Albion Interactive History / Library / Gravity’s Victory (1993)

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Research Documents

Retail Partners, Inc., “Gravity’s Victory”, 1992

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It is may first visit view of downtown Albion in two years and it is obscured by rain and fog. But what I can see is deeply disturbing. It is just before six in the morning, and I am cruising downtown streets, one-by-one, passing time before a scheduled morning meeting, stopping here and there to take a better look at a particular building or a certain retail store. I search my memory. I am trying to decide if this place looked this way two years ago or if, as I suspect, significant further deterioration has occurred here.

I drive past the Acadian Fare Restaurant – a rightful source of local pride – but note with disappointment that its exterior restaurant sign, a casualty of a 1988 windstorm, remains in need of repair. The sign is propped up against the building. (Later in the day I ask the owner about the sign. “People like it leaning there,” she tells me. What, I wonder, is there to like about a broken restaurant sign leaning against a building.

Back downtown, I park the automobile and take a walk along side streets. I carefully avoid the small piles of brick rubble which dot the sidewalks. These dull red mounds of chipped brick provide breeding grounds, gathering places, for cigarette butts and candy wrappers. As I walk it occurs to me that gravity and erosion are winning the battle in downtown Albion. The buildings are falling down. On Superior, I observe the empty buildings. What once was a viable retail center has become a sad parody. Retailing is dead or dying here, make no mistake about that. Store display windows show us all that PRICE is king; SALE and CLEARANCE and FINAL REDUCTIONS compete with IN-STORE CREDIT and NOTHING DOWN and EASY TERMS as stars of the downtown Albion retail show. Most stores will open at nine-thirty this morning, long after my workday has started. They will close at five of five-thirty, long before my workday is done. I will not be able to buy anything in downtown Albion today. Nor would I be able to return anything, since most of the retailers have placed such harsh restrictions on terms of sale.

I have been encouraged to be gentle with my public comments here; to infer, to hint… gentle about such things as the death of retailing in this downtown. People might take offense.

So, what should I do here? What should I say? Should I avoid all controversy and make absolutely no criticism? Should I join in with the local retailers and property owners and complain about the local customer?

Should be occupy ourselves with carefully rearranging the deck chairs on this particular Titanic and wait for downtown Albion’s inevitable meeting with a very large iceberg…

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The Role of a Downtown
“Knowing Where You Stand”

Everyone has a personal Center of the universe, a place where he feels totally comfortable, completely at home. For many of us, that “Center” is the downtown of our childhood. It was the place we went with family and friends for almost everything… for the special occasions, for weekly or monthly shopping trips, for a prized visit to our father’s office. It was often the departure point for long-distance adventures by train or bus. It was a place for tearful goodbyes and joyful reunions. We sent telegrams and wired money from the downtown Western Union office. Department stores, specialty stores, markets, doctors, dentists, lawyers, the very best restaurants, beauty salons, barber shops, bowling alleys, dance halls: It seemed as if everything worth anything was downtown (which we sometimes referred to as “uptown” and our favorite aunt insisted on referring to as “downstreet”).

It was the place where, on weekends, our parent forbid us to go. But we risked it anyway, went downtown to see and to be seen because that was the place to be.

As columnist Russell Baker has written, “When you stood on Main Street you could tell yourself, ‘This is the Center, the point on which all things converge,’ and feel the inexplicable but nevertheless vital comfort that results from knowing where you stand in the world and what the score is.”

According to downtown advocate William H. Whyte, the “sense of place” that a downtown can give is most felt by those who live within it or near it. But it is also important for those who live beyond. A well-defined downtown with a tight core and diverse activities can give coherence to a whole countryside, to the entire community. The community as a whole is a better place in which to live if there is a downtown as its Center, at its center.

We are proud: “Where are you from?” we always seem to ask new acquaintances. “Where do you live?” And when we tell them they might say “Oh, I’ve been there… it’s a beautiful place, lovely downtown, beautiful buildings, great stores, lots of fun there.” We love to hear it, compliments for our place, for our Center. We are proprietary, geocentric. Our personal Center of the universe becomes a part of our self-esteem, part of how we feel about our individual life.

And, accordingly, any revitalization of this, our Center, makes us feel better about ourselves. It is the revitalization of our spirit.

