One major tenet of the complete streets movement is the promotion of mixed-use development, i.e., avoiding the “suburbia” problem by allowing dense residential and commercial space to be developed in the same area. Gobal population and economic centers such as New York City, London, and Tokyo are prime examples of this model: build large buildings, put commercial space on the ground floor, and let people live upstairs. The model is even mentioned in the Broadway show Rent, as Benny attempts to stop Maureen’s protest: “with condos on the top / whose rent keeps open our shops…”
The ubiquity of strip malls was mentioned to me before I moved to Grand Forks, almost seven years ago now. With downtown gutted by the flood, developers moved to building commercial space wherever they could, as cheaply as possible, which resulted in a number of single-story strip malls built in commercial areas. When I got here, I was surprised: why build single-story when you could build even higher and include apartments? Nowhere does this seem sillier to me than north of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, where there are two strip malls taking up what could be some of the most valuable space “owned” by the University of North Dakota. Dinkytown it ain’t, and even North Dakota State University has denser buildings on the edge of campus.
All of this brings me to this morning. Just weeks after the announcement and positive review of a second WalMart (in a town of 55,000) by the powers-that-be, the Grand Forks Herald drops a bomb by coming out in favor of mixed-use development–and due to an online comment, no less. I’ll skip past further expressions of shock. Although the editorial sees mixed-use zoning as a way to alleviate the housing shortage, the additional implications are also positive for complete streets: reduction in the time/distance to commercial areas = reduction in miles driven (or even driving at all) = less traffic = safer-feeling streets = more people using alternative transportation = more people at “eye level” for businesses* = more economic activity = etc.
Is it possible in Grand Forks? In Tom Dennis’ own words: “Well, let’s find out. The point is that it’s a fresh idea, one that the city now can set about exploring. And that kind of exploration is exciting because it’s the way problems get solved.”
OUR OPINION: Apartments on 32nd? Why not?
(A copy of the article is available on request.)