As we travel down the road to "mixed use", especially in downtown Sarasota, we sometimes find arguments that say traditional mixed use is not enough to achieve a lively, pedestrian friendly, livable community.
Consider the recent Washington Post article: 'Mixed-Use Districts' Often Get Mixed Reviews.
Public space, experts say, is crucial, so that people will go to the communities for leisurely activities, bringing life into a development. Public transit is another good way to bring in visitors.
"You have to cast a pretty critical eye on some and ask, 'Is this something more than a reconfigured shopping center? Is there something like real public space there, where people can do something even if they weren't shopping there?' " said Chuck Bohl, a professor at the University of Miami School of Architecture.
As we continue with the downtown master plan implementation, it seems that a lot of attention has been paid to the condo part of the equation and we agree that getting people to live downtown is a crucial part of success. However, if the condos are all high priced, basically a second home for the wealthy traveler, are we creating a "dead zone" in terms of seasonal population. Apparently no one knows the answer to this question.
We keep hearing that affordable housing does not make sense downtown because of the high price of land, yet the city puts a high priority on finding ways to convert public land to parking garages. Parking garages, even those surrounded by retail frontage will be dead zones - look at the Whole Foods parking garage.
Public space, especially inviting public space, has a chance to become a lively space that people will frequent. Shade trees, benches, fountains or the like will draw more people than the lonely hot dog vendor currently hanging out at the Lemon St public space north of Mattison's. The hot dog guy, some decidedly non-shade worthy Hi-Rise oaks and no other features make this another dead zone, unless an event is held there.
Next on the horizon may be Pineapple Square - basically a mall situated in downtown Sarasota. The "breezeway" element is the only open space, but it is designed to serve the retail customers, not the leisure visitor to downtown. There is no real public space around this development and nothing in our plans show how this key element of a livable downtown would be incorporated into this part of the city. It seems that people intent on going there will drive up to the included parking lot, meander through the stores there, go back to their cars and go home. Not much activity or inviting public space is planned around the development to engage them in "lively city life."
We ask the questions posed above: with public space designed for leisure activity missing, no discussion at all about public transportation, and the primary emphasis being placed on high priced condos and retail, will downtown become anything more than a seasonal mall located downtown? It seems like we are moving toward a dead zone rather than a lively downtown.