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So, at its best, at its most vital, our downtown – our Center – makes us more complete people, people more capable of going about the business of living our lives to the fullest.

But there is a dark side. The dark side is that deterioration of our downtown creates more than modest problems for our personal sense of worth. As our downtown deteriorates, we each feel a most personal loss deep inside.

Indeed, the struggle to revitalize downtown is not only about the buildings, the bricks, the shops, the sidewalks. It is also about the hearts and souls of the individual people who live there, who are every daymoment by moment – aware that they are – for better or for worse – the people of this particular place.

And if we are to be successful in our attempts to revitalize our Center, we will have to set aside some of our most strongly-held views, some of our most deeply-ingrained perspectives. We will have to consider changing our minds about what is best for our Center, and about the things we will need to do in order to change that Center.

Downtown Albion Today
Chasing the Customer Away

In downtown Albion, the skateboarders rush past empty storefronts, cutting through mostly-vacant parking lots. Coasting, turning abruptly, pushing off and rushing ahead at breakneck speed, from this place to that place and back again. We scream at them and chase them away. The hated skateboarders: They have become the most recent in a long line of downtown scapegoats, poor-cousin descendants of “the winos”, “beatniks”, “deadheads”, “punk rockers”, “bag ladies,” “druggies” and the very first and most original scapegoat, the “drugstore hood”.

So, for now it is the skateboarders. Look at them, we say: They frighten our customers away, destroy our curbs and sidewalks. We install metal signs forbidding their presence (NO SKATEBOARDING PER ORDER OF MUNICIPAL SOMETHING). We chase them and they leave. The nicest of us, the “most humane of us”, insist on building them a “skateboard park” somewhere outside of downtown in hopes it will keep them happy and keep them away. But they come back at night and write things on our buildings. They hate us.

They hate us for not understanding them, for not respecting them and their skateboarding. It is a central portent of their lifestyle, their individual skills atop the board is the basis for their private pecking order.

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They travel in packs, the best, the most gifted, in the front, picking the route, the others struggling to match it. To watch them is to see that they are living right out there on the edge, on the brink of disaster every moment. They are loud, it’s true, as they slam about, scraping, slashing. We – all of us past the skateboarding age – watch them and contemplate what would happen and we were on the boards. And if we fell.

And so it is this: These long, lanky, happy, silly-dressed teenage boys are having the great moment of their lives every moment. Who knows, maybe it is that we are jealous of them.

At some level, the skateboarders have a right to their anger. By chasing them out of the downtown, we are denying them their Center of the universe, their place. And, in so doing, we are teaching a generation of people to stay away. Come to think of it, just who does “qualify” to be allowed into downtown. Listen to some of the merchants and service retailers and building owners and they will explain:

“The college students? Forget the college students… they spend all their money in their hometowns… they’re no good for us… and they shoplift.”

In fact, most college students buy apparel, accessories, shoes, music systems, and other major items in their hometowns. However, they are likely to purchase health and beauty aids, music tapes, magazines, sundries, casual monogrammed athletic apparel, Christmas gifts, and convenience food. To date, no local merchant has created an environment conducive to providing for college students. Such a need remains in the local marketplace.

But, marketing possibilities aside, where, oh where, did the downtown merchants get the notion that they – or anyone else – should be able to discourage the presence of people simply because they might not be viable consumers? Thoughtful individuals in the community understand that the presence of college students in the downtown would add something important to the fabric of that downtown, would add diversity and character. And even though they deny it, even though they cannot accept it, the presence of college students in the downtown would help those merchants.

“The elderly? Always demanding a discount… cheapskates… and they’ll waste your time, talk your ear off!”

Again, the complaining merchants have half a point. True, people of age are not the impulsive shoppers that their juniors seem to be. And they are less likely to purchase capital goods. And, yes, they love their discounts. But we might want to remind ourselves that “Senior Citizen Discounts” are the invention of retail merchants of the late 1970’s [ Page5 ] who were searching for a way to stimulate midweek sales levels. Is it really in good taste for us to look contemptuously at people of age who have simply responded to our clever marketing ploys? People of age also happen to be reasonably predictable consumers. They are more likely, for example, to buy certain known classifications of merchandise; they are loyal to merchants who serve them well; even the days of the week and the time of the month when they shop are easy to chart and predict and prepare for. These are amply good reasons for us to re-consider casing people of age aside.

