By Ruth Gadebusch
Once upon a time, Fresno had vision. It was going to save its downtown. A civic planner was hired and a downtown street was turned into an exciting mall. Dedicated citizens raised money and graced that mall with carefully selected art. It was a showcase recognized far and wide. We came. We saw. We shopped. We boasted.
Now our mayor and a following would tear it out in worship of the almighty automobile! Whatever happened to the dream? Granted, the Fulton Mall is not the dream it once was but do we really think that just allowing cars to park is going to revive the dream? There has to be a reason to go downtown to that mall.
That reason went down the drain when zoning went out the window, when businesses moved north along with the medical (land donated for a hospital on the far edge of the city, exacerbated with a children’s hospital even more remote) and legal (far from the courthouses) worlds, when housing developments were allowed to sprawl well beyond developed urban services. And now, we are surprised that downtown isn’t mobbed. I repeat: There has to be a reason to go downtown.
Oh yes, all manner of festivals have been staged but there can’t be one every day. There are signs of revitalization with the Arts District and housing development but wouldn’t it be sabotaging those efforts to abandon the Fulton Mall without giving it a chance to become part of this effort? Why is it that we go halfway and stop before completion. The mall was doomed when the department stores were allowed to build farther and farther North. Even government agencies have moved far from the greater portion of those they serve.
It was inevitable that the people would follow that exodus. Those shopping centers had parking but, in truth, shoppers walk just as far to get to a given store as they do from the ample parking just off the Fulton Mall. It is the goods themselves that are the attraction.
Is that so hard to understand?
Of course, I appreciate the difficulty of getting those shopping opportunities downtown again. Still, housing has been slowly developing in the area with a market likely to follow. After all, it is people who do the shopping. There are still groups working diligently to develop mass transportation to the entire area in hopes of alleviating the contribution of the gasoline motor to our air problems.
The university builds a sports arena and has plans for a conference center that competes with the downtown center leaving us once again seemingly surprised that the older one sits empty too often. Even the Philharmonic is staging more and more of its concerts at a north-end school, albeit a wonderful theater. The downtown center is under the same management as the campus one, and if that isn’t a conflict of interest I don’t know what is.
Let us save the Fulton Mall. How much better it would be to use what we have than to destroy and start all over with a pipe dream. Surely we have enough imagination to find a solution short of destruction. We may even bypass the naysayers with high-speed rail. In a city rather short on such amenities it should, at the least, serve as a park for a less affluent section of the city. Nor can we continue to infringe on our agriculture land to build, build, build letting the older section collapse from lack of attention.
Let us follow the dream to completion, not throw roadblocks or stop half way. The Fulton Mall can shine again.
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.