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Is development going in wrong direction?

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We cannot save downtown while we bolster Arsenal Street shopping plazas.

Recent years have seen the city of Watertown and Jefferson County take up the revitalization of the Square and downtown businesses as a vanguard cause.

Considerable effort has been made to preserve the city center and reinfuse the authentic, convivial social atmosphere characteristic of a Watertown passed.

Yet we see this worthwhile campaign relentlessly met with a different form of expansion on the opposite end of Arsenal Street.

In the past two decades, we have both allowed and been slightly enamored with the construction of one big-box store after another, each one bringing a sizable addition to the sea of asphalt now skirting I-81.

The effects of such ex-urban design are both economic and social.

By area, more than 70 percent of land developed north of the highway is devoted to parking lots or roadways.

Civil space is nonexistent.

Neither the Salmon Run Mall nor the new housing developments are accessible by sidewalk.

Walk along Arsenal Street and one easily feels less than respected.

Functional zoning and dispersal have prevented the kind of integration of people, habitation and commerce that creates a true city.

In 2012, the Watertown Daily Times printed an article from the Niagara Gazette that foretold a transition from the low-density development of the last half-century to more compact, walkable, livable urban centers largely driven by younger generations’ rejection of suburban, car-oriented life.

That same year, the Times printed a Bloomberg News article outlining predictions that the era of big-box store domination soon may end.

These national trends come as the Watertown City Council considers financing the construction of a new through-road in hopes of attracting a single new big-box store, another potential step in the wrong direction.

I take a degree of pride in living in an area whose charm remains largely untainted by the sprawl experienced by most American cities, and I am intensely concerned with our current trajectory.

I am concerned that we are effectively creating a hollow nowhere.

We need to take a decidedly critical look at what, where and how we are building.

I may not be in the position to say that we’re doing this all wrong, but I challenge you to ask yourself: As you’re driving from parking lot to parking lot, does it feel like we’re doing it right?

Ryan Cullen

Redwood

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