Finally, people of age provide a bit of street life, some action, in the downtown. If we were staging a movie about downtown we would certainly hire thirty or so of them as extras. In downtown Albion, our people of age provide us this service for free.

“The Afro-Americans? What’s an Afro-American? Are you talking about the Colored? Well, it’s no good dealing with them… they want junk at cheap prices… and you better get cash because those people don’t pay their bills.”

What clever response can be made to this, what words to combat this disease of racism? There are respected studies, certainly, that would persuade reasonable people that Afro-Americans have virtually the same interest in quality goods, in price-value relationships, in services added. But, of course, most of the reasonable people already know this.

And, yes, in a community where thirty percent of the residents are Afro-American, and where a significant percentage of the financially and culturally disadvantaged people are Afro-Americans, the racists will find their dirty little story or two to whisper into accepting ears. But for the retailer with a clear head and an open mind, there is an Afro-American middle class to serve. And what is it that these middle class Afro-Americans want, anyway? They want quality merchandise, knowledgeable sales clerks, reasonable merchandise return policies, fair prices… sound familiar?

“On, and we’ve got some problem people downtown… crazies… they scare our real customers away… the City should get these nuts out of the downtown.”

In fact, there are less “problem” people in the downtown Albion than in most communities. But that is not the point to be made here. Like the skateboarders, eccentric people make for wonderful scapegoats. The few eccentrics who wander downtown Albion are not themselves very much of a problem. It is the actions that are taken to combat them that is the problem. Out of an almost obsessive fear of their presence, we worry that if [ Page6 ] downtown is made habitable then other eccentrics will arrive, creating overwhelming problems for us. Hence, there is to be no loitering and there is to be no eating and, Lord forbid, no sleeping in the downtown. The problem is that the merchants and the building owners who insist on this combative environment fail to differentiate. Murders, rapists, and winos; the handicapped, the dull normals, …all of these are placed in a large box labeled “UNDESIRABLE”. And the solution will only come when this community has the courage to differentiate and accept all law-abiding people into the Center.

And now again, it is time for the merchants and building owners to complain about the skateboarders:

“Everyone is terrified of them… they aren’t aware of the needs of others… they will not take direction… they will not obey rules.”

The merchants and building owners have a point about these youngsters. They are indeed oblivious. And occasionally they do get out of control. And, goodness help you if you speak to them critically. They get very annoyed at criticism. They shout back.

In this regard – in this inability to take criticism – the skateboarders are remindful of the downtown retailers themselves. Just try making a recommendation to retailers at a group meeting, perhaps a recommendation about extending store hours or liberalizing merchandise return policies. They’ll tear your head off!

For the past thirty years, downtown retailers and building owners have been chasing almost everyone away. Even as the needs of customers have changed, even as the lifestylesof customers have evolved, downtown merchants have failed to make the adjustments in marketing, merchandising, operations, customer service, and building usage. One by one, the people have drifted away. Market share of the downtown has deteriorated. Second floors of many of the buildings are empty and in disrepair.

Potential retailers – candidates for opening new stores in this downtown – have watched all of this and have – in great majority – opened their stores elsewhere.

And so, downtown has lost its franchise as the Center of the community, the place of diversity. Viable modern retailers have relocated. Many of the quality service providers have joined them. First class entertainment is a short hop away on Interstate Ninety-Four and so are airports, specialty medical centers, restaurants and modern apartment complexes. The action is elsewhere.

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Downtown Albion Today
An Aesthetic Illiteracy

No small community in Michigan can boast a better building stock. Several racks of uninterrupted extraordinary late Nineteenth-Century and early Twentieth-Century commercial buildings set along Superior Street. A parade of consultants come to Albion and tell the building owners and retailers how beautiful the buildings could be, and write eloquently about the opportunities for building renovation in their reports. The building owners and the retailers listen to the glowing accounts and read the hopeful reports and the studies. And they yawn.

These beautiful buildings are now best observed by looking only at their upper half. A series of retailers have, one by one, pasted an assortment of tasteless nonsense over the original facades on many of the buildings. The downtown suffers from Mansard roof-it is. Tin, barn board, decorative brick, and other fad materials have been used. They blight these graceful buildings and conspire to destroy their aesthetic grace.

