Santa Cruz: Downtown Alternatives to Help "Keep Santa Cruz Weird"
Every time I go to the Pacific Garden Mall area, I'm reminded of
why I love Santa Cruz. Sure, it's mostly just a bunch of shops and
restaurants, and some of them are even mega-chains (The Gap, Borders,
Starbucks), but Pacific Avenue and its surroundings are permeated
with a wonderful urbanism at its wacky Northern California best.
There are street performers of all stripes, from accomplished musicians
to awful and annoying buskers. There
are petitioners, pamphleteers, and of course, panhandlers. Through
its ups and downs, downtown Santa Cruz has retained a vitality that
is rarely seen outside cities ten times its size. It has a pleasant
walk-ability that is enhanced by our enviable climate. It has retained
a kaleidoscopic diversity of retailers, attracting a kaleidoscopic
diversity of patrons. It easily accommodates the occasional parade
or street fair, which always brings in additional tourists from
San Jose and San Francisco. And it has the potential to do even
Imagine what a tourist attraction we could make downtown Santa
Cruz, with just a few simple changes. It all starts with closing
off most of Pacific Avenue to automobile traffic, at least on the
weekends during the tourist season. It's so difficult to navigate
a car through there with all the commotion anyway. With less access
to the on-street metered parking, people will have to use the lots,
and these all should and could be made attended pay lots for the
weekends. Bike-rickshaws and horse-carriages can provide transportation
between the parking lots and the stores, with special permits to
use the demarcated center of the street (think of the tourist appeal
of these colorful alternatives -- they would probably be worth subsidizing,
at least with low interest loans for start-up costs).
Between that center lane and the sidewalk would now be room for
additional vendors, performers, petitioners and so on, keeping the
sidewalks clear for pedestrians. I would suggest having small fees
to rent street space for half-days or full days on the weekends,
with a handful reserved for nonprofit organizations to use for free.
Give preferential discounts to businesses and organizations in Santa
Cruz county. Most people desiring street spaces would have to request
in advance and go by lottery, but keep one or two spots open for
urgent responses every week, and a wait-list of those who can fill-in
if a scheduled vendor cancels. Add in a few fully-free public spots
(no sales allowed, just playspace for those not selling or passing
a hat - maybe even a designated soapbox open first-come-first-served
to speakers, with a half-hour time limit).
Of course, we would maintain the currently scheduled special events,
and add new ones when requested, but tourists and locals could count
on a festival atmosphere in downtown Santa Cruz every weekend. The
extra competition for permanent shops should be more than offset
by the additional foot traffic and tourist cash coming into town.
Eventually, the revenue from this could pay for more tree planting
and a more charming (and environmentally friendly) pavement for
a permanently car-free Pacific Avenue, and expansion of the "street
fair" into the nearby retail side streets, and perhaps connecting
with the Boardwalk area (providing more demand for those carriages
and rickshaws). What fun!