Imagine that you have a box of gold. So shiny and beautiful.
You keep your box of gold in a very special room. In your home, on a table, all alone, where you admire it every day.
But days pass. And you kind of get used to seeing all this gold. You still enjoy it. But you’ve got other thoughts and several distractions. You focus your attention on different parts of your home that keep you busy. And your special room where you keep your gold becomes just another room. A room where you start to store things and keep stuff.
Your gold no longer seems that special.
Instead, your box, filled with gold, has slowly become surrounded with clutter. Until its hardly seen any more.
Bradenton has a beautiful box of gold.
An area downtown that runs from the South Florida Museum over to the Library. About a three block stretch that faces a wonderful waterfront.
But Bradenton has allowed this area to become filled with architectural clutter. Buildings and tenants that do not take advantage of or improve upon this area.
Recently I took a little walk downtown. From the museum over to the library and back again. The day was beautiful, the sun was out, there was a nice breeze. And I was the only one there.
When I walked up to the library, which had a sign out front proudly pronouncing its ‘Number One’ status, I smelled human urine. I smelled this strong odor of human urine in the library’s waterfront parking lot, in its bushes, next to its front door. It was pervasive. Nearby is the Bradenton Police Department. The entire Bradenton police force only a few feet away does not intimidate anyone from pissing on our library.
I am not making a negative derision about Bradenton. Instead, this is a commentary on generally poor city planning. A downtown where families do not go, but people near police stations feel no disquietude about openly peeing in public. That is not good design. If this is happening now, what is going to happen if our downtown continues its current design direction?
So, why doesn’t downtown Bradenton work?
There are a few big reasons that are larger than just the design of its waterfront.
One is the fast paced one-way very wide avenue that cuts right through its middle. Manatee Avenue is a very big road filled with lots of motorists who have ‘places to go, things to do’. Heading in from the east, heading out to the west. The people who drive it have absolutely nothing to do with stopping, shopping, or dropping by downtown.
I can personally remember when Manatee Avenue went both ways. Bradenton was very different back then. People actually parked and stayed awhile. Making Manatee one-way probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but not for downtown.
Another is downtown’s primary business. Confronting ones accusers in a court of law.
Each day Bradenton is filled with ‘Varmints’ ~ as Yosemite Sam might call them.
Or ‘Punks’ ~ as Dirty Harry would describe them.
Plus all of the industries that cater to these rapscallions, including the lawyers and bail bondsmen who make their money off them.
This is most definitely not Main Street at the Magic Kingdom – a safe place where moms and dads love to bring their children.
But more like what happens in Monopoly when you land ‘In Jail’.
These two issues have to be dealt with. But not in this musing.
Instead, without citing too many facts and stats, let’s assume that having a downtown with a beautiful waterfront that offers lots of people lots of wonderful things to do – both day and night. And offers wonderful things for tourists to do so they come back here again and again. All of which makes our downtown very popular. So popular its filled with people all of the time. Families, singles, couples, young, old, who are enjoying themselves by shopping, dining, and buying tickets to parties and events. A downtown that is always fun. Clean, very pretty, and free of crime – that this would be a nice downtown for us to have.
A downtown that has become so prosperous it makes all of us who live here very rich. At least much richer than we are right now.
Would this be a successful city?
Before I answer, let’s gossip about our neighbors…
Bradenton has two that are close by. One to the north, and one to the south. Both have beautiful waters lapping against their seawalls. Each has approached their downtown waterfront design in a diametrically opposite manner.
Sarasota, just to the south, has allowed its downtown waterfront to remain visible, sort of, to those who ‘whiz by’ in their cars. Seeing Sarasota Bay from one’s car is a less-than-one-minute experience if the traffic lights are all green. There have been plans presented in the past, which the City of Sarasota paid a lot of money for, to build foliage covered parking garages where the open parking lots are today. Garages that would have blocked any view of the water to nearly everyone living in Sarasota – except those who park their car and eat at Marina Jack, sit on their boat, or walk their dog on City Island. Otherwise, the remaining residents living in Sarasota – a half million people – would have lost their view of the bay. Gone. Disappeared forever. Even without the garages, the parking area is so filled with landscaping and miscellaneous structures its still really difficult to see any water. As well, Sarasota has readily, even easily, given up the rest of its bay-view land, its most valuable and sought after property, to developers. Taller and taller, and also quite plain, condominium towers are creating a barrier wall between the entire City of Sarasota and any view of the bay. Condominiums that are also causing local residents to lose any view of blue sky by creating narrow caverns out of its streets as these buildings extend out over the sidewalks right up to the curb. Sarasota, by design, offers very little to its half million residents who might wish to come downtown to be near the water, to see the sky, or feel the sun. The rest of Sarasota remains fairly undeveloped, perhaps waiting for some kind of ‘trickle down effect’ now that all the prime property has been taken.