But tasteless reworking of buildings is no more serious than the lack of even the most minimal maintenance by many building owners. For years, these owners have ignored their responsibilities as “stewards” of their buildings and they have pocketed the juicy rents.

This irresponsible behavior by building owners has left the downtown dismal and depressing. And now that vacancies are climbing and rental rates are dropping, building owners are no easily able to “do the right thing” even if they want to. Those who complain, both locals and outsiders, are told to mind their business. “I own it so I can do whatever I want to with it” is the simplistic philosophy of building owners and their clever lawyers. Exceptions to this pattern of behavior exist in downtown Albion, but the exceptions are few indeed.

It is almost as if there is an aesthetic illiteracy here, a total lack of aesthetic sense or concern on the part of building owners, retailers, and community leaders.

And it is a community disgrace.

Downtown Albion Today
“Sacred Sites”

People agree, to an almost astonishing extent, about the sites which embody a people’s relation to the land and to the past. It seems, in other words, as though the sacred sites of an area exist as objective communal realities.

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It is essential that these specific sites be preserved and made important. Destruction of these sites that have become part of the communal consciousness in an agreed and widespread sense must, inevitably create gaping wounds in the communal body.

Traditional societies have always recognized the importance of these sites. But modern society often ignores their psychological importance. They are bulldozed, developed, redeveloped, changed, for political or economic reasons without regard for these simple but fundamental emotional matters.

People cannot maintain their spiritual roots and their connection to the past if the physical world they live in does not also sustain these roots.

Whether the sacred sites are large or small, whether they are at the Center of the town, in the neighborhoods, in the deepest countryside, ordinances that protect them absolutely must be established “so that our roots in the visible surrounding cannot be violated.”

When we spoke with building owners and retailers and City officials about the extraordinary traditions of the brick on Superior, about the historical, cultural implications, we were met with gentle, condescending, putoffs. But when we defended about the brick roadway as a sacred site of the community we were told in no uncertain terms to mind our own business. We figured we had hit some special nerve.

This report would, therefore, not be complete without the following words: The removal of the brick roadway on Superior would rob the people of Albion of a profoundly important, a sacred site; and will indeed create a gaping wound… the latest in a long series of wounds.

We know of all the supposed economic reasons, all of the political reasons, to go forward with this scheme. In one of the more ironic rationalizations we’ve heard, several building owners told us that their buildings were in danger because of the vibration caused by traffic along Superior. Well, well, well. At long last: Concern for the buildings in downtown Albion! Will wonders never cease. In fact, there exist several solutions to any vibration problems.

We are certainly aware of the State of Michigan Department of Transportation’s position regarding the roadway on Superior. Boil it down to its true elements and it is this: “We pay you if you destroy your sacred place. We don’t pay you if you preserve your sacred place.” Some day, someone, in some Michigan community, is going to stand up to the geniuses at DOT.

Meanwhile, they ravage on.

“So what?” we are asked, “What’s the value, the economic value… how can we make some money because we’ve got this unique brick roadway on Superior… where’s the payoff?”

To which, we might respond with our own question: Do we have to make money on everything… does there have to be a toll booth in front of the brick roadway on Superior for it to have value?

In downtown Albion, the economic activity, the diversity, has dissipated, is gone. The historic buildings have been adulterated or torn down altogether, the customers have been shoed away. And so it could be argued that the tearing up the roadway is, indeed, an appropriate final sacrilege.

The removal of the brick roadway on Superior Street would rob the people of Albion of a profoundly important, a sacred site; and will indeed create a gaping wound… the latest in a series of wounds in the community.

Or someone could stand up and call it, name it, sacrilege. Teach others. Share a language. Make the brick roadway on Superior Street the very first sacred place that the people of Albion will have saved for themselves, protected absolutely.

Downtown Albion Tomorrow
“A Country Town”

Big cities are magnets. It is terribly hard for small towns to stay alive and healthy in the face of urban growth. Albion leaders, for instance, describe how difficult it has been to provide viable challenges for local young people. They move away, the very brightest of them, off to college, and are next heard from in places like Southfield where they’ve just landed an exciting position in one of those futuristic buildings along the highway.

What’s to become of Albion and of its downtown in the face of competition from the Southfields and the Ann Arbors and the great cities beyond?

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And what are the actions that City leaders should take to insure the community, the viability of the downtown, and the quality of life.

