Although I have previously bemoaned some of the poor town planning here in Plainfield, there are in fact some examples of very good, forward-thinking planning and design. One such plan has moved beyond the concept stage and is taking shape (thanks to the much maligned Federal stimulus package of last year) even as I write – the re-construction of the stretch of the National Road (US40) in downtown Plainfield. When all is finished, Main Street will be (eight feet) narrower. Yes, that’s right – narrower. (Don’t tell Governor Daniels – he’d flip out if he heard of a road construction project that will force traffic to navigate more slowly.) By widening the sidewalks, planting trees, adding a center median and paving some of the intersections with brick, Plainfield’s planners are taking a huge step in making the old town center more walkable (and therefore, more sustainable). This is also a prime example of New Urbanist ideals, namely the taming of the automobile to serve (not dominate) people.
I also want to emphasize that though the planning of town governments is important, ultimately the responsibility to develop and sustain good communities – that is places of interest, of simple beauty, of common welfare – lies with the citizens. I again raise the Village Theater as a case in point. The competition of the new multiplex (part of a massive new shopping mall in Plainfield) surely makes operating the Village as a typical movie house nearly impossible. However, what the current owner fails to understand is that the Village is not a typical movie house – it has a value and a utility far beyond the ability to show Avatar in 3D. Rather than play to those special characteristics however, the theater sits vacant, the interior essentially gutted in an ill-concieved and never-finished remodeling project.
The Royal Theater in Danville faces the same competition of the local multiplexes – yet it thrives with local music concerts and mirco-brewed beer. I’ve seen Avatar in 3D and I’ve been to the Royal; I’ll take the concert and beer over James Cameron’s razzle-dazzle any day.