Of what importance is it that Brainerd have a "downtown?" To some, it means employment, support for a family, a child who goes to college. For others, "downtown" is where they live. Many of us find special reasons to "go downtown," to find a book, to enjoy a deli lunch, to hear mellow jazz on a snowy night. To stroll, to window shop, to encounter friends and to talk in the sun.
A place can be description-less, color-less and forgetful. It can be bright, warm and inviting. Brainerd is a place, but does it call you to come to it? Will you come? Or, if you do, then will you remember it? And today, why will you remember it?
Brainerd Restoration's proposed Master Plan will draw people off the trail system to be constructed along Front Street, from the eastern edge of downtown to the Mississippi River. The Master Plan will create an attractive, pedestrian-friendly streetscape environment to which investment dollars will be attracted. Brainerd will not be known as "Brainerd By-Pass."
For those who grow up, live and work here, there will be a sense of Where are the "Brainerd Lakes" now? When it rains in the summer, then where do our summer residents go to recreate, to shop and to enjoy life? Will it be, again, Brainerd? Will Crow Wing County's historic center, Brainerd's downtown, remain viable into the 21st century? Should it? The question is squarely before us.
The Master Plan before the City Council on Feb. 25 characterizes downtown as a place for people to walk in and to, to visit as a "destination location" and to work in. It will be keyed to people, but accommodating of cars, enticing to bikes, encouraging of skaters and
a draw for snowmobiles on a separate trail. A civic district, a commercial district of niche retail and a cultural center. A place of character. To be remembered as a gathering place.
For visitors, workers, our youth and all of us, Brainerd will have a sense of identity.
Every person needs a home. To be homeless presents many social
and personal problems. Our "home" may be our educational home, a school
system we take pride in, it may be our religious home, our churches,
where we seek comfort and learning, or it may be our ancestral homes,
our family residences, where we share familial affection and feel
secure. Every "home" needs to be cared for. A community is no different. Our community's family is all of us, residents, commercial and civic members: We live "in community" and we need to be able to gather to exchange greetings, to share sorrows and to enjoy triumphs. Our community should not be a fleet of single passenger automobiles moving from one isolated place to another, separating us from one another. Downtown" is our community's center. It is our heart. It exists for all of us.
Brainerd Restoration's Master Plan uses center islands, with trees and flowers, approaching Sixth and Washington, along Sixth and Laurel, and from Washington to Gregory Park, with reconfigured crosswalks across
Washington to re-connect the north side neighborhood to Downtown. It pulls our community together at Town Square, a quarter block of park and community heart at Sixth and Laurel, a place of gathering, celebration and life. The proposed Master Plan emphasizes the calming, or slowing, of traffic and the importance of pedestrians communing with one another in an inviting, visually interesting, colorful downtown environment.
For all of us, visitors and residents, young and old, Brainerd will have a sense of community.
In the 21st century, there is a place for the rural Minnesota urban center, characterized by its unique, pedestrian friendly downtown attracting people to the community's center. It will be a place we can
congregate in and which our children will remember as "home" years from now. It will become a desired "let's move to" community home for many.
It will not be forgettable.
With care and attention, working together, we can restore our downtown and have a sense of place, identity and community in the historic center of Crow Wing County. A healthy downtown neighborhood will serve all of Crow Wing County well. The opportunity is here and now.
(Erickson is a Brainerd attorney, president of Brainerd Restoration's board of directors and co-chair of the BUILD Task Force.)
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