In my last post I wrote about real estate development as it pertains to the housing needs in Waco. Since that time I have been doing a lot of research on the Downtown Waco community, as well as examples of successful development models in other cities. What I have been finding is that the needs here in Waco go beyond just housing.
Our downtown core is lacking for many services that other urban and suburban neighborhoods take for granted. In fact, within the 1-mile by 3-mile area where I have focused my attention, there is no grocery store, pharmacy, dry cleaners, bookstore, bowling alley, or movie theater. In addition, east* of the Brazos River (which separates the main area of downtown from the East Riverside neighborhood) there are no banks, coffee shops, post offices, or arts venues.
I have marked the Downtown and East Riverside neighborhoods on the map below (area in purple):
Some would suggest that not much of anything exists in the East Riverside neighborhood; and, compared to the hustle and bustle that once filled the Elm Avenue corridor, it isn’t hard to deny that argument. Abandoned homes and commercial buildings abound in that neighborhood, a fact that is compounded by the prolonged disinvestment in the neighborhood. If you spend any amount of time reading the comments on the blogs of our local newspaper, you will find many people willing to offer their opinions as to why Waco is what it is. But you will find far fewer willing to offer their ideas of what Waco could be.
That group of Downtown pioneers includes the Director of Urban Development for our very active Chamber of Commerce, Chris McGowan. He is helping to launch a year-long initiative which will result in the largest comprehensive plan that Greater Downtown Waco has seen. The master plan, expected for completion by Summer 2010, will serve as a guide for the development of this area for the next 40 years, by when our county population is expected to double. Thankfully, this master planning process won’t be happening behind closed doors; Chris has paved the way for public participation in shaping the city’s future. In fact, the newly created 1000 Friends of Waco site serves as a virtual roundtable for those interested in chiming in. Or, for those who prefer the old way of doing things, monthly meetings are also being held in person at the Chamber building.
While the reality is that Waco is just beginning to gain traction in the movement toward a more livable downtown, the demand for an improved post-suburban lifestyle is something that cannot be ignored.
*Waco is a river-oriented city, so the area that is actually North/Northeast of the river is referred to as East Waco.