Thursday, July 17

The new Broadway

One thing I’ve noticed from traveling through towns in the West and Midwest is that almost every single one of them has a Broadway. Typically, Main street is the narrower urban road that passes through the heart of downtown and Broadway is the wider thoroughfare that extends outward from downtown into other parts of the city. The choice of this name must have been a conscious decision by the original founders to link their fledgling settlements to the distant cosmopolitan New York city. Minot, North Dakota, where I’m writing this post, along with a Broadway also has an old faded advertisement for a New York Merchentile Co. plastered on the side of a downtown brick building. New York city was clearly a model for frontier cites, or at least that’s the perception the pioneers wanted to convey.

These towns were engaged in an intense competition for survival. Perhaps if railroad companies could be convinced they had another potential New York on their hands they would put in a station. Motivated Easterners with their capital would pour in and the town would thrive. While it may not fit our contemporary romantic notions of the old west, at least the aspirations of many pioneers in the 19th century were urban, and Broadway stood for the height of urbanity in America.

I don’t know if Broadway carries the same weight it used to, but it’s worth noting that the iconic avenue is about to change significantly. Could this indicate a new direction for American towns and cities? Or is New York a unique case, long since displaced by other models for city building?

Jan Gehl, the celebrated Danish planner who loves pedestrians, was commissioned to redesign half of Broadway along a stretch to midtown into a multi-modal transportation route and public space. There will be a prominent removed bike lane, as well as plenty of accommodations for people to gather and sit in the pedestrian area. Mayor Bloomberg, set back a little from his congestion pricing defeat, is still moving forward in making Manhattan more livable. This should be done by mid-August. With heightened environmental awareness (as well as heighten gas prices) this is the new Broadway we need.

I'm looking out the window right now on Minot's own Broadway from the Book Nook coffee shop. There's a strip mall across the street with a Hollywood video, an Arby's, and an abandoned building. There are big changes happening here too. Some parts of Broadway are being widened but a stretch of a few blocks is being narrowed from four to two lanes. New sidewalks will be installed with some nice lighting.

Broadway is clearly changing in America.

1 comment:

Dakotaboy said...

I have always thought Minot had a small, but beautiful downtown with a few mid-low buildings.

Don't forget to see Fargo's amazing renaissance downtown. Both broadway, main, 1st, & NP have all undergone huge transitions. Check it out!

If you get a chance, after the huge floods in Grand Forks, some fine sighted developers connected abandoned burned sites from the flood into connected parks & nooks. Its charming.

Still hoping to see you in September! Take care and drive safe.