Welcome Back! Guest Blogger, Rodd Myers. With a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning, a focus on business and public administration from the University of Michigan, Rodd writes from considerable experience.
The premise of urban planning and a master plan is that downtown should be walkable, integrated, open-air and multiuse. A successful master plan provides features where people gather to shop, eat and live. Frequently offices, hotels, civic, and cultural properties unite the master plan.
The underlying principle is that to succeed a downtown must evolve into a dense, compact, and diverse part of a neighborhood and community with strong connections to its surroundings. Thus, retail, offices, governmental buildings, hotels, businesses, and civic structures, while an integral part of the neighborhood, do not complete a neighborhood. Only housing that is within walking, biking or a short driving distance builds the strong connections that are vital to success. The current landscape of downtown Rocky Mount lacks the critical connectors that a successful master plan implements. While there are numerous empty buildings that could house the necessary features mentioned above—those buildings lie empty either dilapidated or in ruin due to politics and neglect.
Blocks of housing also exist within walking and biking distance of downtown. However, much of it needs rehabilitation or sits empty, once again, due to politics and neglect. Add to that the maze of one-way streets (an urban panning negative) that make it difficult to navigate the downtown area easily. There is one more barrier that looms larger than the rest but cannot be changed -the railroad tracks that bisect downtown Rocky Mount. The railroad tracks coupled with the number of trains passing through often bock traffic for long periods of time.
A master plan confronted with issues of this nature requires creative solutions that integrate the barriers into the plan. For instance, a couple of strategically placed architecturally pleasing pedestrian/bike bridges. The master plan must also address the inventory of business and housing structures, their condition and how they fit into the plan.
The master plan must articulate what is salvageable, what is not and the highest and best use of each structure as it relates to the plan. The plan must provide budgets and vehicles for financing. Typically, financing is a mix of federal, state and local funds. The private sector must step up as well—paying back taxes, using their own funds to maintain their property and encouraging other business and homeowners to do the same. Why then is Rocky Mount so deprived of a viable downtown? We know the buildings lie in disrepair with extensive water and mold damage. We know there is some sort of plan for downtown, but it has not been passed by the Council. We know that an extensive and accurate inventory of structures and their condition is not completed. We know that a city divided by tracks is not a deal-breaker but where corruption, lack of responsibility and poverty are involved, the ‘other side of the tracks’ has additional significance to the success of a plan.
SFH: It is an absolute necessity for city planners and those whose responsibility it is to preserve and protect our architectural assets, to follow a plan. In our case, one that has never been voted upon along with The Ratio Plan, We follow a plan that members of the Council dream up. Lately, a mix-used hotel/parking garage, a piece meal approach. I have provided a link above to look at what experts in the field of urban planning provide: a roadmap to success. A plan best administered by trained and educated leadership in this matter. Don’t miss the point that it is nearby housing that is vital to success after determining the best use of the structure and how it relates to the plan.