AUBURN — Walking through downtown Auburn is a lonely experience, according to Economic Development Assistant Al Manoian, and it's pretty much that way by design.
"The mindset of so many people is, 'I have to go downtown because I have an appointment or I have to get something,'" he said. "'I'm going to take my car, of course, and I'd better find a parking spot right where I need to go. I do not want to be burdened with having to walk, even a minute or two up, that street.' Because, what is there to experience?"
Manoian will lead city and economic development officials on a walking tour of Main Street, Great Falls Plaza and Court Street, hopefully seeing the area in a new way. He calls it de-peopled.
"No one would say that he sidewalks of downtown Auburn are covered with people," he said. "No one should be surprised that we have very few retailers left on the streets and that very few retailers see it as a place to engage in successful enterprise."
The character of Auburn's downtown dates to design decisions made between 1951 and 1961, Manoian said. That's when city leaders decided to tune the downtown for drivers, not pedestrians.
"That's when they decided to eliminate pedestrians from this equation, because they were just slowing things down — meaning cars," he said. "This is when they sped up the street, got rid of on-street parking and decided the pedestrian was just obsolete. Nobody was going to walk anywhere, if you put your mind into what was going on in 1951 in America."
The tour group meets in front of Gritty McDuff's at the corner of Court and Main streets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The tour will include Main Street, the view downtown from the center of the Longley Memorial Bridge, Great Falls Plaza and Court Street past Turner street.
Each area has its own character. The short block of Main Street looks like a walkable, inviting downtown area.
"But then just the other side of Court Street, Great Falls Plaza, is a completely automobile-oriented environment, with high rise buildings and large surface lots and confusing driveways," Manoian said.
Court and Turner streets are little more than speedways.
"I will challenge anyone to actually cross the crosswalk at Turner Street," Manoian said. "We'll see how many automobiles actually stop for them."
Manoian said Wednesday's tour would be the first of several he'd like to schedule around the city.
"My victory will be the person that says to me 'Alan, I have driven down Court Street every day of my life for the last 30 years,' " he said. "'After I went on this, I'm looking at it in a completely different way.' My objective is get them to look at downtown differently."