Downtown revitalization will be important topic this year

Times-News editorial board

Ignoring the needs of the downtown business district would be a mistake.

Discussion of downtown development is in its infancy, and it could be years before Morton sees any results. But, this is something village leaders will consider as they look to improve the downtown business district. 

For several years, discussion regarding the downtown portion of Morton has been ongoing — but, without decision or action.

With the addition of the Morton Economic Development Council, such discussion will be brought to the forefront in the coming months.

As East Peoria begins work on its downtown project, “East Peoria 2010,” surrounding communities will need to pay attention. East Peoria will undergo transformation in its downtown business district in the coming years — and a major focus will be on “New Urbanism.”

New Urbanism is an American design movement that began in the early 1980s.

Neighborhoods in a new urbanist development contain housing and jobs that complement each other. It also includes planning for open space and appropriately themed architecture.

New urbanists strive to reduce traffic congestion and increase the supply of affordable housing. New Urbanism also covers issues such as historic preservation, safe streets, green building and the redevelopment of brownfield land, which is blighted property.

Those who have traveled to Chicago within the past 10 years may have noticed such development in the city’s surrounding suburbs.

While Morton’s focus may not center much on housing opportunities, efforts to create an aesthetically appealing downtown district should be a major focus.

If Jefferson School is torn down, that downtown property would be a perfect location for the village to consider adding community amenities, such as a community center, which could offer a centralized location for residents and visitors to go for information.

In the past decade, focus on Morton’s downtown district has faded as light industry and service-driven businesses opted to locate near Interstate 74.

Historically, many communities were built around a downtown district — including Morton. But, for some reason, municipalities across the country strayed from the downtown focus and catered more toward strip malls and shopping centers.

It seems the New Urbanism trend has renewed an interest in downtown development.

Such development, however, is expensive and requires the village’s business community to buy in to the idea.

Overlooking the importance of a financially productive downtown would be a major gaffe. Village leaders are aware of this, which is why such discussion will be fluid in the coming months.

The need for a revitalized downtown is hefty, particularly if the village wants to attract more business and younger residents.

Perhaps, New Urbanism ideals would be the answer to Morton’s downtown woes. It is one idea worth considering.