in Riverside or the surrounding areas.

One of the things I try to do on this blog is to show the world the kind of potential Riverside has as a real urban city. Then the City government does something stupid like this, and my only recourse is to introduce my skull to a wall repeatedly.


Chewie said...

I went to Downtown Riverside once and found it to be a surprisingly interesting and walkable place.

This shows how hard it is for some people to think out of the suburban box on economic development. When there is a critical mass of people living in a downtown area, parking becomes incidental to bringing people in on foot.

If downtowns are going to compete with suburban retail they definitely need a strong residential base and/or very good transit service.

Downtowns are not the suburbs. They don't work the same way, and that's okay. If you kill them with excessive parking, especially free off-street surface parking (luckily this case has a garage), you kind of get the worst of both worlds: all the car dependence of suburbia, and none of the special pedestrian experience of a downtown.

Chewie said...

It's always neat to look at another city's random version of minimum off-street parking requirements:

To really let a city be a city, you've got to get rid of these minimums.

JN said...


When clearly urban metropoli like Los Angeles and New York have trouble killing their minimum parking requirements, what hope do we suburbanites have?

Rene said...

What's your solutions, then? I'm curious.

I did email Mike Gardner expressing my dismay about ugly parking structures and I did not like the idea of parking garage next to Fox Theater. Mike's rationale is that there will be a loss of parking spaces when Fox Plaza (across Fox Theater) will be built. The parking structure can provide parking spaces for California Tower tenants if the city decides in the future to destroy the ugly grey parking structure adjacent to Fox Theater to make ways for future mixed use development.

Off the point, I did argue for a better improved transit center. I'm glad that the city is heading into the right direction with relocating Greyhound bus station closer to Metrolink station.

I want to help the city of Riverside to be more pedestrian-friendly as much as I can help with my inputs as downtown Riverside resident.

Chewie said...

:) Yeah, it's not easy. I just know it needs to happen somehow, eventually . . .

JN said...


First off, we ought to charge for parking at significantly higher rates, and extend metering throughout the day and week. The disincentive of having to pay for parking will keep the demand for parking down, making our current supply more than adequate.

Second, we use the money gained by charging for parking to buttress our transit service, providing late-night service into downtown 7 days a week from around the city. The folks who don't want to park can take the bus downtown. The City advertises transit as a safe, affordable alternative to the unpleasantness of downtown parking, and points out the ability for transit riders to ride the bus happily drunk. Downtown bars and clubs rejoice.

Third, over the long term, we get more people living downtown, and not just in the fringe residential areas as we do now. I mean real, urban apartments and condos going in next to office towers, above restaurants and groceries in downtown Riverside. Jane Jacobs details the effects of this sort of true mixed-use development in her "Life and Death of Great American Cities"- the basic point is that, if people are in an area 24/7, the area is safe and vibrant, and the only way to do that is to mix commerce and residential uses.

It's a long-term project, but it starts with changing the way we think about downtown- it's not a suburban strip mall, it's an urban downtown, and that means planning differently. I think Gardner is one of the better members of the Council in this respect, but I think his voice (and Cmn. Melendrez' voice) are drowned out by the 5 other wards, which are mostly the worst kind of suburban sprawl.

Rene said...

Downtown Riverside doesn't have parking problems. It would be a nice problem for Riverside to have, but as for now, it's easy to find a parking spot. I truly hope the urban center will go lively and accessible in the future.