The City of Sarasota, with all of the natural beauty that originally surrounded it but by blocking its views of water and sky, has become just like cities anywhere else. Cities elsewhere that never had such bountiful natural beauty to begin with. Most Sarasota residents now enjoy a more ‘internal’ experience. They stay inside. They drink coffee, eat food, and play with their laptops.
St Petersburg, just to the north, once had a very mixed use of downtown waterfront. A few docks, a bit of green, peppered with various commercial businesses. Until William Straub and C. Perry Snell, both possessing their own private money and a mutually shared vision, saw St Petersburg evolving into a “resort city”. They both wanted St Petersburg’s downtown waterfront to be as “pristine as possible”. They championed “City Beautiful”. Using their own funds, together they covertly bought parcels of what had been commercial shoreline along St Pete’s downtown bay front. They then deeded to the city all of the land they had bought, to remain forever as ‘public parkland’. Creating an ideal for their city – well ahead of its time – that St Pete could thrive on tourism.
St Pete’s waterfront became an exceptionally attractive setting with parks filled with greenery and scenic walks, charming stores, indoor and outdoor restaurants, museums and galleries, theaters of all types and venues – all built to a more human scale, each set back from the water’s edge a respectable human accepting distance, has forever since become a wonderfully inviting place for people to want to visit. A waterfront downtown where people do come to have fun, to spend money, and enjoy. St Petersburg is now rated the “Number 3” waterfront in all of North America. For its beauty, its overall size, for the pleasure its downtown waterfront gives to everyone who lives in, or travels a great distance to visit, St Pete.
So what is the City of Bradenton? By location it is right in-between these two cities. But what is it by design?
Bradenton has an exceptional downtown waterfront with a ‘billion dollar’ view. It has several downtown amenities that are wonderful. These include a world class museum and planetarium, a gorgeous harbor of piers, boats and yachts, nice restaurants, a highly rated public library, even a cute smoothie & ice cream bar.
So why doesn’t anybody visit there?
And, by contrast, what types of places do people like to visit?
Typically, people like to go where they can enjoy themselves, feel safe, to relax, and be entertained. Ideal settings such as these are the result of excellent design.
For Bradenton to achieve this one might comparatively analyze our downtown with how a Shopping Mall works. A mall has at its ‘ends’ a large attraction, or draw. These large draws at the end of every corridor pull people through the center of the mall. They cause people – customers – to walk past the smaller stores and eateries throughout the middle of the mall, which helps in the entire mall’s success.
Downtown Bradenton has these large draws located at clearly defined ‘ends’. To the far east is the South Florida Museum. To the far west is our public library. To the south is Old Main Street. To the north is our pier.
But right now these four major draws are cut off from each other. There is ‘stuff’, obstacles, that stand in the way of people walking from one end to the other. Even more, there is nothing in-between these ‘ends’ that might be of interest to people. That would inspire anyone to even want to try.
That recent beautiful sunny day when I made my walk I was the only person there.
To improve this area some stuff might need to be removed. Obstacles that prohibit or block people.
Has removing a downtown building been done before?
Where the Bradenton Police Department now sits there once stood the ‘Bradenton Municipal Auditorium’. It was an attractive, popular place. But someone said, “Tear it down.”
And it was gone.
More recently our ‘Old Manatee Players’
Is also gone.
Other buildings that were once important to downtown Bradenton have also been torn down: F. W. Woolworth, our old movie theater, others. Of personal significance to me, Bradenton’s original hospital where Dr. Willis W. Harris spanked my little behind and brought me crying into this world. Razing these buildings only needs to be somebody’s decision. Someone who can see how their removal will create a better Bradenton tomorrow. In truth, the future of the entire Bradenton economy may depend upon it.
