Posted by Cole Judge
Last night, Fresno Future held a panel on Rethinking Downtown Fresno with Mayor Ashley Swearengin, Fresno State University’s Dr. Sameh El Kharbawy, Assistant Director of Development and Resource Management for the City of Fresno Keith Bergthold and Fresno City Manager Mark Scott.
Dr. Kharbawy started the night channeling Daniel Burnham’s classic planning quote that many planning students instill into part of their permanent vernacular: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.” He also threw in a Hegel quote, “From history we learn that we never learn from history.” So let’s prove Hegel wrong! Let’s learn from our own unique history, the history of American downtowns around the country and build a better Fresno.
Mayor Swearengin expanded on this point by stating that building a stronger, more economically vital Fresno is directly related to having a strong downtown: we cannot have a healthy city without a strong downtown. She continued that, in many ways a city is like a body: if one part of the body is rotting, it affects the whole. For example, we cannot have our Downtown main street, Fulton, operating at just 6% of its economic potential. Fresno needs its downtown. It is an area with a historically rich building stock, with transportation centers and the potential for density that is not found in other areas of the city.
In a city with a 110,000 square mile footprint that has grown 8.5x its size since 1946, combating sprawl and focusing on infill of downtown and older neighborhoods will be crucial. It is not only imperative for our environment, air quality, and farmers, but our cash-strapped city can no longer provide city services to any more land mass. Sprawl is not a successful model in other cities and it won’t be here.
Downtown Fresno is the heart of the City of Fresno’s Identity. Thanks to leadership, political will, community involvement, and non-profits, Downtown is starting to show promise. The 2035 City of Fresno General Plan and the updated Development Code (along with the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan and the Downtown Neighborhoods Plan) are tools that will help us reverse the course of 40 years of neglect. The 2035 plan is a strategic vision connected with capital improvement projects that looks at the entire urban system as a whole. Click here to see a video on the plan.
Along with the 2035 General Plan, the Downtown property owners taxed themselves to create a business improvement district and the Downtown Fresno Partnership (DFP) to pay for shared services. The DFP helps make the downtown area clean and safe; provides business support; and brings over 120,000 annual attendees to downtown events. Finally, the customers (the users) can support downtown businesses and believe in the future of their city. Fresnans need to believe it is possible to change the downtown.
While it wasn’t mentioned at the forum, Fresno Citizens for a Strong Economy started the “I Believe in Downtown Fresno” campaign this year to garner support for downtown Fresno from citizens from all over Fresno. To read their pledge about changing downtown and to sign on, visit: I Believe in Downtown Fresno.
What does the future hold for Downtown and for Fresno? The new urban form includes an integration of new development with old development; it includes mixed income living and neighborhood involvement; it involves restoring Fulton to a vibrant main street; it comes with an updated development code, making development easier to happen downtown; it comes with transit oriented development and bus rapid transit along Blackstone; it includes high speed rail; and most importantly, it requires Fresnans to view their city with new eyes. Make no small plans and let your souls be stirred.
What do you want to see for the future of Fresno? Submit your ideas online at Future Fresno.
And why didn’t Kim Burly write this post, you ask? Why are you stuck reading a post from an urban planning research nerd? Because, otherwise, you would have had Ashley Swearengin’s number one groupie writing about how much she loves the Mayor (understandably so) and it would have looked a lot like this e-mail warning she sent to everyone in the office.