By Ruth Gadebusch
Looking around Fresno, one can’t help but wonder what kind of planning we have. Granted, much of it was set in place years ago. We are now reaping the results; however, one could argue that we are more inclined to exacerbate the situation than to improve it.
Moving to Fresno shortly before the Fulton Mall was constructed, oh what excitement. Our story reached far and wide, which was far nicer than all those lists where we now grace the bottom, or near so. What happened? In a word: sprawl.
In my mind. it started with the gift of land for a new hospital—waaayy out north. The die was cast, and we never looked back. Yes, St. Agnes had outgrown its facility, but was Herndon Avenue, at the time populated mostly with scattered farmhouses, the best place or was it the gift of land? It matters not. There was no turning back. Other related facilities followed.
Far more questionable was the move of Valley Children’s Hospital from its midtown location to north of the river. Quite late in the game, it was realized that there was little or no urban infrastructure available there. Especially, there was no public transportation available for the many needing it.
Sticking to the healthcare area, one would have to note that another inevitable expansion came when the County Hospital was merged into Community Hospital. It was a logical choice given the conditions of the county facility and the proximity—still downtown. With the northeast exodus having been set, the new hospital to Clovis was appropriate. Not surprising, we now have a vast array of medical facilities clustered in the northeast, possibly advantageous being near each other, but leaving much of the city with rather limited access.
Then there are the shopping centers largely begun with Manchester. Its spark began to dim with the construction of Fashion Fair. Despite enclosing, it was never again quite as bright. Many of us who want to save Fulton Mall recognizing that we had already gone far enough—too far? —vehemently opposed Sierra Vista. After all, a population can only support so much commerce, not to mention our best farmland lies to the east.
Little did we know there was to be River Park and the other three corners that most of us wrap into one. Why are so many surprised that departing businesses and downright neglect have devastated our once renowned Fulton Mall? What will be the effect of El Paseo at Herndon and 99?
Yes, a growing population demands expansion but should it be done with so little forethought for the future? There are consequences. I have been thrilled at the renovation at the north end of the Fulton Mall but equally disappointed at the same developer’s decision to place a pharmacy school at Friant instead of near existing facilities with an affinity.
There are so many other examples that could be cited, but arguably, the most glaring is our section dominated by poverty and therefore little attraction for commercial development. The Fulton Mall is the only strong candidate for service to that area both for commerce and park, this latter another dead last attainment.
Then there is that matter called infill. For every newly built shopping area one can count on finding a few more boarded-up buildings. Likewise, housing developments leave older houses empty, despite our many homeless, a subject for another time. We are in a chicken-and-egg situation. Which comes first, the housing or the commerce? At the very least, we must consider what we are doing to the future. Will it be “eat, drink and be merry” letting sprawl set the tone, or will we plan beyond the moment?
Ruth Gadebusch, a community activist, is a veteran, a former member of the Fresno Unified School Board and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.