Ask one person and he might say that the answer is for existing retailers to do a better job serving the current customer. Someone else might suggest that serving the college community is important. A third person might talk about renovating the downtown buildings. Still another might advise encouraging people to live in upper stories of downtown buildings, that the community should re-think zoning prohibitions against second-level downtown apartments. Finally, someone might point out the dangers of allowing projects like thenew Hardee’s to encroach into the downtown. All excellent points to consider.

But, here we go again… a few good ideas, a new concept or two… this is not an approach that is most likely to result in successful revitalization of Albion’s Center. What is needed for revitalization to occur is a totally new way of thinking about the city. In fact, what is needed is a totally new language.

Ideas and Recommendations
“A Pattern Language”

In order for downtown Albion revitalization to occur, it will be necessary for the leaders of the community – the Mayor, Members of Council,Downtown Development Authority, and Planning Commission, theEDC Director, Planning Director, and the City Manager – to conceive and to share a common revitalization language, what author Christopher Alexander refers to as “a pattern language”.

By “patterns” we mean a collection of communally-adopted revitalization principles and concepts. Once Albion leadership can conceive and begin using a common language of revitalization, then the process of incremental movement toward revitalization can occur.

Without a common language of revitalization, and without an understanding of these recurring patterns, each individual leader is constrained by a lack of understanding about what all the other leaders think and feel and believe about downtown and its current and future purposes. And with a common language will come an evolving consensus about Albion’s leaders’ hopes and dreams for the future of the downtown.

Offered below is a recommended basic downtown revitalization pattern language, together with comments about how the pattern language relates to downtown Albion.

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Guiding Principles for
Implementing a Downtown Revitalization

1. The Principle of Organic Order

Planning, construction, restoration, and repair of downtown Albion should be guided by a process which allows a revitalized whole to emerge gradually from incremental acts.

2. The Principle of Participation

All decisions about what to build, what to restore, what to repair, and how to do it, should be shared by all the users of the downtown, by community leaders, building owners, retailers, customers, and the people of the community.

3. The Principle of Piecemeal Growth

The construction restoration, and repair of downtown Albion should be weighed overwhelmingly towards small projects rather than large projects.

4. The Principle of Patterns

All revitalization activity should be guided by the collection of communally adopted revitalization principles called “patterns”, using a pattern language similar to that language provided herein.

5. The Principle of Diagnosis.

The progress of the revitalization must be reviewed each year with an identification of which spaces in the downtown are alive and which ones are dead.

6. The Principle of Coordination

The slow emergence of a revitalized downtown Albion – an organic order of the whole – will be assured by a process which regulates and coordinates in a stream of individual projects put forward.

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A Downtown Revitalization Pattern Language for Downtown Albion

I. Pattern Language about the Purpose of a Downtown

1. Magic of the Downtown

There are few people who do not enjoy the magic of the city… but urban sprawl takes it away from everyone except the few who are lucky enough to live close in… ordinances that preclude people living in the upper floors of downtown buildings should be changed, and zoning that leads to “miracle miles” and other sprawl should be changed to allow for easy access into the downtown and a “sense of arrival” into the Center.

2. City as Stage

Downtown Albion should be allowed to be a constantly changing stage – a place for new retailers, quality in-fill buildings, new professional offices, new (or renewed) kinds of residential living, new groups of residents, college students and visitors. Ordinances which preclude such evolution should be reviewed.

3. Mosaic of Sub-Cultures

Albion is blessed with people greatly diverse in cultural, ethnic, religious, and educational backgrounds. Downtown Albion should be a place that welcomes all people, all groups. And is a place where the differences in these peoples, these cultures should be explored and celebrated… where the young people in the community can learn about the wonderful differences in people and the shared values of all people.

4. Sacred Sites

People agree, to an astonishing extent, about the sites which embody their relation to the land and to the past. It seems, in other words, as though the sacred sites of a place exist as objective communal realities. Whether the sacred sites are large or small, whether they are at the Center of the towns, in the neighborhoods, or in the deepest countryside, ordinances that protect them absolutely should be established.

5. Life Cycles

Albion will be measured by how well it facilities a quality lifestyle for all its people, from infancy to old age. Ordinances and regulations that effectively exclude certain members of the community because of their age or interests should be replaced with ordinances, regulations, and programs that encourage everyone to participate in and enjoy the downtown.

