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No Blank Walls 

by Ron Wells

Downtown Spokane's updated plan requires that glass storefronts be installed in all newly constructed buildings and major renovations. Why?

About eight years ago, the City of Spokane and the Downtown Spokane Partnership embarked on a nationwide search to employ the most highly skilled and experienced urban designers and economic redevelopment experts to guide us as we revised and improved the Plan for a New Downtown. We wanted to make downtown the most interesting, most stimulating, most exciting, most entertaining and safest possible place, because we believe that in so doing it will also be economically vibrant and successful. Those expert professionals convinced us that one of the most important aspects of successful downtowns is creating a safe, comfortable, entertaining and visually stimulating pedestrian experience. Contrast your own personal experience of walking along a pedestrian-friendly street, such as Broadway in Seattle, with the experience of walking along a vast expanse of solid concrete walls or open parking lots.

Downtown wants to make itself more and more attractive for pedestrians, 24 hours a day. Those pedestrians are either people who live downtown, who take transit downtown or who have found a parking space downtown. The more pedestrians there are on our sidewalks, the more they contribute to the vitality of downtown. Pedestrians are far more comfortable walking along a sidewalk next to a busy restaurant, or people working in a professional office, or a glass storefront displaying colorful and visually stimulating retail presentations. If you are walking on a downtown sidewalk late at night, you are far more comfortable if there are people on the other side of the windows, or if there is at least the possibility of people in those windows. Even if the storefronts are vacant late at night or early in the morning, they are more welcoming to passersby because they are generally well-lit and interesting.

When you think of the most walkable, interesting cities in the world, small shops of all kinds line the streets, inviting customers to enter to visit and spend their money. To make their roads accommodating for window-shoppers, these communities use flowers, trees, benches, lighting and traffic control -- along with, of course, sidewalks lined with glass storefronts.

Ron Wells is currently Chairman of the Board of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, Chairman of the Board of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Immediate Past-President of the Washington State Council AIA (American Institute of Architects).

Publication date: 04/24/03
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