Although not specifically about bicycles, an article by Gene Stowe in Sunday’s Tribune is about the popularity of new near-downtown housing. Those interviewed for the article stress their desire to be centrally located, close to parks and able to walk to local attractions (the river, downtown, the farmer’s market, etc). I think this bodes well for our cycling advocacy efforts.
In my opinion, the popularity of such housing is an excellent sign, and I hope to see much more of it in the future; not just as part of the Eddy Street Commons, but specifically downtown. I don’t want to put words into anyone’s mouth, but I interpret this to indicate that there is indeed a critical mass of people in Michiana who do not want to live in a car-centric community. Does anyone know how the condos along the riverwalk in downtown Mishawaka are selling?
South Bend’s population has actually decreased since 1960, yet its area has increased. Accordingly, the population density has decreased, which means people are further from each other and where they need to go. Furthermore, reduced population density makes it harder for neighborhood businesses to reach customers, which is exasperated by price competition from larger retailers like Walmart.
My point is not to vilify Walmart, but such stores definitely require lots of space and further reduce population density — the end result of which is a necessity (for most) to drive for day-to-day activities. This is classic sprawl, and it seems to me that it invariably reduces a town’s personality and sense of community. It is definitely not good for safe cycling.
I’ve lived in South Bend for a little over five years now, and even during that time I’ve seen significant improvements downtown: more restaurants, cafes and better aesthetics like the new sidewalks and planters along Michigan St. Although downtown is crowded during the day, the activity drops off considerably in the evenings. What we need now is more downtown housing, and I’m optimistic that there is indeed demand to fill it.
I believe South Bend can have a vibrant downtown rivaling Midwestern hot spots like Madison, WI (roughly twice our population) or Ann Arbor, MI (actually a slightly lower population) due to our abundance of colleges and universities and proximity to Chicago. But, to get there we’ll need a higher population density — new near-downtown housing can make that happen. And, I’m confident that a higher population density will reduce the car-centric personality of our community, which will in turn make it more bicycle-friendly.