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6. Old People Everywhere

The people of age in Albion need the companionship each other. They also need contact with the young who are enriched by contact with their seniors. Ordinances and regulations that tend to separate the young and the old should be reviewed and replaced by ordinances, regulations, and programs that facilitate and encourage people of all ages, in all life cycles, to come together in the Center.

7. Promenade

City leaders should encourage the gradual formation of a “promenade” at the center of the downtown. More than a “sidewalk,” a promenade is a specific named area within the walkway system where pedestrian activity is encouraged and especially-protected.

8. Education in the Center

Concentrated, cloistered places of learning, with closed administrative policies and rigid procedures which dictate who may teach a course and who may attend a course kill opportunities for learning. Ordinances, regulations, and programs that encourage and make public space available for informal educational experiences for all of the people of Albion should be established.

9. Parking

Adequate and suitable parking is an important element to the health and viability of downtown Albion. Yet, vast, open parking lots detract greatly from the aesthetics of a downtown. Parking lots in downtown Albion should be as small as possible. They should set behind some kind of natural wall so that the cars and parking lots are screened from outside. The “wall that surrounds the cars may be a building, connected buildings, or housing hills, earth berms, or shops. The entrances to these lots should be a natural gateway to the buildings served by the lot, and placed so that the main entrances to the buildings can be seen easily from the parking lot entrance.

10. Activity Nodes

One of the greatest problems in downtown Albion is that the human activity is spread so thin that it has little or no impact on the community. Ordinances, regulations, and programs that encourage the creation of activity nodes throughout the downtown, spread no more than three-hundred feet apart should be established. First, identify those existing spots in the downtown where action seems to concentrate itself. Then modify the traffic flow in the downtown to bring as many of them through. [ Page13 ] Create a small and modest public square, and surround it with a combination of companion facilities and shops.

11. Night Life

The great majority of activities in downtown Albion close down at night (although on the North end of downtown, at or near Bohm, and on the South side of Superior and Erie Street there exist small clusters of businesses that stay open after the generally-accepted five-thirty closing hour). Retailers and restaurateurs should be encouraged to extend hours of operation, providing evening activities for students, “cruisers”, and other Albion residents.

12. Small Public Squares

Downtown needs several public squares, linked to activity nodes. They are the largest, most public rooms, that the downtown has. But when they are too large, they look and feel deserted. Public squares should be made much smaller than first imagined, no more than sixty feet across.

13. Adventure Playground.

There must be a place for children to play in the downtown. A castle made of cartons, rocks, and old branches, by a group of children for themselves, is worth a thousand perfectly detailed, exactly finished castles, made for them in a factory. The City should set up a playground for children in the downtown… not a highly finished playground, with asphalt and swings, but a place with raw materials of all kinds – nets, boxes, barrels, trees, ropes, frames, grass, and water – where Albion’s children can create and re-create playgrounds of their own.

14. Traveler’s Inn

People who come to Albion on business or to visit their children who are attending Albion College need to be provided for. Ordinances and regulations should be written to encourage the establishment of additional bed and breakfast establishments for those guests in the community. In communities throughout Michigan, B&B’s located within the downtown have experienced increasing success. Additionally, ordinances and regulations should give special exceptions to those innkeepers who offer informal, communally-served, meals.

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II. Pattern Language about the Infrastructure and Buildings

15. Architectural Integrity

Ordinances and regulations that protect the architectural integrity of downtown Albion’s commercial buildings should be strengthened. These ordinances and regulations should include a specific design and preservation overlay. The Planning Commission or a Design Review Committee should approve all new building plans, façade restoration and any other proposed changes that effect the identity of downtown Albion.

Additionally, the City should adopt – and enforce – a strict sign ordinance.

Finally, the City should strictly enforce all existing building codes with the downtown.

16. Upper Floor Uses.

Owners whose downtown buildings were “grandfathered” regarding a “no apartments in downtown” ordinances have experienced strong and positive response from apartment-seekers. There remains a great demand for additional downtown market-rate housing. The City should replace existing ordinances and regulations with those that would encourage the development of market-rate apartments in upper floors of downtown buildings. This change would increase diversity within the downtown, making it more interesting, more active, and safer. It would also increase the value of all downtown buildings.

