Some very interesting ideas proposing significant changes to downtown Ashland were floated in the community in recent weeks.
The first idea to surface was from artist Michael Sexton. He told Ashland Rotarians he envisions a new man-made river walk in front of the Paramount Arts Center and the new Delta Hotel on Winchester Avenue. The proposed river walk would be similar to a large pool that is a few feet deep that would require filtration, said Sexton. Several shops and restaurants would be featured along the river walk as well.
Sexton said the project would begin small—spanning only about two blocks. It would require filtration. The river walk would take up the entire width of Winchester and would require a lot of excavation, possibly even removing sidewalks as well.
The first thing we want to do today is to credit Mr. Sexton for coming up with this idea. In a time where civic engagement by our citizenry seems to wane by the day, we give Michael kudos for putting this idea out there with the best interests of the city at heart. The idea received a lot of traction on social media, both for and against, and we were encouraged by the debate.
When we first heard the particulars of this idea our first thought was it would be very costly to do it right. Our second thought was in a city facing major water line and pension expenses over the coming decades there is the very significant obstacle of whether this is even remotely possible on the financial side. Of course there are a lot of downtown property owners who might have something to say about this issue as well -- It would take a major overhaul of downtown and it would have to be done, and engineered, to perfection. However, whether one agrees or disagrees with the idea, Mr. Sexton has done a public service by furthering the discussion over the future of the city's most prime corridor.
Then, on Sunday, we published a story about an interview with Ashland Board of Commissioners member Amanda Clark about a proposal to take Winchester Avenue from four lanes to two. Clark floated the idea while presenting her fellow commissioners with a report that showed how Ashland could move in a similar direction as Greenville, South Carolina. One of the main points she mentioned was renovating Winchester from four lanes to two, expanding the sidewalks and adding diagonal parking.
“We don’t want to build a city for the sake of attraction. We want to revitalize the downtown for the people who live here,” said Clark.
The area Clark mentioned bringing down to two lanes was 13th to 18th streets. There would be no renovations done to 14th street where the traffic from the bridges merges with downtown.
There have been no cost estimates provided as of yet. Clark said the idea hasn't gotten that far and it is certainly not clear if this idea has any traction. We would like to say, though, that we liked this idea. Of course lots of issues would have to be addressed and community support garnered before ever attempting it. We aren’t fans of the diagonal parking premise but there are ways around that.
And, since we are currently in a realm of proposing ideas that are just that - ideas -- has anyone proposed the idea of turning Winchester into a pedestrian only shopping district? Some of the most exciting urban spaces in America are shopping districts where the only traffic to be found is foot traffic, i.e. you can only walk through it, not drive.
Our view is pedestrian friendly community spaces are the way of the future. Driving everywhere to do anything is not how you grow and cause downtowns to flourish with young people, which is what Ashland and the Tri-State needs.
In the meantime we credit those with thinking outside the box and looking to new ideas to further the city's well-being. We need ideas like this, and more of them, followed by respectful, civic debate.