Thursday, May 27, 2010

Of Redevelopment And Gas Stations

Chevron Station

Suppose the city of Richardson told you that they were interested in redevelopment of a strip of older apartments, aging underperforming retail, and miscellaneous other land uses, and asked you to participate in a survey. You would rate the attractiveness of a series of photographs of potential new development for the area. For example, what would be your reaction to the photo above? Probably not much different than the reaction of almost everyone who actually participated in this focus group. The overlaid bar graph indicates that almost everyone who actually did this exercise gave this Chevron gas station the lowest rating, a 1 on a scale of 1-7.

After the jump, why their opinion may not matter.

Curiously, 30% of those surveyed rated the gas station higher than 1, one as high as 7. Maybe that one is Dick Cheney's cousin or something. More likely, there may have been confusion in how to use the keypad polling devices that the city staffer who facilitated this survey was so enamored with. Or maybe some were confused whether the best rating was 1 or 7. Garbage-in, garbage-out. In any case, most responses are in line with what common sense would predict -- gas stations are not very attractive businesses.

You shouldn't need a survey to learn that people don't want gas stations to be central to any mixed-use redevelopment project that has as planning goals "public spaces (parks, plazas, trails, lakes, creeks)" and "pedestrian-friendly." Common sense should tell you that. Gas stations don't belong in the middle of a neighborhood where you want people to congregate, shop, eat, walk and enjoy the ambience.

So, tell me, how in the world did the gas station in the photo below come about?

Shell Station

The photo was taken in Richardson. I'll leave it to you to figure out where. Big hint: it's at what is arguably the most important intersection in the whole city, at least for anyone with a sense of history, a sense of place, a sense of community. Someone must have been asleep on the job when that Shell station was built where it was with the design that it has. It would be more at home out at some rural freeway interchange than at a key downtown intersection.

More recently, the city has been much more strict about what gets built and where. A Whataburger now planned for Plano Rd wasn't allowed to use its well-established corporate look, the "A" frame with orange and white stripes. If Whataburger can be forced to build a restaurant that looks more like one of the countless little banks going up all over the city, then how did that Shell station ever get approved? Somehow, it did. And that's why people shouldn't take for granted that common sense and their survey responses are any guarantee that there won't someday be a shiny new Chevron station in the middle of the redeveloped West Spring Valley corridor.

P.S. Go to Google Maps, type in "Richardson, Texas" in the search box, and Google will take you right to that Shell gas station. The mayor once made a big deal about wanting grand entry portals on US 75 at the city's borders. Let's not forget about the city's entry portal on Google Maps.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

Maggie May USA found a photograph from 1934 showing a gas station on that corner. Nice research! It would have been great if the new station had been built in a style to pay homage to the history. Or better yet, if the old building could have been preserved and incorporated into the new building.