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Wednesday, November 4,2009

Design this

Residents favor mixed-use development at first “Design Lansing” workshop

by Chris Parks

 


 


Lansing may be on its way to saying goodbye to our old friends — or foes — the surface parking lot, the strip mall and the anti-pedestrian five-lane one-way street.


The first “Design Lansing” community character workshop was held Thursday at the Lansing Center, giving residents an opportunity to “vote” on changes to the city’s first comprehensive master plan effort since the last one was completed in 1958.


The main question now for planners and residents is, “What do we want to transform into?”


“We’re after the big picture,” said Bob Doyle,
a project manager from JJR, the firm contracted by the city Planning
and Neighborhood Development Department to develop the new master plan.
“We try to get a sense of the big picture ideas people are supporting.”


The
master plan establishes some very important — but perhaps mundane for
the average Joe — rules about how our city will grow. Of importance is
our zoning rules, which dictate what is allowed to be built and where.
Zoning informs the physical appearance of a city, including its green
space, parking areas, roads and whether we should keep slinging power
lines high up in the air.


Most modern (though created many years ago) zoning ordinances favor a division of uses, which often creates urban sprawl
— this is why Meijer is out on Saginaw Highway surrounded by miles of
parking rather than in walking distance to your house.


Changes and updates to Lansing’s master plan have been made piecemeal since 1958.


Thursday’s
workshop, held at the Lansing Center, began with a presentation by
Doyle, and was followed by an overview of the planning process. Then,
the more than 50 citizens got to have their say — everyone who attended
got to vote in real time on aspects of the master plan that they would
or would not like to see.


“The
way to make a great city is not to have four lanes of asphalt ripping
through the city,” said John Krolik of Charlotte. He was talking about
Saginaw Street in particular. “Lets slow traffic down, not speed it up.”


Krolik also said he was interested in the larger picture of why and how Lansing is the way it is right now.


“We’re
the state capital, we have (Michigan State University),” he said. “But
you look at (a city like) Columbus, and it’s much more vibrant.”


Jennie
Grau of Lansing has been active in the community for years, having
served as executive director for both Lansing’s Neighborhood Council
and Habitat For Humanity.


“I have a general concern with the health and welfare of the city,” Grau said.


As
for what particular concerns she had about the city’s direction, she
pointed out “curb appeal,” walkability and overlay districts, which she
said “really help complete a sense of place.”


“I
hope (the workshop) provides the city and planners access to
information about what is important to people in the city,” Grau added.


A buzz filled the room as all eyes were directed to the two large projector screens at
the front where pictures of Lansing were presented against images or
other communities or digital mock-ups of what proposed changes could
look like.


Using
credit card-sized digital clickers handed out at the door, the crowd
was able to vote on how much they liked each potential change
individually, and then again, comparing the options to each other.


After
each voting session concluded, a bar graph appeared on the screen,
showing what percentage of the crowd voted for which option.


One
constant throughout the night was a strong like of mixed-use
development. Mixed use allows for retail, residential and offices in
one area together, rather than in separate locations. An example
frequently shown was a multi-story building with retail on the first
floor, and housing above, which can be seen Old Town, or downtown
Lansing.


A more
contentious issue was what to do with Lansing’s expansive parking.
Unlike the consensus on mixed use, people’s opinions of parking lots
varied. Some favored incorporating green space and more pedestrian
avenues into parking lots, developing storefronts with no setbacks and
placing lots behind the buildings out of view. Some favored clustering
parking in garages with multiple floors and a basement.


Despite
the general movement toward developing mixed-use areas that encourage
walkability and fewer cars, some voted against even the most popular
items, showing a reluctance to move away from more traditional city
systems.


And for a city that was once a national hub for the American car, such drastic changes in ideology may be harder to come by.


For
example, there was some disagreement on the topic of adapting the
city’s roads. A fair amount of people voted to simply adapt the
appearance of current roads to be more aesthetically pleasing while
maintaining the same number of lanes. On the same issue, a similar
number of people countered the vote to visually modify the current
roads with votes for a “road diet” that would cut four lane roads down
to two. Without vocalizing opinions to one another, the numbers showed
that not everybody is on the same page yet.


Due
to the sheer scope of creating a master plan for an entire city, the
planning of Lansing’s future will continue over the next few years. And
along with that will come more community character workshops involving
the public. The next workshop is today at Pleasant View Magnet
Elementary between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., and then on Thursday during the
same time at the Lansing Police Department’s north precinct.


“It sets the direction for what people want out of their community,” said Doyle.



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