This would seem to be the number one factor to building walkability. Street front businesses give people in the neighborhood a reason to be out walking. To improve walkability, it would behoove Saint Paul to attract businesses, especially locally owned businesses that have a reason to invest in the neighborhood and especially in those dense corridors like University Avenue where the light rail recently began running.
For example, at the Habitat for Humanity groundbreaking ceremony, Mayor Chris Coleman commended the corporate non-profit Habitat for Humanity for their “choice to locate their headquarters on the Green Line as a demonstration of the momentum the light rail project is having and as a great way to provide easy access to their programs and services.” However, results since the light rail opened are not good.
Habitat for Humanity’s purchase of a building at the corner of Prior and University Avenues displaced several small businesses. One business, the family owned Midway Liquors, used to have an open street front door with an owner who stood on the stoop greeting those passing by. They have since moved to the northeast corner, fronted by a parking lot while Habitat for Humanity’s closed and locked street front doors offer a cold contrast. Even colder and less inviting is the clearly visible receptionist who ignores people trying to enter the street front door during business hours. Neither move seems to be a positive for the walkability of the neighborhood. One wonders, too, if Habitat for Humanity is so closed off from the community, why would it have chosen to move to the area? Does a neighbor have to make a call to Atlanta if they want to volunteer or learn more?
Just a block to the east, a large city block has been developed by Episcopal Church Homes of Minnesota, Inc. This campus holds senior apartments, memory care, nursing home care, and assisted living. The newest development, which is still under construction, happened when the corporate non-profit purchased Porky’s, a locally owned drive-in restaurant. Though the drive-in era is fading, Porky’s, which was famous for its burgers and malts, did see quite a bit of pedestrian traffic during the summers. Its street front patio invited all ages.
What Episcopal Church Homes does with its new development remains to be seen, though its past development on the block has basically become a gated community in the middle of an urban setting. Not quite a vision of walkability that would provide growth for a neighborhood.
Some for profit corporations have maintained and improved pedestrian access to their developments along University Avenue. Walmart has an accessible sidewalk from the bus shelter to its entrance. Verizon Wireless and Noodles & Company, located in the parking lot of Target have also removed shrubbery to allow a sidewalk and crosswalk to their entrances. CVS added a shopping cart room and now has three outdoor entrances, one on University Avenue, that lead to the store’s one entrance.
But, for an inviting feeling, one really can’t beat a business that believes in its investment in the neighborhood. On many given days, Ax-Man Surplus Store on University Avenue has doors wide open with friendly staff on the inside. Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles invited the community to celebrate National Night Out with them up to their closing time of 9 p.m. Let’s hope Saint Paul encourages more business owners like those who own Ax-Man, Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles and Midway Liquors to invest along dense, walkable corridors.
Encouraging open businesses has the potential to bring out more people from the neighborhood. A larger mass of pedestrians seems likely to be the number one way to make pedestrians visible to drivers.