Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pursuing failed strategies of renewal

Hooray? Atlanta has won the National Health Museum sweepstakes, successfully luring the $250 million project that will "teach visitors about healthier living and serve as a stage for international health events."

And, of course, the museum folks and the state economic development folks are looking for sites around Centennial Park. (I called it Centennial Park once to someone that works for the park - she emphatically informed me that the correct term is Centennial Olympic Park.)

My first reaction is that I don't want Centennial Park to become surrounded by half-ass museums and unnecessary libraries. The Aquarium and the World of Coke are good and all, but I always think of the museums around Central Park in NYC a model. They don't compare to the Met or the Guggenheim (I exclude the CCHR from this discussion, since I think it probably will compare favorably enough).

I also react based on living near Detroit for a number of years. Detroit, like Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, took an "attractions" approach to urban revitalization. This approach did bring more people downtown, but it didn't bring revitalization. All these folks just left and went back home to the 'burbs. The land around Centennial Park is very valuable and shouldn't be wasted on strategies that are bound to fail. Even if these museums get good attendance, the impact on the city might be less than with another land use.

So I think that there should be less emphasis on getting the next Hall of Fame or museum, and more on attracting residences. More residences will bring more retail and more commercial space. That said, I don't think these goals (attraction, increased number of residences) have to be mutually exclusive. This National Health Museum is supposed to be a decent size (between that of the World of Coke and the Aquarium), so I am a little afraid this will chew up a lot of land. I am going to hope that I'm wrong and pursuing all these attractions won't inhibit alternative uses around the park.

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