Note to our readers: This column is part of a series from a blog recently started by a loosely knit independent group of area business people and residents who love and want to promote the energy and enthusiasm of downtown St. Joseph: The Joe Town Vibe. To find the column online or to read web-exclusive blogs posted every Tuesday please visit joetownvibe.com.
by John Stevens
Intern SJU ’18
During the past several weeks, in our web exclusive blogs on joetownvibe.com, we have discussed the importance of the sidewalk in a downtown. In addition, we discussed the importance, and even necessity, of various components of a good downtown sidewalk master plan including trees, lighting, benches, shrubs and plants. After much discussion on why the sidewalk is important to a downtown’s success, it’s essential now to explain how to get people to come downtown. This week, with the use of Jane Jacob’s urban theory, we will be discussing how “walkability” influences the success of a downtown.
“Walkability” refers to how easy it is to get around an area by walking; the higher the score, the more accessible and favorable an area likely is. It’s essential the area between a downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods is walkable, just as much as the downtown itself. The walkability of a town and a downtown directly impacts the accessibility of the area, which directly impacts the diversity of visitors. A downtown core only accessible by car drastically reduces the number of people visiting and reduces the diversity of those individuals. Diversity in age, physical abilities, interests and economic status are all important to a downtown’s success.
Walkability is not only essential to a downtown because of the audience it attracts, but also because of the safety it provides. As more and more people walk around on the sidewalks, the city becomes safer and safer. Jacobs, the legendary urban theorist, preached the importance of having eyes on the street, which builds trust within a community and decreases isolation. The more people who are around, the less likely it is someone will try something illegal or sketchy. St. Joseph is by no means a dangerous city but continuing to have eyes on the street can keep it safe.
Jacobs discussed how sidewalks lead to more contact amongst neighbors. Creating more contact and engagement on the sidewalks of a downtown builds community and trust within a town. If a downtown is not walkable, this essential engagement between community members would be lost, and with it, the complete experience of visiting downtown would suffer. In addition to a dampened experience, lack of walkability prevents trust within a community. Trust is built through repeated engagement, and with lacking contact on the sidewalk, trust can be severely diminished.
So how does St. Joseph stack up? St. Joseph is a relatively accessible town. St. Joseph scored 67 out of 100 on walkscore.com’s walkability index. From the center of St. Joseph, you can walk to almost all the houses in the surrounding neighborhoods within 30 minutes. To improve St. Joseph’s walkability score, more accessible and safer routes to various locations around town like Coborn’s are needed. Currently, crossing CR 75 to get to Coborn’s and other places is a safety hazard and could be improved by adding over or underpasses. This would increase walkability in St. Joseph and would encourage more people to walk around town.
St. Joseph benefits from being a small town where many people recognize and know one another. Trust is already high in these types of towns but is made higher in St. Joseph by the walkability of the city. The small and relatively condensed nature of St. Joseph and its downtown makes it accessible for more people. The walkability of downtown is adding to the contact between neighbors and is building trust while remaining one of the safest cities in Minnesota.
To further explore the walkability of St. Joseph visit www.walkscore.com/score/25-college-ave-n-saint-joseph-mn-56374 and use the Travel Time Map near the bottom of the page.
To learn more about Jane Jacob’s theory on urban planning read “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”