(July 3, 2014, Los Alamitos) by Highlands’ Guy: With draft versions of three key elements of Los Alamitos General Plan Update currently under review, this week’s Highlands’ Guy’s column couldn’t come at a better time!
Does Los Alamitos have a downtown? I don’t know. Do I care? I guess I should after reading all the attention the subject gets, especially in the City’s yet to be approved General Plan.
I’ve read it on-line and I attended a few of the “outreach” meetings down at city hall. While there I heard a bunch of comments from friends and neighbors on not only the need for a downtown, but what it should encompass and what it should look like. And I believe that many of their comments have been incorporated into the Plan, which will focus our resources into the middle of the 21st century.
So I guess now would be a good time for me to kind of organize my thoughts about this elusive “downtown.” What is it, what should it look like, what should it do, where should it be? These are the first things that pop into my head. And now that I think about them, I find it’s not that easy trying to pin things down and coherently verbalize my thoughts. Maybe I’ll start with a stream of consciousness approach. Our first idea of what a downtown is, probably starts with a place that we went to when our parents said , “Get in the car, we’re going downtown.”
Our next encounter was probably during a trip that could have been up the coast a little or maybe across the country. In these places we ate at a diner in Petaluma or perhaps in an ageless deli on Michigan Ave in Chicago. For a few lucky folks, an encounter with walking the city streets in Bogota, or Hamamatsu may have set the stage for what they thought of as downtown.
Thus, what each of us brings to the discussion will be all over the board. Now, overlay all of this with the constrictions of space, money, and community initiative and one gets an idea of the challenges faced by our decision makers.
How downtowns develop:
None of the downtowns that I’ve appreciated over the years started out to be exactly what they are today. Looking back, I’d say they developed slowly in more of an organic process. A little hole-in-wall restaurant arrived that attracted a few people. Someone added a few benches down the street. A shop that only a teenager could love seemed to be busy a lot. The local government added a couple of trees, a few flowers and some lighting. This drew in a touristy place that locals didn’t care for, but pulled in a bunch of customers. Tax dollars spent on strategic left turn lanes, traffic studies, and outreach had nothing to do with successful transformations.
Rethinking Los Alamitos’ “Downtown” proposal:
With this in mind, I would offer that we need to rethink our direction on the downtown concept as laid out in the General Plan. Specific size and shape and what streets are included are not vital.
- First on the list should be to create a business model, with a City support structure, and then go out and market the heck out of it.
- The city also needs to promote the businesses already here. The goal is to get the word out that we are business friendly, by deed, not by tooting our own horn.
- Concurrently, we need to get folks on to the street…out of their cars:
- Simple, allow some of the local eateries to put a few tables on the sidewalk.
- Plop a fountain or sculpture down near a corner.
- Have exercise classes (public or private) take over an underused or unsightly parking lot a few hours a day or night.
- Promote a simple “get out and walk” night from 5:00pm to 7:00 pm twice a week.
- Instead of indoors or at a park, have some city sponsored events or gatherings within full view of one of our (two) main streets.
Folks from all over will see stuff happening as they pass by. The business community will see and/or hear about it. Locals will learn about what’s here as much as those from afar.
I firmly believe that these kinds of things are important contributing factors to a slow, deliberate, evolving downtown.
Exactly where it goes will be up to the marketplace. Maybe we find that small is better and more in tune with the city. Maybe downtown is on two or three different, non-contiguous streets. But what develops will be more in tune with the reality of business, sociological, and psychological factors, and will be stronger over time.
“It’s really kind of hard to be a suburb of nothing. If you don’t have a downtown, you really don’t have anything. It’s hard to build a community around parking lots and subdivisions”
– Ed McMahon (1923-2009) Comedian, game show host, announcer, United States Marine Corps fighter pilot, Johnny Carson’s sidekick.
…And that’s just the way I see