Sunday, January 25, 2009

Downtown South of Third: Changing Spaces

Daytonology has investigated the skyscrapers south of Third, both old and new. Now an investigation of the street level. We won't look at the history of occupancy, but more at urban form and how this part of downtown was culled of its older buildings.

Downtown South of Third, on Ludlow. The character of the streets south of Third vary, with Ludlow seeming the most like a city busy street, without the gaps of parking lots.

Whoops! Did you just see that tumbleweed roll by? Yes, Ludlow looks like a street but there is nothing at ground floor on this entire street except the Embassy bar & grill and Kinkos (which is a great ground floor use), on the corner with 3rd. One can stretch this a bit by saying "School Board Entrance" and "4o W 4th Lobby", since people work in these places. Yet, the experience of walking down this street is walking past blank walls of various types and empty or blank storefronts.

Downtown south of Third as it was, via a building height map from the early 1950s (with the old skyscrapers outlined in red)

Clearing the urban underbrush. Some of this was via the big Mid-Town Mart urban renewal project of the 1960s. Otherwise: remove buildings for new buildings, called "building subsitution", or remove for parking on a piecemeal basis.

The result is a patchwork of older buildings. But not that old. There are only three buildings here from the 19th Century: A building on E Third (Dayton Church Supply), Kuhns, and the old power house on E Fourth.

The new building south of Third since the early 1950s, with parking garages shown in bright blue. Parking garages are interesting as they fill up volumes with things not people, so sort of count as a net reduction in office space. Of course some garages have ground floor use, which can vary in character from leasable space (Kinkos and Cold Beer and Cheeseburgers) to dead walls (4o W 4th garage) to things like Greyhound and Channel 16, which are "leasable" but dead along the sidewalk.

One can see the big block of the convention center south of Fifth, which pretty much kills the streets surrounding it. This is actually a pretty good siting, though, because if you have to kill a part of downtown with a convention center, at least kill a peripheral part, not the center.

The convention center is sort of a government or institutional use. The following map trys to show how things are becoming either more empty or more government south of Third. Other things would be to show residential conversions or adaptive re-use. In the case of the RTA complex at Third and Main you have both: adaptive re-use and a government use.

This is all well and good, and can one drill deeper into building use for the low rises. But why does this part of downtown feel so dead?

Here is a stab at showing why, via graphics. This map outlines street walls showing wether they fit two types of experience:

1. Storefronts with businessess that "activate the street", meaining there is a store window that is visible from the street or that you can easily see into: people at desks, etc. As you walk by you can look in and see things happening. Or there is some type of active retail, like shops, a restaurant, etc, or bar that is somewhat open to the street.

2. Blank walls, in two types:
a. Without windows, like parking garage walls or other types (and these can vary greatly in character)
b. With windows but the windows are difficult to see through or are vacant storefronts. Examples being the the Arcade, but also bars that blank out their windows, like Hammerjax, or windows using mirror glass or offices that in some way block views through a storefront.

There are gaps where there is a gap in the building wall along a sidewalk.

As one can see the experience of walking through downtown south of Third is one of empty. There are episodes of activity on various blocks, but these are islands in a see of vacant and blank walls and parking lots or other kinds of open space.

There are only three concntrations of activity in this entire area:

1. Main between 3rd and 4th. This is a little retail district that probably caters primarily to the, ahem, "transit dependent population" and actually extends into the RTA concourse. This is a fairly active area to. Always a lot of people around waiting for the bus and some vendors have things on display on the sidewalk during better weather, enlivening the street even more. It remains to be seen what the affect of the mid block bus hub will be on all this (aside from removing the "transit dependent population" from Main and 3rd streets).

2. 3rd between Jefferson and St Clair. The Funky Retail District, with places like uniform store, coin shop two porn places, an architects storefront office, Dayton Church Supply, Bingers dive bar and the Dayton Dirt Collective alterna-kid space.

3. Fifth betweem Main and Ludlow. The anchor is the still-popular but decidely un-hip /non-yuppie Old Spaghetti Warehouse, which seems to even drive some street life as there are sometimes people waiting out front as well as foot trafffic to and from. There is also Seattle East coffeeshop (on weekdays), the Chess Club with its big windows, and two old-school things: Act One costumes and the barber college. A-List Bar on Ludlow fails the test as its blocked off its windows with screens.

There is also the possibility of more on Jefferson as Century, Price Stores, and especially Cold Beer and Cheesburgers liven up a block that is mostly parking lot and empty storefronts.

One also notes how things break apart towards the east, towards Patterson, where the quality of space becomes almost suburban... a suburban intersection where one is walking along pavements rather than buildings. This is reinforced by the suburban quality of the buildings: a Pearl dancebar (active at night) & Arbys east of Patterson, not shown here. Also not shown is the deadly experience of walking under the parking garage deck, past the spiral ramp where one is all but surrounded by reinforced concrete, asphalt, and concrete block.

A true experience of urban despair, and even more depressing as this is so close to the Neon Movies, which is one of the very few things that draws suburbanites downtown.


Anonymous said...

Another great post. Love your in-depth analysis. Just wish there was more positive for you to say about Dayton.

Jefferey said...

Thanks, it's a lot of fun to do these analyatical things.