In Defense of Reimagined Streets

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Michael McFadden, owner of Rock Martin Jewelry on Forest Avenue, wrote a strong letter of opposition to the trial street closures voted in by Council recently. He asked whose idea it was. It was many people, including Mayor Whalen and Councilman Dicterow, who were voted in by citizens to lead our city into the future. They want to inject some vitality and life into a town center that suffers from a lack of open, pedestrian space for people to meet, greet, congregate, and yes, shop. They are hoping it will help revive an area that is moribund 9 months a year.

Michael wrote that every time there has been a closure the local businesses suffered. The only closures I’m aware of happened years ago (three times in ’09 and seven times in 2010) by the Chamber of Commerce. They closed the street from 3 to 10 p.m. and threw a party that the community – and the restaurants who put seating outside – loved. That a few merchants like McFadden complained to Council that it was “a disaster” seems disingenuous to me since Rock Martin closes at 5 p.m.!

McFadden contends “the focus on Forest Avenue has to be the stores” because “we pay extremely high rents here.” That is not a city or community problem, but one you need to consider with your landlords. Progressive cities like Portland and Long Beach long ago recognized that streets are valuable public spaces and belong to the taxpayers, and their use is not confined to the automobile. Portland calls it City Repair, where neighborhood intersections are re-imagined as gathering places with tea houses, pop-up libraries, street art, and parklets. It’s made Portland one of the most livable cities in the world.

Rock Martin has had a terrific run in town – 43 years at its present location. But the world has changed, and removing 40 parking spaces and the ever-present gridlock of Forest Avenue and replacing it with a people-centric town square might just improve retail sales, as it has done in many other places.

How will people find their way to downtown without those parking spaces? The same way they do it on Hospitality Night, the Patriots Day Parade, and any given day of summer: resourcefulness and shoe leather. Only now we have more options for parking and riding our free trolleys and bicycles. It’s why many people venture to Laguna in the first place. To get out of their cars and be in a human-scaled place with energy, conviviality and community.

Creating a Forest Pedestrian Plaza could bring more people than ever to Rock Martin. So let’s be open-minded and support the test instead of being dismissive and sniping. Thank you!


Billy Fried, Laguna Beach

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  1. Mr Fried,

    As I recall from last week, you are an employee of The Indy – so it’s odd to see you listed as a ‘guest contributor’. You have a large platform from which to speak – given your newspaper ‘reporting’ and radio show. It is also documented that you are a staunch supported of Mayor Bob Whalen, so it is not surprising to see you *again* point out your support for him here. As a background to your views, all one has to do is read your Coastline Pilot articles and correlate your behavior with your ownership of your La Vida Laguna business. Most of your positions appear to try to enhance your own business (requiring all SUP instructors to have a physical presence, your bike tours not stopping at the signs on Monterrey, etc.). However, this article baffles me.

    Taking such an aggressive stance against a local business person (whom I do not know, nor have I never met) seems well below what most people would consider common decency. Michael McFadden has a right to express his view given his business has survived in this town as long as it has – we should be thankful that businesses like his continue to thrive, not condemn then for having an opinion. Your views could have been stated without attacking a citizen; so, shame on you.

    Addressing your statements:

    “That is not a city or community problem, but one you need to consider with your landlords. ”
    That is blatantly misleading, the city determines which businesses can be where and what they may do – which directly affects the rental rates – look at the old ‘rug store’/Big Dog building that has been vacant for a long time (although nicer looking) and other empty long term spaces – there are at least 2 empty large spaces on Forest ave. right now.

    Comparing Portland to Laguna Beach is ludicrous. Laguna Beach is a tiny high-efficiency use space vs. a sprawling metropolis.

    609,456 people
    145 square miles
    65,000 businesses

    Laguna Beach
    23,250 people
    9 square miles
    5,000 businesses

    Portland’s City Repair project is all about making their intersections and other open (and plentiful) spaces more people friendly (if anyone visits Portland, you should seek these out, as they are quite nice) – we do not have *any* open spaces downtown. 40 parking places in Laguna Beach is a significant number vs. anywhere in Portland. The downtown area of Laguna Beach is roughly 0.14 square miles – downtown Portland, not even close.

    If we shut out all of the tourists and everyone takes the trolley and bikes, then, yes, we are all “good to go”, however, that isn’t how this town works or will ever work. We live in a world with automobiles – so rather than shutting down streets, how about trying to address the ever present parking problem for residents AND visitors?

    Incidentally, I walk downtown multiple times every day. I also ride a bike. I also like to SUP.

    • None of the Indy columnists are employees. They aren’t prohibited from taking advantage of the open forum for letter writers that is open to all, though few have done so in the past. I hope you will respond to Fried by submitting a letter of under 400 words by tuesday, 5 p.m., to raise your complaint in print.

  2. Greg,
    Your post contained its own personal attack of Mr Fried by questioning his motive with regard to his highly publicized associations with City Council members and the Indy.

    Any author will invariably be subject to public scrutiny and subject to a difference of opinion.

    Revise the statement:
    “Progressive cities recognize that streets are valuable public spaces and belong to the taxpayers, and their use is not confined to the automobile.”

    Combustion engines are not the future and invariably will be replaced with alternative modes of transportation and public roadways should consider alternative uses, to best serve the greater good of the community. Businesses do NOT own the public street, in front, anymore than self serving residents own the street parking outside their home, although many residents continue to post NO PARKING signs and leave construction cones, in front of their residence.

    People don’t travel to Laguna Beach having any expectation of being able to park directly in front of a restaurant or business they will visit. People travel to Laguna for the beaches, open space, restaurants, art galleries and unique businesses to include jewelry stores like Rock Martin. Curbside parking spaces do not significantly contributed to viability of businesses.

    Lagunans surely prefer local ‘resident serving’ businesses to thrive. Many residents & business owners prefer the City explore new ideas and fresh concepts by delivering vital improvements to the infrastructure. Most creative downtowns contain an element of signature vibrancy by providing for a pedestrian friendly common area that has proven to have substantive benefits to the residents which shall mitigate potential loss sustained by diverting one block of congested parking to a peripheral location.


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