By Ruth Gadebusch
Valuable rain spring has come to Fresno, but there is no joy seeing the chopped up trees and wrapped art pieces being removed from the Fulton Mall. Elsewhere in the city one can look around to see the beautiful color of the early blooming trees replaced with plants thriving in the warmth of late spring. Alas, there is no such beauty on the once terrific Fulton Mall.
Ironically, one of Fresno’s shortcomings is the lack of park space; yet we are tearing out an oasis in the midst of urban development. Even more ironically this space is relatively near the part of town most in need of additional park space. Adding insult to injury it is being done in the name of the almighty automobile. What are we thinking? Or is thinking the missing element?
Whatever happened to the idea of promoting public transportation? Don’t we remember the brouhaha when it was realized that there was no public transportation to take the many patients and visiting families to Valley Children’s Hospital when it abandoned the city for the Madera County bluffs? Didn’t some forward thinking citizens work very diligently to get public transportation, little as it was, included in the Measure C road tax?
Even now the City Council has taken some recent action for better public transportation express routes. Doesn’t that run counter to encouraging people to drive downtown to park on an opened Fulton Street? Do people drive downtown just to park on Fulton? To access what? Surely not stores with appealing goods. If and when those stores do return, keep in mind that one side of that mall has back door parking and the other a large underground garage as well as several others nearby.
A bright light is shined downtown by the many, many new multiple housing units. It appears that most dwellers are not expected to have cars. Most certainly they would not need parking on what was once an exciting mall. After all, they could walk there, as well as could many in the underserved “West Side.” What people need are grocery stores (granted, not the usual mall stores) and more than one all-purpose “drug store” (the ten-cent or dime store in my childhood days) for purchasing the incidentals of daily living, to say nothing of the more seldom purchases of clothing and household goods. It simply makes no sense whatsoever to be tearing out the mall just as people are moving into downtown.
Yes, I am aware of the failed efforts to entice various specialty merchants to come to the Fulton Mall and I remember the department stores of yore. But, how much vision did it require to see the results of the ever-growing exodus North when almost every request for zoning any vacant parcel for shopping centers of one kind and another in that part of town was granted? For the time being let us ignore the medical facilities rush North.
Need I remind anyone that the once touted Fulton Mall was not exactly kept in the best condition as the merchants that would have kept the population flowing downtown abandoned it. From time to time there were festivals but generally, there was little to attract citizens to bypass opportunities and visit the mall nearer to home. Many of us who had so enjoyed showing it off to visitors were more embarrassed that prideful. Even the children’s play areas did not have the appeal to bring the children to the “park.”
Of course, change comes, but I cannot find losing the Fulton Mall a heritage I would want to claim. Is it just too late? My tears won’t matter but let us not continue to reinforce the negative. Let us focus on the good and hang on to it for dear life. To name one there is still high-speed rail. Wake up Fresno.
Ruth Gadebusch is a veteran and a community activist, 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.