Wednesday’s presentation of the proposed Main Street Master Plan at the Starkville Community Theater brought to mind an anecdote attributed to Yogi Berra, the New York Yankees’ catcher of the 1940s and 50s who was famous for his comically-mangled quotes.
Asked his opinion of a popular New York restaurant, Berra clearly wasn’t impressed.
“Nobody goes there anymore,” he said. “It’s too crowded.”
Wednesday’s presentation, like Berra’s observation, appears to create the same sort of contradiction.
In November, Kimley Horn, a North Carolina based planning and design firm, was tapped to draw plans for a redesign of Main Street. Since then, the firm has been performing studies and considering community input to finetune its master plan for the project.
Wednesday, Henry Minor, the firm’s landscape architect, stressed the goal of the redesign is “to create a destination where people will come spend time and spend money and linger on and on without feeling like they need to go anywhere else.”
The problem? More people, but less parking.
Originally, the plan called for the elimination of as many as 45 parking spaces to allow major changes, most of them related to aesthetics and traffic flow. Wednesday, that number of lost spaces was reduced to seven. Even so, the goal of bringing more people into an area while reducing parking spaces appears counterintuitive and will likely remain the greatest obstacle as the city goes forward with its plans.
We applaud the city for its efforts to renovate Main Street and for several reasons. First, the current configuration of Main Street, as well as its aesthetics, are badly outdated. The broad street is an inefficient use of the space, harkening back to a time when Main Streets were crowded willy-nilly with all manner of carts, horses, wagons and no lanes to bring order to their traffic.
Likewise, there is little visual appeal to Main Street, again a nod to the past, when Main Street was the “only game in town” and there was or need to lure shoppers downtown. Today, Main Street retail areas are but one of any number of shopping options, so appearance does matter.
The Master Plan paints a portrait of a downtown with patio seating along broad sidewalks enhanced by shade trees, plants and flowers — a dramatic visual improvement over Main Street as it appears today.
People are drawn to curb appeal, no doubt. But they also favor convenience.
For years, Starkville has sought to make the city more pedestrian friendly, a trend that is easily observed in many cities and towns across the country.
But old habits die hard, if at all, in our part of the world. We’ve grown accustomed to parking near the businesses we patronize. It appears the Master Plan is betting those attitudes will evolve.
Part of any Master Plan involves predicting what priorities tomorrow’s shoppers will have. At best, it’s an educated guess. Even so, an abundance of convenient parking cannot be a negative, no matter how pedestrian shoppers may become.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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