Last night, a forum was held downtown concerning what residents of south Fresno want to see improved. The purpose of this meeting was so city officials could take into account feedback when designing the new plans that will affect how neighborhoods are designed and revitalized in the next few decades.
One of the highlights of the meeting was when one of the presenters revealed results from some surveys they did.
The first question they asked went along the lines of
"Given unlimited funding, what is the first thing you would chose to improve in your neighborhood".
(Unfortunately I didn't jot down the exact wording and the presentation isn't online)
There were no prompts or examples given, the people being surveyed were free to pick anything they wanted. Anything!
The people doing the survey expected responses like "more police", "better education" and "parks", as south Fresno has more crime, lower performing schools and a lack of green space.
But that's not what people said.
Most people said what they would spend money on fixing were the streets. More sidewalks, safer roads, and better looking roads.
I'm not surprised. To build a better community, the local residents need to care about their community. They need to show pride in their community. They need to want to make it better.
But if the front page of the community looks ugly, isn't safe and doesn't work for the residents, then it's hard to care about the rest.
The pedestrian experience is also extremely important in a neighborhood with so much concentrated poverty.
These people lack opportunities and the wealth needed to jump start opportunities. And many of them obviously lack cars and rely on buses.
But does this say "walk here!"?
It's not very inviting. But if you think that's bad, take a load of this bus stop.
At this meeting, there was a testimonial by a senior citizen who has lived in Fresno for 57 years. She stated that she relies on the bus network for everything as she hasn't been able to drive in years. She said that she needs a cane to walk, and the sidewalk is uneven by the senior center, and she's worried she'll fall one day and break her bones.
At least they have a sidewalk.
How invested in the community do you think this man feels? Clearly, the city hasn't invested in him, so what incentive do you think he has to go out and make things better?
One of the only affordable shopping locations in south Fresno, the Walmart, has been built with no pedestrian access, and you're forced to create your own path in the dirt. According to a speaker, 87% of the retail locations that sell food in south Fresno are either fast food outlets or 7-11 style convenience stores. The Walmart is one of the only actual groceries, so many people rely on the cheap produce.
But the shopping destination of many is certainly not inviting for those without cars.
That's no sidewalk, that path you see is dirt that has been packed down by so many pedestrians.
What if the major retail corridor, Kings Canyon, has no sidewalks...on either side of the street on some stretches? This is half a mile from the Walmart.
And what if marked crosswalks are half a mile apart, in a dense residential/commercial neighborhood where people spend a lot of time on foot?
This stretch has many legal crossing points, but with 4 lanes of 45mph traffic, and not a single marked crosswalk, beacon, or sign, pedestrians are on their own. No car will ever yield for them.
I can see why improving the streets is of such importance to these residents. Right now, their main system of transportation, their main interaction with city infrastructure is broken. And that kills commerce, it kills recreation, and it kills the creation of a positive sense of community.
You can't revitalize a neighborhood if nobody is willing to give it a chance. No resident wants to stick around and build his home, his business and his future among blight. You don't need graffiti or broken windows to create blight as cracked or nonexistent sidewalks, barren asphalt landscapes and hostile barriers to walking are essentially government sanctioned blight.
Fixing the street won't guarantee more businesses, more jobs or more opportunities, but letting such a dense neighborhood continue to look like this will never attract the meaningful opportunities that these people need and deserve. So yes, the city should invest in the streets of south Fresno, because it would certainly be a positive step in the right direction.