We’ve seen one vision of Missoula’s future—and it looks a lot like Portland, Ore. And Lincoln, Neb. And Richmond, Calif. And Racine, Wis. And, albeit with French signage, a little bit like Quebec. None of it looked like anything you currently think of as downtown Missoula.
On Wednesday, May 14, consultants from the firm Crandall and Arambula presented a packed room at the Holiday Inn with its initial suggestions for the Downtown Master Plan. The ideas included just about everything imaginable, including a performing arts center, convention center and enhanced open space. The presentation introduced consultant-y buzzwords like “Triangle Employment Anchor” and “Retail Hot Spot,” the latter promising new stores like Tiffany & Co., Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn. Picture after picture of these civic additions—all for the low, low price of…wait, there wasn’t a price—skipped across two large projection screens like subliminal messages, sandwiched between color-coded maps, pie charts, graphs and lists. All kidding—and abject skepticism—aside, it was pretty interesting and informative, in a Clockwork Orange sort of way.
After the presentation, one attendee referred to the consultants’ suggestions as a “Christmas wish list,” giving voice to the room’s concern over how many of these ideas were realistic. That opened the door for consultant George Crandall to utter his most interesting line of the night: “If your vision for your downtown is bold and imaginative, you stand a much better chance of implementing it.”
He gets paid to say that. We had a different take on the “Christmas wish list” analogy. When kids get everything on their wish lists, they tend to be spoiled. In other words, be careful what you wish for.
Don’t get the wrong idea—we’re not curmudgeons about this. Some of Crandall and Arambula’s ideas made no-duh sense (converting both Front and Main streets to two-way; new bike lanes; keeping government offices located downtown) and others were intriguing (expanding Caras Park into a “Festival Waterfront;” adding more downtown housing). We’re even open to the idea of chain stores downtown, especially since some of our favorite locally owned businesses seemed to voice support. And while it would be easy to rail on the most ridiculous aspects (what is it with consultants’ infatuation with streetcars, anyway?), those aren’t what had us most worried. We’re mostly concerned that the list was so freakin’ big and, in many cases, drastic. Changes may be inevitable, but too much change—or change without a keen eye fixed to cultural components—and we’ll lose the aspects that make downtown Missoula different from everywhere else. Like Portland, and Lincoln, and Richmond, and Racine and, for heaven’s sake, Quebec.