Update: In June, the Ames city council declined to give Lane4 more time to come up with a workable plan for Campustown redevelopment but said that the city may approach the Kansas City development company in the future.
It’s clear that our Campustown needs work. Regardless of your stance on the current situation with LANE4, Iowa State University, and the City of Ames, I think this is something we can all agree on.
However, when I look at the current plans for renovating the area, I can’t help but think of something Frank Zappa said in 1985 regarding the censorship of music: “The PRMC’s demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation.” The truth is that the same issue of overkill is present in this situation. Yes, there are problems, but instead of addressing them individually, would we really rather raze the area and start over with brand new businesses that have no guarantee of actually succeeding? Sounds like “treating dandruff by decapitation” to me.
For a skeptic like myself, this approach begs the question of whether Iowa State and the City of Ames have a bigger problem with the run-down buildings or the businesses themselves. While it’s easy to say that the quality of the buildings is the focus, it’s more difficult to support that claim when you consider the fact that they want to bring in different kinds of businesses in place of what’s there now.
The proposed plans have no explicit intent to include bars, tattoo parlors, or head shop – most of what Campustown is comprised of – into the final layout. Now, there are areas that are unspoken for that are supposedly available for current business owners to occupy in the future. However, the City and LANE4 have no obligation to give these to the current business owners, and there’s no guarantee that they will get their location back.
Of course, the city and ISU have everything to gain from this, because it makes both entities look immensely better. Campustown is right on ISU’s doorstep, and the parents of potential students would undoubtedly rather see their children go to a school with a Ruby Tuesday and a pharmacy close by than places where they can buy bongs and booze.
But we all know that nothing is going to stop college kids from doing these things. They will find a way to them, and no matter how much anybody tries to remove this presence from the commercial aspect of a college town, all it will be doing is putting a pretty face on the ugly truth of what college life really is.
The negative sentiment towards these kinds of businesses can be summed up in an article published by the Iowa State Daily, in which LANE4 regarded tattoo and piercing shops as “unappealing use.” Unappealing to whom? Obviously not college students judging by the fact that they’re getting tattoos every day.
But the problem isn’t inherent in these kinds of businesses. Anyone who’s been to a bigger city has probably seen that tattoo parlors and bars can be clean, respectable, and really quite attractive. I believe that we can bring that positive environment to Campustown without having to displace businesses and start from square one. This would allow Campustown to keep its character while making it look more family-friendly, as well as open it up for more community-targeted businesses.
A good way to approach this would be to start with the street. Buildings aside, Welch Avenue itself between Lincoln Way and Chamberlain Street is worn down and uninviting. The amount of traffic going through Welch and the parking on both sides of the street give the feeling that cars take priority over pedestrians.
Unfortunately, because of its location and slope, I can’t see a ped mall such as the one in Iowa City working in our Campustown area. However, a good compromise would be a woonerf. A woonerf is a shared road that motorists can drive down, but the pedestrians have priority. Redoing the street this way would eliminate the parking and allow businesses to expand outside into the sidewalk, which is inviting for foot traffic. This would make Welch a more open, friendly environment without completely killing automobile traffic. It would also make the area look nicer, encouraging businesses to follow suit and adapt both functionally and aesthetically.
It’s easy to think that what has worked for other universities would work for us, but the truth is that Iowa State’s situation is a unique one and should be treated accordingly. The current renovation goes so drastically against the grain of what’s already there that it would be a shock to Ames’ system and wouldn’t engage the current community.
I’ve lived in Ames for nearly sixteen years – I love this town, and I don’t want to see an important aspect of it, like Campustown, be demolished and replaced with chains that are present in every other city. The idea I explained above is one of many ways we can attempt to better our Campustown while still maintaining and embracing the uniqueness and character it has.
[Editor's note: The Space for Ames, which until recently was a part of the Ames Progressive, is in Campustown and would be affected if Lane4's proposal were approved in its current form.]
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