Communication Builds Our Community

Potential Trouble Spot

Series: Lake Wales Renaissance | Story 6

This is the sixth installment in the Lake Wales Renaissance series. Lake Wales City Commissioner Robin Gibson serves as Deputy Mayor and Chairman of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.

First, let's talk about where we are headed, and next, about one of the trouble spots we may confront in getting there.

Where We're Headed. The Dover-Kohl plan, entitled "Lake Wales Connected," is a comprehensive plan for the revitalization of the Lake Wales historic core. It connects Downtown and the Northwest Neighborhood to surrounding destinations, including the Crystal Lake area and Lake Wailes Park.

The first step will be to construct a prototype of the design by putting in place a streetscape for Park Avenue from Scenic Highway to Wetmore Street. When constructed, it will be evaluated prior to implementation of the rest of the plan. If approved, the elements in the prototype will be the basis for the design of the rest of the project --- and perhaps for other features in town. The initial design concepts will be unveiled for input at a public workshop July 9.

The Design. Victor Dover and his co-author have traveled the world in pursuit of their goal to discover and quantify why people are universally --- regardless of country or ethnicity --- drawn to some designs in their towns and turned off by other designs. In short, what makes city and town streets work for people. Once they found what works, they measured and quantified the elements for success. Those results are contained in their definitive work entitled Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns. We have become the beneficiaries of that work.

The Outdoor Room. The trick is to form a recognizable outdoor room, where the "walls" of the room are the façades of the buildings and the vertical trunks of street trees, while the "floor" is the surface of the sidewalks and roadway. The ratio of building height to street width (ideal is 1-to-1) and the continuity of the street walls "are the prime determinants of the sense of place and street character."

Part of the psychology for financial success is for folks to get out of their cars and spend more time on the sidewalks under (in Florida) the shade of street trees and awnings --- where they enjoy food, drink, fellowship, services in the offices, and merchandise in the stores

The Current Trend is Headed to Where we Have Always Been. The shopping centers and malls that were once a threat to downtowns are now in decline. They are being replaced with what is termed the "Village" concept. Prime examples are Lakeside Village in South Lakeland just off Polk Parkway, and the two new downtowns in the huge retirement complex known as the "Villages" located in Lake County.

These highly successful ventures build anew what is supposed to look like a traditional downtown. The difference between them and us is that we're the real deal.

The Trouble Spot. Part of the traditional downtown "look" is a modest amount of curbside parking on slow moving two-way downtown streets, with more room for sidewalks and people. (A return to the original purpose of the streets when they were first paved in 1916 --- when downtown was populated by more people and cars weren't as prevalent.) In the Dover-Kohl plan the buildings still face the customers, with the required modern-day parking lots around back.

Understandable tensions will arise over the diminishment of on-street parking in order to make more room for people – pedestrians and customers. Parking will be plentiful, but it might not be right in front of the destination. It's going to take courage for us to step out and take a leap of faith to implement the changes. But if we can amicably put these proven standards to work, we will reap the benefits and financial success others have enjoyed. Sales receipts show that's the way people like it.

The Next Installment: The Northwest Neighborhood


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