PHIL WIELAND: Forget charrettes; here's your U.S. 20 plan

2013-04-19T00:00:00Z PHIL WIELAND: Forget charrettes; here's your U.S. 20 plan nwitimes.com
April 19, 2013 12:00 am

As a noted urban planner (and I have the notes from several psychiatrists to prove it), I am happy to offer my insights on how to improve the U.S. 20 corridor in Portage.

Portage hired a consultant to look at the corridor and, after the retching subsides, develop an improvement plan that does not include more fireworks businesses, trailer parks or No-Tell Motels.

City officials want to make the corridor more attractive — enough perhaps, to encourage people to visit the city, maybe stay to see whatever sights there might be and spend money to either shop or start a business of their own. This would beat the current tendency to drive as fast as the speed limit allows — plus at least 10 mph, possibly with eyes closed — until you reach the city limits.

The consultants held a public workshop recently to get residents' ideas for the corridor. Consultants like to call these intense planning sessions charrettes, which I think is a French word for getting someone else to do your work for you. Charrettes also are a way to show they attended a high-class planning school and can therefore charge another $50 every time they use the term charrette (cha-ching).

I'm sure the consultants got plenty of great suggestions at the charrette (cha-ching), but I'd like to give them a few more they can consider. To improve the U.S. 20 corridor, I would:

  • Sell it. If the state can find someone to lease the Indiana Toll Road for almost $4 billion, Portage ought to be able to pick up some loose change for the few miles of potentially prime real estate. Whoever buys it can develop it as they see fit. Whatever it is, it's probably going to be better than anything the government could come up with.
  • Business theme parks. Not the kind of theme parks with rides, although that might not be a bad idea. I would set up mile-long blocks in which specific kinds of businesses would be invited to locate. For instance, a cluster of car dealers and auto service centers; restaurants, from fast food to fine dining; a group of clothing stores; home improvement centers, or Do-Tell Motels, etc.
  • At a midpoint intersection, possibly Willowcreek Road/Ind. 249, a huge roundabout. In the center, the Mayor James Snyder Memorial Fountain and Baptismal Font.
  • The fountain could be the entrance to a special, walled section of the highway with larger-than-life portraits of the city's mayors on both sides of the road. The council members who served during those years could be etched alongside the appropriate portrait on an erasable magic slate.

Like those psychiatrists said, as an urban planner, I'm certifiable.

The opinions are those of the writer. He can be reached at phil.wieland@nwi.com or (219) 548-4352.

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