17. Vegetation in the City

In Albion, as in cities and towns throughout the country, there is entirely too much asphalt and not enough greenery. The trees along Superior, together with the extraordinary green roadway, is a welcome relief.

18. Pedestrian Street

The pedestrian has been shoved aside! The simple social intercourse created when people rub shoulders in public – this essential glue in society – has been cast aside in favor of the automobile, and its need to speed from one place to another. The functions of a street should include automobile access to property, short-term storage of vehicles, transportation through a district, pedestrian access to a property and between properties, an aesthetic frame for buildings, space for community activities, occasional sales space for merchants and other vendors, space for outdoor food vendors, and space for the dissemination of public information. Downtown must be a place [ Page15 ] for pedestrians or all efforts toward revitalization will fail. City leaders should review all ordinances, regulations, and prior arrangements with the State of Michigan, in light of this reality.

19. Positive Outdoor Space

Outdoor spaces that are merely “left over” between buildings will, in general, not be used. Make all outdoor spaces that surround and lie between buildings positive. Give each one some degree of enclosure, surround each space with wings of buildings, trees, hedges, fences, or trellised walks, until it becomes an entity with a positive quality and does not spill out indefinitely around corners.

20. Places to sit.

A downtown must include many places spread throughout to sit and rest, talk and reflect.

III. Pattern Language about Economic Activity

21. Retail Excellence

Albion retailers should be pressured by building owners and the City (where lawful and appropriate) to pursue retail excellence, for each individual retailer to search for a retail niche, to improve marketing, merchandising, customer service, and store operations.

22. Customer Commitment Contract

Retailers should be encouraged to join together as a group and communicate with the Albion customer that they are committed to improving service by way of a “Customer Commitment Contract” promising to extend hours of operation, liberalize merchandise return policies, and make other various improvements to their retail operations.

23. Retail Clustering

Downtown can no longer serve the needs of all of the customers of Albion all of the time. Suburban shopping centers, discount stores, and factory outlet stores provide for many customer needs. Downtown retailers should be clustered close to one another. Stores serving a similar customer or providing companion-type merchandise should be located close together. The Downtown Development Authority should work with building owners to achieve a clustered retail setting in the downtown.

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24. Retailer Recruitment

The Downtown Development Authority, in partnership with the local Chamber of Commerce, the Main Street organization, the merchants group and ad hoc groups, should make concerted efforts to recruit appropriate retailers to provide better shopping experiences for the downtown Albion customer, to bolster the values of downtown buildings and to improve the image of downtown. Given the current level of operation on the part of many existing downtown Albion retailers and the rampant deterioration of many downtown buildings, recruitment of new businesses will continue to be an uphill struggle.

25. Street Café

The optical leverage of open air food stands is tremendous. For basic props nothing more is needed than several stacks of chairs and tables and some canvass. Put out the tables, bring on the waitresses and the customers, and the visual effect can be stunning. Encourage existing restaurateurs to open local café’s in the downtown. Encourage these café’s to be built so that a set of tables stretch out of the café right onto the sidewalk. Change any ordinances and regulations that would prohibit this.

Many of our habits and institutions are bolstered by the fact that we can get simple, inexpensive, food on the street, on the way to shopping, work and friends. By default, food vendors have become the best caterers of the downtown’s outdoor life. They flourish because they are servicing a demand that downtown establishments do not. Change any ordinances and regulations that “protect” local restaurateurs from “competition” from food stands.

26. Retailer Organization

Downtown retailers should all be invited to belong to a no-dues, informal, retailer organization that meets weekly. The location of the weekly meeting should move from store to store so that over a period of time each merchant has the opportunity to act as host store. The meetings should be held fifteen to twenty minutes prior to morning store openings. The agenda should be three-fold: First, “Store of the Week”, where everyone in attendance provides the host shop keeper with an idea on how he or she might improve the store’s operation; second, discussion on one issue affecting retail excellence in the downtown where the retailers have total control over the outcome; and third, discussion on one issue affecting retail excellence in the downtown where the retailers might need cooperation from some third party in order to improve service to their customers. These meetings will have the effect of bringing the merchants closer together and improving overall retail standards in the downtown.

Source: Retail Partners, Inc.; 6 Buck Hills Road; Durham, NH 03824