Downtown Waco: The Elements of Downtown
By Rolando Rodriguez Soto
(This post is part of an on-going series about Downtown Waco. In a sense, Downtown is “everybody’s neighborhood.” In this series of blog posts we hope to contribute to the on-going conversation in Waco about what it takes to have a great downtown, and what we want for our own “Wacotown.” To see all the posts in this series, click here: Downtown Waco. – ABT)
When you hear the word “downtown,” what image pops into your head? Is it a successful commercial district complete with subways and skyscrapers? Is it a quaint collection of historic buildings and antique stores? Is it a thriving strip of restaurants, trendy shops and live music venues? Maybe the word “downtown” makes you think of concert halls, culture, and nice department stores? Or maybe the image in your mind is negative, one of boarded up buildings, graffiti, and crime.
More to the point for the purposes of this blog series, what image pops to mind when you think of Waco’s downtown? What do you like? What would you like to see? What would you like to see go away? How do we even get our minds around what we want in a downtown when there are so many possibilities?
Maybe one way to think about it is to try to come up with a list of the typical elements that make up a downtown and to think about where Waco is and where we want to be in respect to those elements. You may have your own list of elements in mind…here are a few of mine:
Imagine waking up on a Monday morning and looking out your window to see storefronts, busy sidewalks and the ALICO building. After getting ready for the day, you go down a few flights of stairs, go next door to your favorite coffee shop to get your fix and then you walk a few more blocks to the office to start your work day.
Waco offers Some unique possibilities when it comes to downtown living. Luxurious lofts, historic buildings and apartments overlooking the Brazos river are just a few of the options.
The former Waco High School campus on Washington Ave. and the former Waco Independent School District alternative school campus were recently transformed into loft apartments that still retain the historic look. You can still find lockers and white boards in the Waco High Lofts building to remind residents of the building’s life in the 20th century.
The redefined downtown residential life is perfect for college students, young professionals, and empty-nesters who are eager to take advantage of a new form of living, which will breathe life into downtown.
Business is another crucial element of a thriving downtown. In previous years, many major department stores and restaurants began moving away from downtown to be near highways or in malls. This unfortunately left downtown with deteriorating and empty storefronts, which did not exactly make living in downtown desirable.
Recently, new businesses have begun to reassess the value of a downtown. Waco currently offers restaurants, coffee shops, office space, boutiques and antique shops in its downtown space.
As we continue to expand and add more commercial opportunities, Waco will be able to generate more employment and tax revenue prospects, which will attract new residents and creative thinkers.
So far, you have enjoyed your relaxing apartment, your walk to work and some fun shops and restaurants in between, but now after a long day in the office, you want to go out and do something fun. A strong downtown environment should be able to offer nightlife, culture, recreational activities and community events, so that there is a reason stay in the center city.
Events or activities such as a farmer’s market, art festival, concert, block party, weekly or monthly events or a special movie screening all contribute to a fun environment where residents can expect to find one central location that features work and play.
These types of events and activities are almost expected in downtown environment. Fortunately, Waco also offers unique amenities you most likely won’t find anywhere else such as the Magnolia Market at the Silos, the Waco Hippodrome Theatre, Balcones Distillery or the Art on Elm Festival.
In a commercial district where buildings and streets take charge, it is important to recognize and appreciate nature. Fortunately, any street in downtown can lead you to the beautiful Brazos River, Indian Spring Park featuring the Suspension Bridge, or Cameron Park with its hiking trails and Cameron Park Zoo.
We have defined the three major elements that reflect daily life—relaxation, work and play. Now how do we connect the dots?
A major benefit of a centralized downtown location is walkability. Not only do residents have the benefit of walking from home to work or other stores, restaurants or events, but also they benefit the environment by reducing their carbon footprint.
Exploring everything downtown has to offer is more enjoyable on foot because you are able to appreciate each store front and historical piece at a slower pace.
In its current state, downtown does not have the most traversable streets and sidewalks, but the city of Waco has improved over the years through the addition of bike lanes, larger sidewalks and shuttle services.
Streets in Waco may seem simple to someone who has lived here all of their life, but to anyone else, the streets can be confusing with their oddly timed traffic lights and one way streets.
Technology is beginning to help make navigating downtown easier. We can access bus routes and directions with our navigation apps on our phones, and we can even call a car service with another app. But, creating a pedestrian friendly environment is crucial to establishing a welcoming downtown where a Wacoan can walk from their loft to work, their favorite coffee shop, the movie theatre or the park.
Have we fully realized the potential for downtown Waco? I hope not. I hope to see downtown continue to grow and thrive. Who knows? Maybe one day we will even have more than one skyscraper!
Rolando Rodriguez Soto was raised in Waco, TX, and he is currently attending Baylor University with plans to graduate in December 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing & Rhetoric. After graduation, he hopes to work in Waco in the nonprofit sector to help realize the full potential of Waco. His long term goals include hopefully creating and publishing creative work whether that is a novel, short story or even a television show.
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