What should happen in this area?
It should become ‘the premier’ Florida tourist destination.
Especially with our magnificent downtown riverfront.
The area should be open to take advantage of our pleasant year round weather. But with varied ceilings to create shelter from the sun and rain.
Larger courtyards can serve as focal points for corridors to connect with.
This area should have very defined entrances, including toward the waterfront, connecting to ‘Old Main Street’, and, directly across from the entrance to the ‘South Florida Museum’.
Because this setting is on the river, have fountains throughout.
We could have a downtown movie theater once again.
Our entire downtown can look really beautiful at night.
And even magical during the holidays.
Manatees have often been mistaken for mermaids.
And it’s always nice to have a children’s play area.
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A ‘bandshell’ in a park setting where the Old Manatee Players once stood would be a nice new amenity downtown. Offering a wonderful water view for live entertainment, including concerts, children’s events and pageants, in the most beautiful setting in the world.
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Our public library is wonderful. But the outside looks a bit ‘cold’ and uninviting. Especially from the river side. I would recommend attaching a glass atrium that faces the river. This would create a friendly library environment. One that is open and welcoming. It should cover the parking lot on the north side, and even some of 1st Street
I would recommend using ‘glass’ as a surface material as often as possible. It reflects water and sky so beautifully and creates a magnificent skyline.
Doing what other successful Florida locations have done by creating a tourist magnet, only better, we will have a city that is beautiful, fun, attractive. A place where we will all want to go all of the time ~ on a Tuesday morning or a Saturday night. Where tourists will repeatedly drive or fly in to from thousands of miles away. A place that will bring us incredible revenue, making all of us rich. At the very least much richer.
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I have seen the rendering based upon the “Form-Based Code” authored by Dover, Kohl & Partners, Karin Murphy, and, Hall Planning & Engineering.
Described by Dover Kohl to “extract the healthy DNA from the historic urban fabric and use this information to propose code language and metrics that would ‘heal’ eroded portions of the city fabric.”
When did my little hometown become the “The Matrix”?
I have personally worked for some of the largest architectural firms in the world, side by side with the major partners of these firms as they designed entire cities around the world. I have also personally studied computer code and learned to create websites.
But I have no idea what Dover Kohl is saying.
Does our city have a DNA? Are we boxed in by some pre-determined limited digital / organic constraint so that we have very little choice? Other than to do what is shown in this rendering? That would be very sad. And makes no historic, design or any other sense. And would what is shown in this rendering be the best thing for downtown Bradenton to do.
Filling downtown Bradenton with typical unimaginative condos and offices – i.e. ‘clutter’ – would diminish our unique, charming and beautiful downtown into something very, very ‘average’. The rendering clearly shows that only a small handful of people would even be downtown looking out at this view from their windows. Presumably only on Mondays thru Fridays, 9 to 5. Otherwise, downtown along our beautiful waterfront would remain completely empty of people, nights and through the weekends.
Except, of course, those peeing on our library. And pissing on all the new buildings.
When John Travolta filmed “The Punisher” up in Tampa, the movie’s director said:
“I love filming in downtown Tampa!
The streets are completely empty at night and on the weekends.”
A downtown completely empty of people. That is not successful design.
If the City of Bradenton was owned by a developer they would sell off its best property with the best view for the highest price and let a few condos get built there. The developer would then count his cash and walk away – never to be heard from again.
But Bradenton is not owned by a single developer. It is owned by ‘us’.
‘We’, ‘the people’. It is our downtown.
Recently, St Petersburg wished to replace their antiquated upside down pyramid pier. The city government possessed millions of dollars to build something new. They solicited designs. One was chosen.
One problem. The people of St Pete didn’t like the design their city government chose. They found the design to be cold. Inhuman. Unappealing. The local residents, both grass roots and organized, protested. A vote was held. A new and improved design for St Pete’s downtown city pier was chosen. Some changes were even made to the city government.
So, what do we want for our downtown? Success – or – Failure?
© Hans Carl Clausen
President & Director
Captured On Film Productions Inc
A non-profit corporation expressly formed to educate and to inspire.