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Featured - Local News - July 11, 2018

A Starting Off Point… Again.

by Evan Banks

When Lewis and Clark stepped foot in Saint Joseph in 1804, the town was a rough and tough example of the American frontier. These men and women had just braved the wilderness, mapped uncharted paths, catalogued species never unseen by European descendants, and triumphantly reached future Portland and the Pacific Ocean. On their return journey, they were feted at every stop along the way. Exemplifying the “American Spirit” they had become celebrities. Its safe to say, when we walk under the shadow of the colossus that is the 229 overpass in Huston Wyeth park, that we are walking in the same trash-riddled footsteps of the pioneers from two centuries before.

I missed the First Saturday Beer Walk. I was at a conference in Portland, OR listening to an award-winning presentation on downtown urban spaces and their use of walking malls. I thought about how St. Joseph struggles to use our space to attract people downtown and about how our city has changed so much since the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Now, people are reluctant to travel even ten minutes. Why have people resisted going downtown? The answer is complicated. It is a combination of urban sprawl, reliance on the automobile, some covert and overt classicism and racism, an aesthetic problem, amongst other things. St. Joe isn’t the only city that has had this experience. Yet, it seems that many others have been better at combating these negative effects. Former officials claim that because St. Joseph is different than other cities, we can’t attempt to recreate their solutions. It’s not hard to point out why that is a silly prospect. Some 21st century pioneers are trying to foster an enjoyable downtown culture. The advent of First Saturdays signified a huge leap forward and we owe our downtown businesses and municipal employees a great deal for organizing events for us once a month. Planning is not easy. The proprietors involved in First Saturdays do a great job of bringing culture and a bit of vibrancy into our lives. How do we thank them? In person.

While I am all for increasing taxes to improve our general welfare, I understand that this is not how most others feel. However, if we aren’t going to pay other people to do it for us, we need to do it ourselves. Many successful instances of outdoor malls, walkable spaces, and urban parks, have come not from a municipal employee with an idea, but a collection of good Samaritans. This is why First Saturday exists. Those that loved St. Joe enough to invest their own money into our city and provide us with interesting shops, bars, and restaurants were more concerned with breathing fresh air into a place that’s history has burned down, than they were with making money.

To pull our communal weight we need to do a few things. First, be willing to forget your car. Carpool downtown and give it some leg traffic with a group of friends. Then, stop at a store you otherwise normally wouldn’t, talk to someone you wouldn’t normally talk to, eat something you wouldn’t normally eat, and drink something you normally wouldn’t drink. Next, don’t litter. You don’t want to go downtown because its dirty and neither do job-creating businesses. After all this, find a space you are comfortable, and stay. A cup of coffee at Mokaska, a book at The Tiger’s Den, a video game at Club Geek, a show at The Missouri Theatre, and a meal at your favorite restaurant, are all small things that we can do to help our town grow. Let’s all work together.

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