A climbing wall. A dedicated bike lane. Families with children strolling together and crossing streets with ease. A "postcard place" where the community gathers for farmers markets, concerts, mercados and festivals. A century-old trolley as a unique form of transit. Can you see it?
Well, if one thing is clear, the teams from Crandall Arambula and Thomas Consultants can. And so could over 150 community members - of all ages and ethnicities - who turned out for the first in a three-part series of public forums on downtown revitalization. "Downtowns are the heart of a city," said George Crandall. "And you save the heart first. You make it authentic and reconnect it to the history of the place."
And to be clear, both Crandall Arambula and Thomas Consultants know how to make-over downtowns. Downtown Portland? They did that. Whitefish, Montana? They did that, too, amongst many other notable historic downtowns.
The evening started with a presentation showing what makes a great downtown – things like putting the pedestrian first through walkable sidewalks and crosswalks, green space, public transportation, and affordable housing. How does our downtown stack up now? "We have a tough charge, frankly," said Don Arambula. Major obstacles to overcome include the "freeways" that cross through the heart of our downtown (Yakima Avenue and 1st Street -- would you feel comfortable crossing those streets with little kids?), few to no bike lanes, a virtual absence of green space, an overabundance of parking lots, and too many empty storefronts. Obstacles? Maybe. But, as Arambula noted, "we see these as opportunities."
Another note: the plan for downtown is not one that looks out 25 years…it’s a complete plan that looks out over five-years. "We need substantive momentum immediately," said Arambula. "And for that, we need a game-changer." What constitutes a game changer? For Yakima, it could mean a central public plaza that acts as a "postcard place" for our city. Portland's Pioneer Place is one such postcard place. It used to be a parking lot. And our historic trolley? The consultants – and a lot of people at the meeting – hope to see our trolleys play a big part in east/west transportation. "We really see it as a unique attribute of Yakima," said Arambula. "Other cities are trying to build trolley systems. You already have it."
To be sure, a clear picture of what our downtown can be was painted. And it was great. Now, we all need to get behind creating the plan, and helping to implement it. We need to play an active role. If you couldn't make the first public forum, it's not too late. We'll keep you posted on the next two.
Yes, we can see it. And we know our new downtown will be the heart – and soul – of our city. We can't wait.